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Definition of literacy and illiteracy
Illiteracy is the lack of the ability to read and write in an individual. It is defined by contrast with the accepted standard definitions of Literacy.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have 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.” The National Literacy Mission defines literacy as acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life.
The achievement of functional literacy implies (i) self-reliance in 3 R’s, (ii) awareness of the causes of deprivation and the ability to move towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development, (iii) acquiring skills to improve economic status and general well- being, and (iv) imbibing values such as national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance of small family norms.
The working definition of literacy in the Indian census since 1991 is an understanding of the literacy rate and the crude literacy rate. Literacy rate refers to the total percentage of the population of an area, aged seven years or above who can read and write with understanding, at a particular time.
Crude literacy rate refers to the total percentage of the people of an area at a particular time that can read and write with understanding, taking the total population of the area (including below seven years of age) as the denominator. When a person cannot read or write he or she is termed illiterate.
Illiteracy in India
In India illiteracy is a major problem since a large part of the population lives in rural remote and backward areas where there are poor basic facilities for life and education. In the pre-colonial era before the rule of the British Indian education was spread through traditional schools called gurukuls.
However these Gurukuls taught the boys of the elite classes of Indian society and the larger majority of ordinary people were denied any formal education. In the colonial era of the British rule, the gurukul system began to decline as the system of formal school education promoted by the British began to gain favour and support.
Literacy rates in British India rose from 3.2 % in 1881 to 7.2 % in 1931 and 12.2 % in 1947. India’s literacy rate today is at 74.04%. Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, with 93.91% literacy. Bihar has the lowest literacy rate in India, with a literacy of 63.82%.
Causes of illiteracy
Some of the main causes of illiteracy are poverty, social and caste barriers, gender bias, remote and inconvenient geographical location and lack of awareness. A large part of the Indian population lives below the poverty line.
Thus with hardly any money to purchase basic amenities of life, they are not able to spend money for the purpose of education. Many people live in remote villages and towns with poor roads, inadequate or no schools and hardly any opportunities for education. For them reaching school is an impossible task and thus they remaining illiterate.
Many castes and communities in India practice gender bias against the girl child. Sometimes boys are educated as best as possible within the village and town and even sent outside the surrounding areas to pursue higher education. But the girl child is discriminated against and denied the right to basic education.
She is made to learn household jobs and prepare for early marriage. Thus many women remain illiterate. In many cases people are not aware of opportunities for free education and adult education and the various schemes floated by the Government to eradicate illiteracy. So they remain illiterate.
Effects of illiteracy
Illiteracy hampers economic and social progress of both an individual as well as the nation. Illiteracy leads to poverty as an uneducated person is incapable of finding a job to make both ends meet except in the case of a labour based job.
Child marriage and other social evils promoted by bind superstition and adherence to outdate customs can also happen due to illiteracy. We live in a globalised world where the job market seeks educated people with useful skills. Illiterate people are thus underpaid, underemployed or unemployed.
Such illiterate people may engage in unlawful acts in the society due to lack of employment. Inter generational Illiteracy can cut across generations within a family and become cyclic in such a way that education is given little to no value in the family setup. This may lead to the development of a distorted society.
Measures taken to control illiteracy
The Right to Education is a fundamental right as well as a socio-economic need. The Government has taken two important measured to eradicate illiteracy in India.
National Literacy Mission
The National Literacy Mission began in 1988 and aimed at attaining a literacy rate of 41 per cent by 2035. It focuses on educating illiterate people in the age group of 35–75 years. It Mission has taken steps to form partnerships with NGOs and play an active promotional role in the literacy movement.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or Total Literacy Campaign was started in 2001 to make all children in the age group 6–14-years attend school and complete eight years of free schooling.
An important component of the scheme is the Education Guarantee Scheme and Alternative and Innovative Education, meant primarily for children in areas with no formal school within a one kilometre radius. Many new schools have been opened under this scheme.
Education is self-empowerment. With the eradication of illiteracy In India, we can hope for greater development and progress and maximum use of our human resource potential.