Literacy is categorically understood as the ability to read and write. Since children in the age group of 0-6 years are not expected to display these skills, the Census treats them as ‘illiterate’. Thus, the literacy data applies to the population aged seven years and above only.
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 betterment 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.
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%.
Ways of Imparting Literacy
In India there are several ways of achieving literacy. The Government has initiated the Total Literacy Mission or the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan under the aegis of which many new schools have been created and many existing schools have been updated.
Moreover the Government has entered into public-private partnership with industry and NGOs to collaborate for the achievement of maximum literacy. There are several programmes for Adult Education and Extension Education as well as special assistance studies for school drop outs to bring them to the level of their peers.
Effects of Literacy
Literacy can lead to total sustainable development of the country. A society with high literacy comprises individuals who have received basic education and can make informed choices. They know about things happening around them.
They understand human rights and value-based education. Literacy can lead to eradication of social evils like child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence. Literacy can lead to holistic education and thus greater tolerance between different communities can be developed. As a result there will be greater unity in the country.
With literacy and skills, there will be many more openings in the job market for people of talent and calibre. This will lead to a rise in standard of living and increase in per capital income.
This will lead to a rise in the Gross National Product of the country and it will scale the heights of progress. A rise in literacy will also mean a rise in scientific and technological development, because literacy arouses a desire for higher and better education and this can result in inventions and discoveries.
Importance of Literacy in India
A country’s self-image is always based on the quantity, quality and range of education of its total population. This is also an indicator of economic and social progress. Literacy is an important indicator of development. It enables the dissemination and analysis of information necessary for growth and sustainable progress.
It also provides an account of the socio-economic condition of an individual and its family. India has been an independent democracy for the last 70 years. Recently the right to education has been incorporated into the fundamental right of a citizen in order to achieve a high rate of literacy in the near future.
In India literacy is an important tool of power. Women who are literate can produce a generation of literate children. This generation will add to the skilled workforce of the country and India will be recognized among the developing nations of the world.
Literacy can also remove misunderstandings and curb misinformation leading to a rise in amicability and harmony in daily life. This in turn will strengthen the country.