The problem of illiteracy in the Indian context cannot be over emphasised. Basic literacy, as defined by the United Nations, is the ability to read 40 words per minute, write 20 words per minute, and do 2-digit arithmetic. Check out these alarming statistics:
|In India, where one of the oldest civilizations flourished, only 52% of the population is literate (65.5% of males, 39% of females). (These figures are from the 1991 census).|
|The literacy rate among rural women is 10%.|
|Over half of the world's illiterates may be in India as we enter the 21st century.|
|Every third working child in the world is in India. (There are 15 million bonded child labourers in India!).|
|For 3 million children in India, the street is their home.|
Various barriers to child and adult literacy exist in India, most prominent are the issues of gender and poverty. However, now as the population nears the 1 billion mark and with issues of poverty and social inequities becoming larger, it is time to face the challenges. Literacy is the key to development, health care, employment and last but not the least, it is the key to population control.
Despite overwhelming factors (cultural issues, population, resources), India's literacy is steadily improving. India's literacy rate at the time of independence (1947) was only 14% and female literacy was abysmally low at 8%. In 1981 the literacy rate was 36% and in 1991 it was 52% (males 65%, females 39%). The southern state of Kerala was the first to reach "100% literacy" for a city (Kottayam 1989), then a district (Ernakulam 1990), and finally the whole state (1991). Grassroot endeavors, inspired by Kerala's success, have led literacy efforts throughout India. However there is still a long way to go and Asha is an organization trying to make a difference by supporting rural child education programmes, and helping secure a progressive future for India's underprivileged children.
"Every child comes with the message that God is not yet
discouraged of man."
-- Rabindranath Tagore.
Some facts from PROBE (Public Report On Basic Education) about literacy in India.