Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group
One in every four Indians is yet to reap the fruit of literacy six decades into the country having acquired independence. India achieved its highest literacy level at about 74 per cent on last count in 2011 Census.
While the gap is still yawning, the positive aspect has been the narrowing down of the male-female literacy gap over the decades. As the establishment claims to fight illiteracy full throttle, many of its pet schemes appear to be missing key targets.
UPA’s flagship program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has failed to achieve the target of universal primary education as several states have recorded a high percentage of primary school dropouts.
As per Census 2011 data, the overall literacy rate in 1951 was 18.33 percent and it peaked to 74.04 per cent in the latest Census. The female literacy rate in 1951 was 8.86 percent while the latest figure of 2011 stood at 65.46 percent.
Kerala now at 93.91 percent has emerged as the best performing state in the overall literacy rate followed by Lakshadweep at 92.28 percent and Mizoram at 91.58 percent, respectively. Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mizoram are also the better performing states in both female as well as male literacy rate in Census 2011.
Eminent educator Professor Yashpal told Zee News in May this year that the rise in literacy rate was because of the overall quality of education having improved. “The Curriculum Framework which was designed in 2005 has contributed a lot in raising the literacy level,” he opined.
The overall male-female gap has reduced from 18.30 percent in 1951 to 16.68 percent in 2011.
Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, attributed the growth in female literacy to government initiatives. She said, “The reduction in the gap between male and female literacy rate is attributed to the success of Mid-Day Meal scheme.” But she also opined that “the reduction in gap does not suggest that women are empowered in each and every sector. Women are still lagging behind as far as decision-making is concerned.”
However, states like Meghalaya, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have recorded a high percentage of primary school dropouts. Also these states are lagging behind in the overall literacy rate as compared to the other states. Bihar at 63.8 percent emerged as the worst performing state in overall literacy rate followed by Rajasthan at 67.1 percent. Meghalaya at 58.87 percent recorded the highest primary school dropouts followed by Rajasthan at 38.89 percent and Bihar at 37.11 percent.
Dr Gaysu R Arvind , Professor at the Department of Education , University of Delhi, said it was not difficult to explain the relatively low literacy rates and high primary school dropouts in states like Rajasthan and Bihar. She opined, “Poverty is the major reason behind low literacy rate. Moreover, seasonal migration and also unavailability of proper infrastructure facilities are the major reasons behind high school dropouts’ rate.” She emphasized on proper conceptualization of government initiatives to minimize the school dropout rate.