The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) defines a literate person as “one who has the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” The Census Commission of India defined the same in 1991 as one who can read and write “with understanding” in any language. There is a common misconception, especially among the youth in India, that to be considered as literate, the knowledge of a common, widespread language like English or Hindi is required. In fact, many a time, a person who does not know how to read or write in English, but may do so in his or her regional language, is deemed as “illiterate”. This may be one of the negative impacts of the British colonization of India. Also, contrary to popular belief, formal education in schools is also not a prerequisite to be considered as literate.
However, illiteracy is a grave problem in underdeveloped countries like India. It is a major hurdle in the way of the country’s development and progress, albeit there has been some improvement over the years following Independence. The government has taken a number of measures such as increasing the number of primary and middle schools, especially in rural areas, which has simultaneously also seen a growth in the enrollment rate of children in schools. The literacy rate in India in 1951 was a mere 16.7%, as compared to the impressive 74.04% in 2018, which is laudable.
Yet the goal has not been achieved. Despite government reforms, the literacy growth rate in India can been described as sluggish. According to a study in 1990, universal literacy growth rate in India will only be achieved by 2060. What is even more striking is the gender disparity when it comes to the literacy rate in our country, where there is a difference of more than 15% between men and women. This has drastic repercussions, especially in the rural areas on family planning and population stabilisation efforts. But on the flip side, it has been observed that when the 10th and 12th standard board exam results are released, almost always, the girls perform better than the boys.
Evidently, this discriminatory discrepancy is a result of the parochial mindset of the Indian population. Women are expected to tend to matters of the household and family, and education is considered as a waste of time and money in their case. Even worse is when parents, especially in village areas, cannot afford to send the girls to school, as they need to save money for her wedding and dowry expenses. Ours is a highly patriarchal society, where male chauvinism is a predominant mindset, according secondary status to women. In the face of these societal beliefs, where each rises from the other, it is only natural the development of our country is dragged downward. It is highly disappointing to see the stark reality in the underdeveloped sections of the society, where children drop out of school and engage in petty activities or odd jobs to earn money to sustain their families.
The Government of India has taken some measures to ameliorate the situation. Recently, the Narendra Modi government introduced the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana” which aims at taking measures to generate awareness and improve the standards of services for girls, and encourage female literacy. The Constitution of India has also provided for provisions such as Article 21 under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Movement, which guarantees every child between the age of 6-14 years in India free elementary education. The Mid-day Meal Scheme was also introduced to provide nutritious food for school-going children nationwide, to provide an incentive to the rural population to send their children to school.
However, a lot is yet to be done, and what we need to understand is that this needs to be a two-way street. If the government is taking initiatives for improving the literacy rate in India, the people should be willing and open to such schemes and should abide by them. It needs to be a joint effort on the part of both sides. Education forms the building block for the society’s development. It is education that helps in constructing a concrete career and a bright future for a child. Improving the literacy rate can automatically lead to many developments; raising general awareness in the society regarding overpopulation, family planning, social evils etc., increasing employment rates, boosting the national economy and overall, facilitating growth and development in a country brimming with talent, to achieve milestones in the years to come.
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