IN a country which is home to the largest number of illiterate adults in the world, the story of a 96-year-old grandmother sitting for the first exam of her life earlier this month warmed the cockles of many hearts.
Karthyayani Amma of Cheppad, in Kerala’s Alappuzha district was one of 40,440 people to take a literacy examination as part of the state’s Literacy Mission Authority’s Aksharalaksham project – launched on January 26 this year in a bid to achieve 100 per cent literacy.
In 1991, Kerala was the first Indian state to be declared as completely literate. At that time, as per UNESCO’s norms if 90 per cent of the population was literate then the state would be considered fully literate. Now, almost three decades later, their second literacy revolution has started to bridge the gaps left by their first one.
While Kerala is known for its highly educated population, the 2011 census revealed that about 18 lakh people were still illiterate in the state. Moreover, according to a recent survey conducted by Aksharalaksham project in more than 2,000 wards, there are about over 47,000 who can’t read and write.
And often it’s the rural poor, the marginalised communities to whom the literacy drives fail to reach. But we are happy to report that with this new project, Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) are reaching out to tribal and migrant communities.
As Dr PS Sreelekha, director of KSLMA, said: “Our aim is to make the literacy programme more inclusive and educate the tribal and coastal belt in the state. Dropout rates are high among these communities due to various financial and social issues. We have to reach out to them.”
While Kerala has hogged the spotlight, another state which prioritised education in the past few years has been catching up quickly. In April this year, Sikkim’s Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said that the state is on its way to achieve 100 per cent literacy.
In 2011 census, the overall literacy rate in Sikkim was just over 81 per cent. But with the launch of their Total Literacy Mission, by the end of 2015 the literacy rate of the Himalayan state was around 90 per cent.
Chamling added that to achieve their target and ensure quality education is accessible to all, the government has set up 26 colleges and seven universities in the state in the last two years.
Last year, a small village in Sikkim’s neighbouring state Manipur, Nungthaang Tampak became the first village in the North East region to be fully computer literate.
To encourage the use of modern technology by people residing in rural North East, a social enterprise called Mangal Rural, headed by Surjit Ningthoujam took up the initiative to make affordable technology accessible to them.
Besides state governments, there are thousands of NGOs in India trying to fill the gaps in education to improve the country’s literacy rate, now at 74 per cent.
Its critical importance, lest we forget, was pointed out by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope…It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential.”
Help 20-year-old Dilip Mondal from the Dilerjung slum area of Kolkata to break cycle of poverty through education by clicking here.