Celebrating International Literacy Day, 2018 and need for a new State literacy programme

Abdus Salam
International Literacy Day, 2018 was celebrated on Saturday, the 8th of September 2018 around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.
What is literacy
Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. It is an evolving concept which not only entails the grasping abilities of printed text but also the abilities to adapt visual entities and technological awareness as well. According to UNESCO, Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”
ILD 2018 theme
The ILD is celebrated every year since 1967 with different themes. This year’s theme is “Literacy and Skill Development” focussing on youth and adults within the framework of lifelong learning. UNESCO proposes the linkages between literacy and skills since combining these two components are very effective and have better job opportunities. The skills means knowledge particularly of technical and vocational skills and competencies required for employment, careers and livelihoods.
Youth and adult literacy and skills, are the areas which did not attract the required attention amongst the goals for Education For All ( EFA) programme implemented between 2000 and 2015. Now, globally steady progress has been made with increase in the adult literacy rate (15+ years) from 81% in 2000 to 86% in 2016. Despite progress made, literacy challenges persist, and at the same time demands for skills required for work evolve rapidly. This year UNESCO explores and highlights integrated approaches that simultaneously can support the development of literacy and skills to ultimately improve people’s life and equitable and sustainable societies.
Global Literacy scenario
In order to understand the problems and challenges of illiteracy, one needs to know the status of literacy prevailing across the world. As per reports released by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2015) Global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.3%( the developed nations having 99.2% to 100%, Oceania having 71.3%, South and West Asia having 70.2%, Sub-Saharan Africa having 64.0%). Almost two-third of the world‘s illiterate adults are found in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Two-third of all illiterates is women.
According to Global Education Monitoring Report (2018) released by UNESCO, 750 million adults are illiterates out of which 102 million are young people (15-24 years old). 617 million children and adolescence (6 children out of 10) do not have minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics; 267 million out of school children is likely to be part of future illiterate population, if no action is taken to enrol them in schools; 8.9% of adults are found to have poor reading skills 22.7% of adults have poor numeracy skills.
National scenario
India’s literacy rate is 74.04% (Male-82.14 and Female-65.46%), Kerala tops the literacy ranking with 93.91% and Bihar with 63.82% is the least literate State. Even though 75% Indians above age 7 are literate, 50% of these literates are found incapable of reading a Grade-II level text or newspaper headline as per National Sample Survey Report (2015).
State scenario
Manipur’s literacy rate is 79.85%( Male-86.49% and Female-73.17%). Average literacy rate of urban regions is 85.38% in which males are 91.68 % while female literacy stood at 79.31%. In rural areas, the average literacy rate is 73.4% out of which males is 80.29% and female 66.34%, which means that there are more than 20% illiterates adults in Manipur. Although different literacy programmes like Non Formal Education(NFE),
Rural Functional Literacy Programme(RFLP), Saakshar Bharat Mission (SBM) etc during the last five decades were taken up in the State, Manipur’s literacy ranking among the Indian State stood at 16. Several States have surpassed Manipur in the literacy rate during the last few decades. It appears that adequate focus is not given to the problems of illiteracy and measures being taken up to eradicate it. The State Government does not have its own policy for implementing literacy programme in the district not covered by SBM. It only implements the Central Sponsored schemes of Adult Education, the latest version being just closed SBM. Many States in India like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tripura etc formulated its own literacy programmes to achieve the goal of cent per cent literacy of its citizens as a result these States have progressed far ahead in the development race. Overview of implementation of literacy programme in Manipur is disheartening. The Department spearheading the literacy mission is at present understaffed. It is reported that more than half of the sanctioned strength of the field functionaries posts like Project Officers, Assistant Project Officers, and Supervisors etc. are lying vacant for the last 5/6 years. The Co-ordinators(Preraks) of Adult Education Centres(AEC) who are the backbone of literacy programme in the Gram Panchayat/ Village have not been paid their honorarium for the last 3 years. A separate Director of Adult Education (HoD) has not been posted for the last many years. The Administrative Secretary of the Department used to look after the Directorate in addition to his normal duty as Secretary. The Administrative Secretary is found frequently changed which affects the proper implementation of the literacy programme in the State. The tenure of posting of Secretary in the Department hardly completes one year. In this scenario, it is difficult to understand how the target of 100% literacy will be achieved by 2030.
If the State Government intends to achieve 100% literacy rate and secure top ten ranking position in literacy, first, the Adult Education Department which has been spearheading the literacy programmes since its bifurcation from the erstwhile Education Department, needs to be immediately strengthened. Second, the State Cabinet needs to take a decision to formulate a new State Literacy Programmes linked with Skill Development as integrated approach in those Districts/ Blocks where literacy rate is below State average. Third, adequate budgetary provision needs to be made to fund and implement the integrated programme at the Districts and Block levels with the Deputy Commissioners and SDOs/BDOs as Heads of the District/Block Implementing Authorities since implementation of earlier literacy programmes through local bodies has not brought satisfactory results as expected.
Few years back, literacy on a global or national level or State level has not been seriously taken as historically significant. But today literacy is recognised as a basic human right. Organisations all over the world are pushing towards increasing the literacy rate of all countries. Being literate and trained in technical skills not only empowers a person but also opens a whole new world of opportunities which will help abolish poverty and unemployment and eliminate hunger. If the State Government has the will and commitment and if every literate person accepts the eradication of illiteracy as a personal goal, achieving the target of cent percent literacy in our State will not be a farfetched dream. Let every stake holders -Government or Non Government- pledge ourselves to take the challenges of illiteracy by making at least one illiterate person literate in our neighbourhood and change the scenario of literacy of our State. As in the words of former US President, Barrack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Happy International Literacy Day, 2018.

The writer is a former Joint Secretary (Adult Education) Government of Manipur

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