World Literacy Day: How has India Fared Against Illiteracy

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Indian Teacher Teaching Students

First celebrated in the year 1966, International Literacy Day is the one day in the year which forces us to stop and take a look at how our country and the world at large is faring against illiteracy and the lack of basic educational skills. This year the world celebrates Literacy Day, on the 8th of September, under the theme, 'Literacy in a Digital World'. It's an attempt to identify what literacy skills people need to navigate a world which is increasingly digital, and what programs and policies are needed to leverage the opportunities that the digital world opens up.

In India though, we are still decades behind the literacy goals we set for ourselves, let alone achieving all-around digital literacy. The video below looks at how India has fared in its fight against illiteracy, our success till date, how we have achieved this success, and what lies ahead for us as a country.

The Journey Till Date

When the British left India, our literacy rates were extremely low; at a mere 12% in 1947. Over the years this rate has increased almost six times, and the 2011 census showed India's literacy rate to be at 74.04%. While impressive in its growth, the literacy rate is still way below the world average of 84%.

Even the skewed gender-wise literacy rate levels saw a correction. In 1951, the literacy rate for men was at 27.16% and that for women was at a mere 8.86%. By 2011, these numbers changed drastically. With male literacy rate at 82.14% and female literacy at 65.46%, they were a huge improvement over earlier numbers. States like Kerala and Mizoram constantly showed high literacy rates at 93.91% and 91.58% (as per the 2011 census) and states like Bihar and Telangana remained at the other end of the spectrum, despite showing progress.

The Measures Taken

Over the years, the government, both at the state and central levels, has taken several measures to increase the literacy rate. Some of these are listed below.

  • National Literacy Mission: The aim of this campaign is to impart functional literacy to people in the age group of 35-75 by not only helping them to read, write, and count but also help them understand why they are deprived and how they can drive change for themselves.
  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: One of the most well-documented and heard of literacy campaigns, it was launched in 2001 to drive the enrollment of kids in the age group of 6 - 14 in schools, and ensure that they complete 8 years of schooling.
  • Mid Day Meal Program: It was the success of this program in Tamil Nadu that prompted the Supreme Court of India's decision to instruct all state governments to provide free lunches in all government-funded schools. Over 120 million students receive these free lunches, making it one of the largest school meal programs in the world.

Despite all these measures, India is still behind on its educational goals. In fact, as per a UNESCO report, India will take until 2060, 50 years more than planned earlier, to achieve universal literacy.

Kofi Anan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, famously said, "Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development ... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” It's a long road still, then, for India and Indians to achieve their full potential.

About Tulika Nair

Tulika Nair is a content strategist and creator with almost a decade's experience in television, print, and digital media in multiple domains including education and lifestyle. She still types her messages in complete sentences and considers incorrect use of punctuation a transgression of the highest order. If she isn't writing or doodling, you will find her with a book, music playing in the background on full volume.
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