India has made steady progress since gaining its Independence in 1947.

  1. The 2011census illustrated a literacy rate increase from 18.33% in 1951to 74.4% in 2011
  2. Number of Indians that can read and write now stands at 778.45 million
  3. Number of illiterates has dropped from 304.15 million in 2001 to 272.95 million in 2011
  4. Most increasing trend is narrowing down of the gender gap in education
  5. Male literacy rate has increased to 82.14% while the female literacy rate has increased to 65.46%
  6. Male- Female literacy gap has reduced from 21.59% in 2001 to 16.68% in 2011

Country Objectives for 2012/2015/2017

  1. Enable neo-literate* adults to continue learning
  2. Begin skill development programmes to improve earning and learning conditions
  3. Promote a learning society by providing opportunities for neo-literate adults to continue their education

*A neo-literate is an individual who has completed a basic literacy training program and has demonstrated the ability and willingness to continue to learn on their own using the skills and knowledge attained without the direct guidance of a literacy teacher.

Problems that are affecting access to education

  1. Gender disparities
  2. Regional disparities
  3. Social disparities

Current Literacy Initiatives

  1. Saakshar Bharat is a revised version of the National Literacy Mission implemented by the Prime Minister of India to create an increasingly literate society. At independence, 86% of the India’s population was illiterate. Contributing factors were put down to wide gender, social and regional disparities.
  2. The Literacy Initiative launched in 2009 introduced a number of teaching and learning programs that had a set focus on increasing literacy delivery standards for women. The government identified that women were the ‘force multiplier- the key program instrument to creating a better society. By the emancipating and empowering Indian women, improvement would be seen across school education, skill development, and health. These were said to be otherwise impeded by female illiteracy.
  3. The program is capable of increasing rural female literacy and reducing the gender gap in literacy for non and neo-literate adults and youth living in rural areas. The program aims to further promote and strengthen adult education, with a primary focus on women, by extending education options to those adults who have not had the opportunity to gain an education previously.


Comprehensive programs focusing on post-literacy and continuing education will be provided for neoliterates and youth who have received primary education and need to upgrade their literacy skills to harness improvement of their living and working condition.

Four key objectives :

  1. Impart functional literacy and numeracy to non-literate and non numerate adults
  2. Enable the neo-literate adults to continue their learning beyond basic literacy and acquire equivalency to formal education system
  3. Impart non and neo-literates relevant skill development programmes to improve their earning and living conditions
  4. Promote a learning society by providing opportunities to neo-literate adults for continuing education

The government seeks to achieve an 80% literacy rate by 2012, and reduce the gender gap in literacy by 10%. A specific focus will be targeted on castes, tribes, minorities and disadvantaged groups. With 84% of the Indian illiterate population living in rural areas, the program will be implemented across eligible rural districts. Adult education centres have been proposed to be set up to coordinate and manage the programs.

To respond to the demand for literacy and address the need of non and neo-literate adults a number of teaching and learning programs will be implemented These programs will include functional literacy, basic education, vocational educational, and continuing education programs. Due to various social and economic problems India’s education programme continues to be undercut

  1. Of the biggest victims of the educational system are those living in rural areas.
  2. The attitudes of the children and teachers also affect the quality of the schools.
  3. Allocation of government funds and the conditions of the destitute rural schools contribute to the low quality of education by rural children.
  4. While there are many rural areas in school systems which are operating in poor conditions there is one in particular whose schools outperform most other rural schools and also those located in urban areas of India. Kerala, a rural state of India remains a puzzle to many educators. Its illiteracy rate does not follow the trend of most rural schools.
  5. Many children living in rural areas receive a level of education which is very poor.
  6. Overall enrolment in primary and middle schools are very low.
  7. Fifty per cent of children living in these areas leave school before the fifth grade. These children leave school for variety of reasons: most leave so that they can work in the fields, where the hours are long and the pay is low.
  8. A large per cent of the dropouts are females. Forced by their parents, most girls perform household chores and help the family at home. These are some of the reasons why sixty per cent of all females in India are illiterate, a figure much higher than those of males.
  9. As these children grow into adults, many are still illiterate by the age of forty. These uneducated adults are also reluctant to send their own children to school because of their failure in the education system. This in turn creates a problem for the next generation.
  10. The children living in rural areas continue to be deprived of a quality education, part of the reason is, due to their teachers.A large number of teachers refuse to teach in rural areas and those that do are usually under qualified
  11. In recent years the number of qualified teachers has increased because of increased efforts by the government and private groups to improve the general education and professional training of teacher. There is need of an emphasis on the training of rural teachers, whose educational background is generally not as sound as their urban counterparts.
  12. Those that refuse to teach in rural areas cite distance and lack of interest by students as problems. Many of the teachers also lack the enthusiasm to teach because of their meager salary-less than one hundred dollars per months.
  13. Another obstacle faced by the schools is that obtaining more teachers for rural schools is difficult because of state guidelines that approve of high student- to-teacher ratios.’
  14. As the lack of teachers creates many obstacles for children in rural schools, another setback is the lack of resources which becomes detrimental to the learning process.
  15. Lack of books and other reading materials seem to be a widespread problem. The use of high-tech devices such as computers is very rare.
  16. Condition of the schools, the inadequate facilities in the classes is other obstacles. Some schools are located in warehouses while others in small houses. Many of the rural schools operate without electricity.
  17. While many rural schools search for the proper resources, the distribution of government funds is major hindrance to the educational system.
  18. According to a recent study done by the World Bank, thirty per cent of the total educational funding goes toward higher educational institutions.This is an important issue because the number of students enrolled in these types of institutions represents such a small per cent of India s students.

The disadvantaged people (i.e., SCs, STs, OBCs, women, and religious minorities) in our society have been terribly exploited because of their illiteracy. Some studies have been conducted on descriptions of disparity in education as evidenced in regional rural-urban, sex, and caste disparities and imbalances in enrolment and retention at school or college and the consequences of disparities.All these studies have pointed out the impact of education on the status and the identity of the disadvantaged people.

Studies on SCs and STs have indicated that so long these people remain educationally backward; they have to be provided protective discrimination in the form of economic support or reserved admissions to institutions of higher education.

One such study was sponsored by the ICSSR in 1974 under the coordination of I.P. Desai. It covered 14 states and was concerned with the situation and problems of SC ad ST school and college students in the country. This study pointing out apathy of ST students to education, indicated that illiteracy increases inequality and prevents occupational as well as social mobility.

Victor D’Souza traced the pattern of disparity between the education of the SCs and the others in Punjab and pointed out how the structure of caste system, caste behaviour, economic factors and the form and operation of welfare programmes influence the pattern.

V.P. Shah pointed out relationship between education and untouchability in Gujarat
  1. Sachchidananda Sinha has described the situation of SC students of colleges in Uttar Pradesh. All these studies, thus, throw light on education as an instrument of equality for SCs and STs. Similarly, there have been studies on women too, another important category of those who are educationally disadvantaged and backward
  2. K. Ahmad and others in terms of significance of education to their role in a developing society. Baker studied the aspirations of female students with a view to understanding the problems they encounter in making use of educational facilities. Chitnis studied the impact of co-education on Muslim women students in Bombay. All these studies point out the consequences of inequalities and the need for change.
  3. Education acts as a refuge in adversity. It empowers the people. It is the tool that breaks the chains that resist a nation’s development If the growth of a nation is to be people-centric, and if development is to be whole, then the people must be empowered and stimulated through education.
  4. Lack of education has resulted in growth of unemployment, poverty and a substantial increase in the rate of growth of population. Most of the voters are illiterate; votes of the illiterate people do affect the election process in a major way. Mostly votes are influenced by factors such as religion and caste of the candidates.
  5. Illiteracy has proven to be a major handicap. It has affected various sectors that determine India’s growth. The educational system itself operates on nepotism and corruption. The whole system is based on rote learning, the curriculum is rarely updated and teachers in rural schools lack necessary qualifications and knowledge required for their jobs. Most of the people in rural areas live below the poverty line, and thus can’t afford to educate their children.The funds that the Government provides for the same, get exhausted before reaching the right people, and, lie in the pockets of corrupt officers.
  6. Education is related to equality of opportunity.This is perceived on the basis of the findings of one empirical study conducted in eight states in1967 on the social background of students (age, sex, caste, father’s occupation, father’s education, etc.) studying at various levels – high school college and professional colleges. This study presented two possible propositions :
  7. Education is a priority with those in the white- collar group, and children in this group use educational facilities more than other groups; and Education is differentially available to those who do not belong to white collar group If the first proposition is correct, it probably underlines the irrelevance of education to non white collar groups in our society.Their lack of interest in secondary education arises out of the fact that for the occupations they aspire to, secondary education makes no meaningful contribution. This throws light on the defective planning of our education and the ‘backwardness’ of the underprivileged groups.
Some suggestions to tackle illiteracy and disparities in education :
  1. Make education till Standard XII mandatory for all, and free of cost in rural areas.
  2. Grant 100% tax exemption to all educational institutions as well as on expenditure on education of children.
  3. Create separate educational funds by levying 2% tax on annual income of all tax payers.
  4. Increase government funding for education. At least 20% of the annual budget must be used for the same.
  5. Define educational qualifications for eligibility for the post of the Education Minister as well as minimum educational qualifications for teachers in all institutions.
  6. Provide concession on necessities like land, electricity, etc., that are required for setting up educational institutions.
  7. Provide free education, in all government institutions, for citizens living below the poverty line.
  8. Launch free-to-air educational channels to educate the masses.
  9. Provide suitable economic compensation/relief to parents whose children are earning members of their families, to encourage the children to study.
  10. Provide good salary packages of government employed teachers and salary subsidies for private school teachers, to raise their living standards.
  11. Set up a grievance cell to sort all problems of the Educational system, headed by the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India and assisted by a council of eminent people from various fields, having the status of state ministers of a cabinet
  12. Establish institutions for the mentally/physically challenged people, so that they can obtain free education.
  13. Make adult education mandatory and free of cost for all illiterate adults.

Breaking all barriers: Education to all

  1. The role of Universal Elementary Education (UEE) for strengthening the social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all has been accepted since the inception of our Republic. Over the years, India initiated a wide range of programmes for achieving the goal of UEE through several schematic and programme interventions, such as Operation Black Board, Shiksha Karmi Project, Lok Jumbish Programme, Mahila Samakhya, District Primary Education Programme etc. Currently, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is implemented as India’s main programme for universalising elementary education. Its overall goals include universal access and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in education and enhancement of learning levels of children. SSA provides for a variety of interventions, including inter alia, opening of new schools and alternate schooling facilities, construction of schools and additional provisioning for teachers, periodic teacher training and academic resource support, textbooks and support for learning achievement.
  2. These provisions need to be aligned with the legally mandated norms and standards and free entitlements mandated by the RTE Act SSA is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations.
  3. The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which represents the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A, means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.
  4. Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into effect on 1 April 2010. The title of the RTE Act incorporates the words Tree and compulsory’.‘Free education’ means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6- 14 age group. With this, India has moved forward to a rights based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Central and State.
  5. Governments to implement this fundamental child right as enshrined in the Article 21A of the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the RTE Act The SSA has been operational since 2000-2001to provide for a variety of interventions for universal access and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in elementary education and improving the quality of learning. SSA seeks to provide quality elementary education including life skills. SSA has a special focus on girl’s education and children with special needs. SSA also seeks to provide computer education to bridge the digital divide. With the passage of the RTE Act, changes have been incorporated into the SSA approach, strategies and norms. Elementary Education sector is experiencing the drive for Quality improvement under SSA by aligning it with the provisions of RTE Act.
  6. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) framework of implementation and norms for interventions have been revised to correspond with the provisions of the RTE Act This includes interventions, inter alia for i.e.
    • Opening new primary and upper primary schools as per the neighbourhood norms notified by State Governments in the RTE Rules, and to expand existing infrastructure(additional classrooms, toilets, drinking water facilities) and provide maintenance grants and school improvement grants.
    • Support for residential schools for children in areas which are sparsely populated or hilly or densely forested with difficult terrain, and for urban deprived homeless and street children in difficult circumstances,
    • Special training for admission of out-of-school children in age appropriate classes,
    • Additional teachers as per norms specified in the RTE Act, and provide extensive training and grants for development for teacher training materials and strengthening the academic support structure.
    • Two sets of uniforms for all girls, and children belonging to SC/ST/BPL families,
    • Strengthening of academic support through block and cluster resource centres, schools, etc.
    • Provide quality elementary education including life skills with a special focus on the education of girls and children with special needs as well as computer education to bridge vital divide.

The focus is no more only on the quantitative expansion of institutions and enrolment but equal emphasis is being laid on the quality improvement The school system is being revitalized by introducing administrative and management reforms, curriculum renewal teaching methodologies to evolve the facilitating conditions for learner to remain in the school for eight years and not dropping out.

Mid Day Meal Scheme :
  1. With a view to enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on 15th August 1995. In 2001 MDMS became a cooked Mid Day Meal Scheme under which every child in every Government and Government aided primary school was to be served a prepared Mid Day Meal with a minimum content of 300 calories of energy and 8-12 gram protein per day for a minimum of 200 days.
  2. The Scheme was further extended in 2002 to cover not only children studying in Government, Government aided and local body schools, but also children studying in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative & Innovative Education (AIE) centres. In September 2004 theScheme was revised to provide for Central Assistance for Cooking cost @ Re1per child per school day to cover cost of pulses, vegetables cooking oil condiments, fuel and wages and remuneration payable to personnel or amount payable to agency responsible for cooking. Transport subsidy was also raised from the earlier maximum of Rs 50 per quintal to Rs. 100 per quintal for special category states and Rs 75 per quintal for other states. Central assistance was provided for the first time for management, monitoring and evaluation of the scheme @ 2% of the cost of food grains, transport subsidy and cooking assistance.A provision for serving mid day meal during summer vacation in drought affected areas was also made. In July 2006 the Scheme was further revised to enhance the cooking cost to Rs 1.80 per child/ school day for States in the North Eastern Region and Rs 1.50 per child / school day for other States and UTs.
  3. The nutritional norm for upper primary stage was fixed at 700 Calories and 20 grams of protein. The Scheme was extended to all areas across the country from 1.4.2008.The Scheme was further revised in April 2008 to extend the scheme to recognized as well as unrecognized Madarsas / Maqtabs supported under SSA.
  4. The Mid Day Meal is the world’s largest school feeding programme reaching out to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools/ EGS centres across the country. Today Mid day Meal scheme is serving primary and upper primary school children in entire country. The present status of MDG indicators under Goal 2, throws light on the remarkable achievement in the field of universalisation of Primary education, the focussed initiatives are to be continued to maintain the momentum gathered so far, addressing the specific issues of the vulnerable groups of children who tends to miss primary education at any point of time due to various socio – economic hurdles.
Need of Education to Disadvantaged Sections of Society :

Women, STs, SCs, and OBCs Education to women is necessary so that they can attain equality. It is a prerequisite for value change as without value change, the social objectives cannot be achieved The social legislations have given them political economic, social and religious rights but merely giving them rights does not motivate them to avail these rights to their benefit The law may give them the right to vote in elections, contest elections and hold political posts but it cannot compel them to do so. The law may give them the right to get a share in father’s property but women may not compel their brothers to give them their due share. The law may give them the right to select their own life partner and to divorce the husband who humiliates them, tortures them or exploits them, but how many women insist on using this right? This is mainly because illiteracy has made them stick to traditional values. Lack of courage prevents them from taking initiative for a bold step. Education will make them liberal and broadminded and change their attitudes, values and role perceptions. The empirical study
conducted in eight states in 1967 on 11,500 students studying at various levels points out ‘gender’ as the most pronounced differentiation in educational opportunity. While broadly speaking education of girls has made strides and today in many faculties and departments of universities, more girls than boys are to be seen. Empirical data shows that the girls who enter the educational system are largely those from the urban high caste, white collar families. Rural residence, low caste, and low economic standing definitely tend to deny opportunities of education to a girl (Gore).The following specific steps have been taken for improving girls/women’s participation in education:

  1. Under the scheme of Operation Blackboard, the government has provided assistance since1987-88 for the creation of about one lakh posts of primary school teachers mainly to be filled by women. In five years about 75 per cent of these posts were filled up of which about 60 per cent were women teachers.
  2. The ‘Mahila Samakhya’ (Education for Women’s Equality) Project was launched in April 1989 which aimed at mobilizing rural women for education through Mahila Sangha in each of the villages concerned This is a Central scheme where full financial assistance is provided to Mahila Samakhya societies in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat As an Indo-Dutch programme, it receives cent percent assistance from the government of the Netherlands. The focus of the programme is on generating demand for education and introducing innovative educational inputs for pre-school non formal, adult and continuing education.
  3. Admission of girls to the extent of 28 per cent in Navodaya Vidyalayas has been ensured
  4. Special attention is given to enrolment of women in adult education centres.
  5. Under the rural functional literacy programmes, of the total adult illiterates enrolled by1995, about 55 per cent were women. Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Yojana for free education to girls from weaker sections, SC, ST, OBC.

The National Policy on Education-1986 also laid emphasis on education for attaining women’s equality which will foster the development of new values. The strategies proposed are: encouraging educational
institutions to take up active programmes to further women’s development removal of women’s illiteracy removing obstacles inhibiting their access to elementary education, and pursuing policy of nondiscrimination to eliminate sex stereotyping in vocational technical and professional courses.

The law cannot compel a woman to educate herself. Nor the parents can be compelled to send their daughters to schools. And without education, women’s equality cannot be attained What is needed is change of attitudes both in men and women towards girls education.

Education of SCs, STs, and OBCs

Education is directly related to the development of an individual and the community. It is the most important single factor for economic development as well as social emancipation. For the weaker sections of society, education has a special significance because for a number of centuries, their illiteracy and social backwardness have been used for their harassment, humiliation and economic exploitation.The problems of education of the underprivileged groups and the general population are different both quantitatively as well as qualitatively. It was in the context of quantitative and qualitative differences that the Central Advisory Board of Education recommended about two decades ago (in July1976) that

  1. Universalisation of elementary education of SCs and STs is necessary, particularly in selected areas.
  2. Since SCs and STs are not homogeneous groups (with high variations in literary levels – tribe-wise and caste-wise in different states), differentiated programmes are necessary for them.
  3. Since educational infrastructure is non-existent in many cases in the tribal areas, a network of educational institutions of single-teacher schools and hostel facilities according to the density of school network need to be planned for each micro unit.
Steps Taken for Educational Development of SCs and STs, and OBCs
  1. Our Constitution has directed the states to promote the educational interests of the weaker sections of the people, particularly of SCs and STs in terms of establishment of and admission to educational institutions and grant from state funds for scholarships, etc. It has thus consciously provided a policy of temporary discrimination for them.
  2. In view of this direction, a provision has been made in all Five Year Plans providing crores of rupees for raising the level of education among the SCs and STs by opening schools, giving pre-matric and post-matric scholarships, constructing hostels particularly for girls.Creating book-banks, mid-day meals, loans to students, coaching centres, houses for teachers and so forth.
  3. Reserving seats in educational institutions including engineering and medical colleges.
  4. Relaxation in age and marks for admission.
  5. Free special coaching to students aspiring for admission to professional courses or preparing for central and state level competitive examinations.
The National Policy on Education -1986 contemplated the following measures to educate SCs, STs, and OBCs:
  1. Incentives to SC families to send their children to school regularly till they reach the age of 14.
  2. Pre-matric scholarship scheme for children of families engaged in low occupations (scavenging, tanning, etc.) from Class I onwards.
  3. Constant monitoring to ensure enrolment, retention and successful completion of courses.
  4. Recruitment of teachers from SCs. Facilities in hostels.
  5. Locating schools, Balwadis and Education Centres in such a way as to facilitate full participation of SCs.
  6. Constant innovation in finding new methods to increase participation.
  7. Priority to opening primary schools in the tribal areas.
  8. Devising instructional materials in tribal languages at the initial stages.
  9. Encouraging educated tribals to take up teaching in tribal areas.
  10. Establishing residential schools on a large scale.
  11. Incentives to all educationally-backward sections of society particularly in the rural areas.
  12. Providing institutional infrastructure in hill and desert districts and in remote and inaccessible areas.
Causes of failure of education programmes for the SCs and STs
  1. High percentage of dropouts. Though the number of SC/ST children in primary classes has gradually increased in the last five decades yet a large number of students dropout by the time they pass 5th standard. It is estimated that the percentage of wastage in different states both among SC and ST communities vary from 30 (Himachal Pradesh) to 88 (Manipur). However, wastage among the STs is much higher than that among the SCs.
  2. Ineffective reservations: All reserved seats are not filled up due to non-availability of the required qualified candidates.
  3. Meager scholarship: Money spent on education is much more than the money received as scholarship.
  4. Inadequate facilities: In some tribal areas, schools are located in distinct places and children and children find it difficult to reach school. Similarly, adequate hostel facilities are also not easily available.
  5. Frequent absence of teachers in remote areas: Most of schools in tribal as well as non-tribal areas are one teacher schools. Teachers are either not willing to be posted in these isolated areas or they remain absent so frequently that student’s education suffers.
  6. Medium of instruction: Tribal children speak their own dialect while teaching in primary classes is through the state language.This language problem makes students disinterested in their studies as they cannot read the text-books written in unfamiliar language.
  7. Cultural and social barriers: Among many tribals, the custom of marrying daughters at an early age and not permitting daughter-in-law to go for studies acts as a barrier to acquiring education. Moreover, most tribals have a feeling that the educated tribal youths would not respect the traditional norms and values of life.

According to Prasad, it may, unless tribals are taught both their tribal dialects and state languages, teachers are given incentives for working in isolated areas, single-teacher system is replaced by two or more teacher system, and unless school timings are fixed according to the convenience of the local people, an education will remain inaccessible to the vast majority of SC/ST students. Only especially crafted education policy will fulfil the needs of SCs and STs. Achieving merit and ability is possible only through education.Though education does not guarantee high status and higher positions to all people, yet without education, an individual is unlikely to achieve social mobility. Rationalizing education to educate the masses, and altering the system to suit the needs of the people, not the politicians, is required in India.To secure for our nation a bright future, the youth must be empowered to create a secular, civilized literate and developed society, for which our ancestors yearned and sacrificed their lives. The visions of a truly democratic and developed nation and prevalence of literacy alone can provide power, inspiration and motivation to do so.

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