Rajkiya Engineering College, Mainpuri
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has drafted a definition of literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
Literacy in India is a key for socio-economic progress, and the Indian literacy rate has grown to 74.04% (2011 provisional census figure). Despite government programmes, India’s literacy rate increased only “sluggishly”.
Literacy in India
Literacy, by its simple definition, is the ability to read and write for individuals, communities, and societies. Here are some facts on the literacy rate in India according to the Educational Statistics report released by MHRD in 2018:
1. The overall literacy rate in India is 69.1 per cent. The number includes the literacy rate in both rural and urban India. The number pertains to 2014.
2. The overall literacy rate in Rural India is 64.7 per cent. In rural India, the literacy rate among females is 56.8 per cent and among males is 72.3 per cent.
3. The overall literacy rate in Urban India is 79.5 per cent. In Urban India, 74.8 per cent females are literate and 83.7 per cent males are literate.
4. There is wider disparity in literacy rates of males and females in rural India than in urban India. In Urban India, the difference in literacy rate between the two genders is 8.9 per cent whereas for rural India, it is 15.5 per cent.
5. As per the government data, in the year 2016-17, 19,283,075 persons (both male and female included) were enrolled in ‘Sakshar Bharat Abhiyaan’, which is a centrally sponsored scheme to improve literacy rates among adults in India. More women are enrolled in the programme than men.
The Importance of Literacy
Helping someone to read and write effectively or acquire the basic math skills so many of us take for granted, improves the future of everyone in society. Literacy is critical to economic development as well as individual and community well-being.
The Importance of Literacy to Economic Development
Our economy is enhanced when learners have higher literacy levels. Effective literacy skills open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities so that people are able to pull themselves out of poverty and chronic underemployment.
In our increasingly complex and rapidly changing technological world, it is essential that individuals continuously expand their knowledge and learn new skills in order to keep up with the pace of change.
Causes of Illiteracy in India
Illiteracy in India is a problem which has complex dimensions attached to it. Illiteracy in India is more or less concerned with different forms of disparities that exist in the country. There are gender imbalances, income imbalances, state imbalances, caste imbalances, technological barriers which shape the literacy rates that exist in the country.
These are some of the causes of the inability to read or write:
- Illiteracy among parents:
Many illiterate parents do not put much emphasis on the importance of education. Several of those born to parents who can neither read nor write end up being illiterate. This is especially true in remote areas where many people in the older generation have not gone through formal education. The reverse is true for those who have been brought up by parents with an elaborate educational background. They realize the necessity of taking their children to school and therefore ensure that they receive a good education.
- Lack of family support:
This can be the cause of illiteracy more so where a child has difficulty reading or writing because of dyslexia. In a situation where the family does not understand the child’s condition, it may simply be assumed that he or she is not a bright person and maybe school is not meant for everyone. Supportive family members help a child overcome reading disability and go through formal education with minimal challenges.
Some people believe that the only reason someone should go to school is so that he or she can get a good job and make a good life. Without the promise of employment, education is not a necessity to them. In a country where many of the educated are unemployed, there may not be enough motivation for the illiterate to go to school. After all, they reckon, why would you spend so much money paying for your education when there is no promise of a return on investment? In countries where those who have gone to school have good jobs and reasonable incomes, there may be sufficient motivating factors for people to get rid of illiteracy.
- Lack of awareness:
In places where several members of the local population do not understand why it is important for them to go to school, the level of illiteracy may be high. Disinterest in the benefits of formal learning can also be caused by lack of awareness on the importance of going to school. The number of illiterate people in urban areas tends to be lower than that of those in rural areas. People in towns are more aware of the need to eliminate illiteracy, the challenges that arise from lack of education and the social benefits of being literate compared to those who live in the remote place.
- Social barriers:
Many social barriers such as restrictions on girls’ education in some societies lead to illiteracy among the affected segment of the population. Education of the girl child has been an issue in some parts of the world leading to the formation of different organizations focused on championing the education of women. Forcing children into marriage is another social issue that causes illiteracy in the community. Family or social norms where female education is not allowed also causes illiteracy. In societies where the caste system is still in force, those who fall into the wrong caste may not get the opportunity to go to school. They are condemned at birth to remain illiterate.
- Lack of affordable education facilities:
Those who live in very remote areas with few or no education facilities may remain illiterate. The nearest school might be found several miles away. Instead of going through the tiresome process of walking for long distances on a daily basis just to go to school, many choose to stay at home. Lack of access to education facilities in rural areas has contributed a lot to the high number of illiterate people in these places.
Poor parents with low incomes find it difficult to pay school fees. They are forced to choose between providing basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing and taking their children to school. In countries where basic education is not free, the number of children who do not go to school tends to be higher compared to places where basic education is free and mandatory.
Consequences and Effects of Illiteracy
These are some of the effects and consequences of the inability to read and write:
1. Hinders economic and social progress:
Illiteracy greatly inhibits the economic and social progress of an individual as well as that of the country. Education gives one the power to seek opportunities and pursue them. People who have gone to school or are well educated have the expertise and intelligence to make good investment decisions and drive the growth agenda of a nation. Illiteracy, therefore, hinders the development of the country.
Education equips one with the right skills and expertise for gainful employment. A person who has not gone to school and is unable to read and write may experience a hard time in finding a job especially in a world where the corporate environment is increasingly in demand for employees who are well-trained and can cope with an industry driven by technology. Without a reasonable source of income, taking care of the dependent family members may prove to be difficult.
3. Child marriage:
This is also a problem that may come about due to illiteracy. Parents may fail to recognize the benefits of taking children to school to learn how to read and write. Instead, the girl child may be forced into early marriage. It may also be a means of raising money through dowry payments to support the rest of the family members. In a way, the girl child is viewed as a property in some cultures. They can be traded to help the family make ends meet. The practice is especially rampant in areas where a lot of people have not gone to school.
4. Social crimes:
Through education, a person can cultivate some civic sense and develop behaviour patterns that are socially acceptable. Illiterate people may engage in unlawful acts in the society due to lack of employment or simply as a result of being uncultured. In countries where the number of those who have not gone to school is high, social crime levels also tend to be high.
5. Underpayment, Underemployment, Unemployment:
We live in a world where the job market favours people who are properly educated with useful skills to drive company growth. Many illiterate people are thus underpaid, underemployed or unemployed. They are unable to earn income and, in many cases, perform a lot of duties with little pay.
A solution to Control Illiteracy
At the level of Family:
Creating awareness about the importance of education can help people understand why they need to go to school. Non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and other concerned parties should put in place deliberate measures to create awareness in the society and reduce the number of people who are unable to read and write.
At the level of Society:
- Free education:
The provision of free education in schools, colleges, and universities by the government can play a major role in reducing the level of illiteracy in a country by getting more people to school. Since some people fail to attend school due to lack of money to pay for the fees, offering free education can increase the number of people attending school and subsequently reduce illiteracy levels within a society.
- Free books:
The government and different foundations can offer free books in schools to encourage students to develop a reading culture. Offering free books can also reduce the financial burden placed on parents in the provision of textbooks.
Since we live in the age of technology and information, creating digital platforms for reading and learning can help reduce illiteracy in the society. It can also help take care of the challenge of shortage of education facilities. Digital libraries can provide a good platform for those who live far away from urban centres to expand their knowledge base and become more informed.
Offering grants, subsidies, and scholarships can reduce the financial burden that parents and students bear in paying for education. It would make it possible for students to learn without interrupting their education due to lack of school fees. Parents would also channel the money that would have been used to pay for school fees towards other income generating projects. The cost of financing education can prove to be too high especially for those who live in poverty.
The value of education cannot be underestimated. Many people like to think of it merely as a process to gain the skills and expertise necessary for the job market. Even though education gives an individual a competitive advantage in the job market, that is not all that it does. Going to schools plays a major role in the mental as well as social development of a person.
The lessons learned and the experiences that a person goes through while in school prepares him or her for life in society. One can learn problem-solving skills and develop social intelligence necessary to overcome everyday life challenges. Illiteracy, therefore, has no room in modern society. The more the number of people who have gone to school, the better the community. Everyone should aspire to be educated and gain knowledge because of the important benefits of being literate.