Human Development Challenges: Illiteracy in India

The Indian government had recognized the neglect of education during colonial times and increased the awareness, that the nation building process would never be complete without giving literacy a major thrust (UNESCO, 2000). It launched several programs (National Policy of Education, 1986; National Literacy Mission, 1988; Education Policy 1992), aimed at attaining a literacy rate of 75 per cent by 2007 (UNESCO, 2000) and free and compulsory elementary education to all children up to the age of 14 (The Viewgraph, 2011). In 1993 the “right to education” was incorporated in the Constitution as a fundamental right.

These successful initiatives led too turn around in the above mentioned trend of the increasing number of illiterates due to raising population in India. The number of illiterates decreased for the first time teen 1991 and 1997 from 328 million to 294 million illiterates (UNESCO, 2000) despite the overall increase in population (Government of India, 2001). Furthermore the literacy rate recorded an increase of 13. 2 percentage points from 52. 2% in 1991 to 65. 4% in 2001 – the highest increase in any one decade (Government of India, 2001).

Government of India, 2001 However, wide disparities with respect to literacy remain the major problem in India. Whereas the literacy rate in urban areas amounted 79. 9% in 2001, it was Just 58. 7% within rural areas (National Informatics Centre, 2001). This rural-urban disparity is caused by the dependence of the rural population on agriculture. Students often have to quit school in order to work on the farm or in a factory to assist with the family income. Moreover in poor families food and the basic necessities of life take precedence before school materials can be purchased (The Viewgraph, 2011).

Consequently, the rate of illiteracy is high, which causes further development issues like high fertility rates, because of a lack of knowledge about family planning and the use of contraceptive methods. As a result the population growth in rural areas, where already the majority of Indians live, stays high. Following generations stay illiterate and without any prospect for upward mobility as a result of illiteracy the poverty in rural areas will increase (Asia-Pacific Population & Policy, 1990). On the other hand the urban population is more of the ’employee class’ and has the financial opportunities for advanced schooling.

Moreover these areas benefit from an adequate school infrastructure like facilities, effective teaching staff, and sanitation in urban schools, while rural areas suffer a shortage of classrooms to accommodate all he students as well as a poor quality of available schools (Chatham House, 2005). Even among the male and female population, there is a wide disparity in literacy. Whereas in 2001 75. 3% of the male population was literate, nearly half the women were still non-literate in India (53. 7%) (National Informatics Centre, 2001).

A variety of factors is responsible for this poor female literate rate: The social system in India the deep interiors of the country, is kept away from schools. Moreover the dropout rate is higher according to social discrimination and economic exploitation of women in India (National Informatics Centre, 2001). The National Literacy Mission already addressed these issues and focused on imparting functional literacy to women. This as well as other campaigns contributed to the reduction of the male-female literacy gap from 24. 8% in 1991 to 21. 6% in 2001 (National Informatics Centre, 2001).

While the current community views education of sons as an investment in future economic returns especially as a source of support to parents in old age, educating girls is seen to have no particular advantage. In my opinion this general belief of the community can be overcome by educating the adult women by other literate Indian women first. As a result each subsequent generation will be able to read and write, since women will teach their children, both male and female, who will in turn teach their children.

However, the burden of debt makes it difficult for the government to invest in such campaigns and increase elementary, secondary, and higher education expenditures. In 2005-06 Just 3. 8% of total governmental expenditures were related to education, while 74. 3% of total expenditures had to be spent to service debt (Indian Liberal Group, 2010). This means nearly three-quarter of governmental spending had to be used to service debt – taking away money that could be used for schools, infrastructure, and health care (Stilling, 2006).

India as well as other developing countries needs foreign assistance and debt relief to get the chance to achieve a sustainable, equitable, and democratic development (Stilling, 2006). Rising (female) literacy will lead to falling fertility, a better informed population with regard to health and hygiene, and subsequently to decreasing poverty in India. Summarizing India is a prime example for Stilling (2006) argument that “GAP is a handy measure of economic growth, but it is not the be-all and end-all of country, if the population will continue to grow under poor living standards.

As illiteracy is the cause for many other development issues, efforts have to be made to encourage female literacy and provide primarily rural areas with the required schooling infrastructure. While on the one hand the Indian government has to increase expenditures on education and encourage communities, in which literate women teach non-literate women, developing countries also need foreign assistance o achieve sustainable, equal and democratic development (Stilling, 2006).