By Dr. Sunita Gandhi
In India, Right to Education and many nation-wide programmes have been instrumental in reaching near universal enrolment of around 97% in 2018. However, almost half of the students between ages 10 to 11 years are unable to read a grade 2 level text even after spending 5 years in school. 1 out of every 4 children in India complete elementary education without having minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy. The National Education Policy 2020 highlights that over 50 million children in India’s elementary school do not have these foundational skills. And this is only one end of the problem, the other being adults unable to read or write with even higher illiteracy rates in India.
At current rates of improvement, a large section of our children, adolescents and adults will continue to remain illiterate in 2030 and beyond. An urgent paradigm shift is required to deal with this literacy crisis. Not only is there a reform required at institutional level, but also a people’s movement to reach out to out-of-school students and adults.
Education is perhaps the most fundamental element in determining a country’s human capital. Most recent information puts India’s adult literacy rate at 73.2 percent. While the nation has gained huge progress in improving literacy, it is still home to 313 million unskilled population; 59% of them being women. The educational gap, accordingly, isn’t just an impression of India’s education ecosystem but at the same time is a world issue since the nation represents 33% of the planet’s whole illiterate populace.
With a purpose to eradicate the root cause, Prime Minister Narender Modi’s literacy program called ‘Padhna Likhna Abhiyan’ was launched on International Literacy Day. The program focused on achieving 100% or Total Literacy by 2030 and necessary arrangements were put in place. The agenda was to initiate massive literacy projects in the tribal and forest areas, prisons, slums, etc. with the help of technology. By inculcating technology, quality education could be imparted in the backward areas with the help of e-books, mobile apps and much more.
A policy at this level can bring a revolutionary change in the literacy rates in India, however, with dated resources and insufficient response to the crisis would not be enough to address the problem at hand. It should be noted that the methodology behind Padhna Likhna Abhiyan could be better than a traditional classroom setup, it still needs to be more accessible and involve expertise to manage, control, supervise, and facilitate volunteering.
Schemes in the past are proof why the lack of vigilance can be directly related with their failure. Hence, a vastly different mechanism involving shorter lesson time, lesser training, feasible tools, and technology-proof is the need of the hour.
For any campaign to be successful, the center must ensure that everyone is brought into the fold of literacy and formal education to be provided to all. Doing this will help the nation move faster towards achieving the sustainable goal of ‘providing free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education’. NGOs, corporates and bilateral/multilateral organizations must step forward to collaborate.
Also, the government must recognize the innate idealism of young students and their desire to make an impact for social good, by enabling the Student Community Action Service (CAS) model for schools, colleges and universities and letting the youth take charge. By developing a strong sense of social service and civic engagement among students working for the cause and making it an important mandate for their career could help in mass mobilization.
As we move past the COVID-19 pandemic, we are likely to encounter more cases of learning poverty and adult illiteracy. Thus, devising a long-term plan can only help government authorities focus on macro-level literacy and make education a priority, putting it even above health.
The columnist is a leading educationist this week. Views expressed are her own.