Each One Teach One

India marked the International Literacy Day on Tuesday, September 8, with a call by President Pranab Mukherjee to involve society in making the country cent per cent literate. He also stressed the need for achieving higher literacy targets and reminded the people and the government of the Unesco slogan Each One Teach One.

Our literacy rate, according to 2011 census, was 75 per cent. Since then it might have increased marginally. But, still, it is lower than the global average of 84 per cent. If we think we have made phenomenal progress in educating the masses since Independence when the literacy rate was a mere 12 per cent, we were not entirely off the mark. But when we compare our progress with our neighbours and some other developing countries, we have miles to go.

Of particular concern is uneven and disproportionate literacy rate among states and males and females. According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate among men was 82.14% while it was 65.46% for women. That means the government needs to focus more on women’s education. Reasons for low female literacy include: high dropout rate at elementary level, particularly in rural areas; parents sending children to work despite compulsory education rule; traditional belief that girls need no education; poverty; and taboos in certain communities.

In contrast, urban India fares better. Similarly, wide disparities in literacy rates are seen between backward and developed states in the country. Bridging the gap, in spite of child education programmes combined with mid-day meals schemes, is a task. In fact, the 2001-11 decadal literacy growth of 9.2% was lower than that of the previous decade. That shows efforts have to be doubled to meet the targets. Saakshar Bharat and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan programmes, launched by the NDA government, aim at achieving 100% literacy rate by March next year in areas where the schemes had been introduced. If the results are satisfactory, they can be replicated to achieve quick results.

Government plans alone will not wipe out illiteracy. As the President rightly observed, society and community too need to complement official efforts to impart education to the lowest rung of people who remain uneducated. No doubt, NGOs are contributing a lot towards educating poor kids. But if the educated classes volunteer to follow the “Each One Teach One” principle, we can achieve cent per cent literacy targets in a decade rather than in four decades as projected by a survey.

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