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Spreading Literacy: SINCERITY THE ANSWER, by Dhurjati Mukherjee, 30 March 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 30 March 2006

Spreading Literacy


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

It is estimated that along with Brazil and China, India will be one of the three dominant economies of the world by the year 2050.  But, on the other hand, in spite of such projections and the high growth rate of over 8 per cent for the last two years, the inequality between the urban and rural sectors and between the rich and the poor has been widening. There can be no denying that the benefits of high growth have not penetrated to the poorer sections which are still deprived of the basic amenities of life. Illiteracy and health conditions are virtually deprived of this.

According to a UNESCO report, titled ‘Education for All: Global Monitoring Report 2006’, as many as 47 countries have already achieved universal primary education and 20 more are likely to do so by 2015.  But 23 countries, including India, may not be able to impart universal primary education by 2015.  It has pointed out that there are 771 million people above 15 years (adult literates) in the world and India and China account for nearly half of them (46 per cent).  India’s share at 261 million is much larger than 87 million of China.  And 54 per cent of adult illiterates are women.

It is thus clear that the Government has over the years virtually neglected primary education, specially girls education.  Though, as per official Census figures of 2001, the Government has claimed literacy rate of around 71 per cent for the 15-35 age group. This may not be the true picture, experts believe.  Even if we consider these people literate (literally speaking), it may be that a large section may be able to only write their names in their mother tongue. Obviously such literacy attainment has little value to any person in life.

It has been seen that in the backward States the literacy rate is rather low.  The rate below and around 60 per cent is in the following States: Bihar 47 per cent, Jharkhand 53.6; Andhra Pradesh 54.3; Jammu & Kashmir 55.5; Uttar Pradesh 56.3; Rajasthan 60.4. In 2002, the Government launched the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) which assures that all children in the age group 6-14 years will complete five years of primary education by 2007.  It goes without saying that such a scheme should have been started much earlier and the target cannot be achieved by 2007, not even by 2015.

Many surveys have come up in recent years all of which prove that though the enrolment may not be disappointing, the education they receive is very poor.  A recent survey of rural householders by a cluster of NGOs showed that though 93 per cent rate enrolled, 41 per cent are unable to do a two-digit subtraction and 35 per cent (in the age group 1-14) cannot read a small paragraph. The surveys have further revealed that 55 per cent of children cannot do division sums and 36 per cent can do neither subtraction nor division.

The more authentic ASER 2005 survey has come out with rather startling revelations that class VIII children cannot read. Close to 50 per cent children in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh could not read a one-page story.  The percentage of class V children who could not read has been 21.4 in Uttaranchal, 25.5 in West Bengal and 28.7 in Bihar.

As regards mathematics about 65.5 per cent of the children (in the 7-14 age group) could not tackle simple arithmetic problems.  More worrying is that 47 per cent of children in the 11-14 age could not solve class II level arithmetic problems across States like Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

Apart from the poor education imparted, another cause of concern is the rather high  drop-out rates which is estimated to be around 30 per cent for boys and 35 to 40 per cent for girls before they reach class V standard. Obviously the question arises: how can literacy rate and primary education levels in the lagging States be geared up?  All the States where the literacy rate is below or around 60 per cent are economically poor and socially backward.

The other question that emerges from the surveys is the poor quality of education imparted and also possibly the lack of interest of students to learn because of various factors like irregular attendance, work at home etc. How to spread literacy in the uncovered areas, and especially in the rural and backward areas of the country is the challenge before us.  In this connection, the Supreme Court order about providing mid-day meal to students is a step in the right direction. In the current Budget, however, the allocation for mid-day meals has been increased from Rs.3010 crore (in 2005-06) to Rs.4813 crore in the current financial year and this money needs to be effectively used.

Regarding the curriculum, apart from formal education, some skill-based training from the primary stage has to be imparted so that this could help the children in later life. Some preliminary training on tailoring, art and crafts, music, dance, etc. should help children to become self-employed in later life.  Basic sciences that are very important in our day-to-day life should also be part of the education.  But what is most important is that education has to become lively and enjoyable so that children take interest in the learning process.

The need for relating learning with the possibility of earning through skill development cannot be doubted.  This is more so because, as per a report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are around 250 million working children in the age group of 5 to 14, of which 100 to 120 are full-time workers.

To ensure education to these children, a vacation-oriented approach combined with elementary literacy skills would be appropriate.  Moreover, the UNESCO has been of the opinion that people of the Third World countries may have to be introduced to the world of work at a very early age and as such skilled training combined with basic education would be useful and effective.

Adult literacy is also equally significant and there should be an endeavour to educate these people. However, non-formal education for women methods has to be given more priority when it comes to their education.  It may be mentioned here that education for women has been found to be three times as effective as that of men as it helps in decreasing the birth rate and lowering child mortality.  Also literate women are more conscious about nutritional problems, health problems etc. of themselves and their family.  Apart from all this, women become conscious about their social and economic rights and guide their male counterparts in the right direction.

In the present budget, the allocations for elementary and adult education have been quite satisfying (with a 36 per cent hike), though may not be up to our expectations, and the onus is now on the Government to take up the challenge with all seriousness.  To ensure the success of literacy/education for all, the active cooperation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and CBOs is a must. Such organizations with a proven track record should be handed over schools in rural areas for a contract period of 2/3 years or so.  However, there has to be regular checks by Government agencies to find out whether the schools are running properly and the role to teachers therein in imparting the necessary education and training.

For a country like India, which is growing at a fast pace, the need for spreading basic education need not be over-emphasized.  The materialistic charter of society has taken away the much-needed dedication in the human individual that was earlier prevalent. But even then, there has to be sincere and serious efforts by those who educate and all those who run schools to take interest in their profession as a social responsibility.

Thus a paradigm shift on our outlook to education has become imperative.  A country cannot prosper if a significant percentage of its population remains illiterate and cannot join the mainstream of life and activity.  The need for free and compulsory education was voiced long ago, even before independence by Gandhiji and Gokhale, and this has now to be made a reality.  With political will, sincerity of purpose and involvement of the community, education can spread to the remote areas of the country and reach the poorest of the poor. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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