Grim reality of Illiterate India

Yogesh Vajpeyi

Inequality exists in variety of forms. Perhaps, the most oppressive of there is inequality in access to the world of letters. A recent study by Indian social scientists shows that despite drastic improvement in its literacy rate since Independence, glaring inequalities between different geographical regions, castes, age groups and genders persist.

The study, published in the recent issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, tested the reading ability of 1.06 million adults in Uttar Pradesh’s state capital, Lucknow. It found significant literacy inequity along socio-demographic lines.

The average literacy rate was found to be 65%—substantially lower than the census figures of 77% for Lucknow and 68% for Uttar Pradesh. Each socio-demographic dimension measured was a key determinant of literacy—disadvantaged groups, such as rural folk, lower castes and women, had literacy rates substantially below the mean.

“We have seen that the socio-demographic determinants of literacy act not just in isolation, but also in concert,” say study authors Sunita Gandhi, Kaaren Mathias, Linda Seefeldt and Thomas Delaney in their research paper. Several mechanisms, such as schooling opportunities, caste and gender bias and family income, contribute to this compounding effect.

Literacy inequalities underline an inconvenient truth about India’s development.  It is true that India’s literacy rate has risen from 18 per cent in 1951 to 74% in 2011 but it compares unfavourably with its international economic competitors like China (97%) and Brazil (93%).

Seven decades after Independence, India has 280 million illiterate adults, which is more than the remaining top 10 nations added together.

India’s rate of improvement is also comparatively modest: the literacy rate rose by 10 percentage points between 2001 and 2011, while Bangladesh’s literacy rate has reportedly increased by 25 percentage points between 2011 and 2016.

Low rate of literacy is the main root of all other problems like unemployment, poverty, high population growth, child labour and female feticide.

Improving school education is vital for India’s future, but the present reality of hundreds of millions of illiterate adults must also be addressed through adult literacy programmes



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