Transforming Literacy-Celebrating International Literacy Day, 2022

Abdus Salam, MCS (Retd)
To combat worldwide issues of illiteracy, UNESCO proclaimed September 8 as International Literacy Day (ILD) at the 14th Session of its General Conference held on October 26, 1966. Since 1967, ILD celebrations have been organised every year around the globe to promote literacy as a part of right to education as well as foundation for individuals’ empowerment and inclusive and sustainable development. The celebration also aims to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights and to show light on global literacy needs with mission literacy for everyone and everywhere. It is an opportunity for Governments, and Civil Society to highlight the issues of literacy and remaining literacy Challenges.
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 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. As defined by Sustainable Development Goal 4, literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning based on humanism.
ILD 2022 theme
The ILD is celebrated every year since 1967 with different themes. This year’s theme is “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces.” In the past few years particularly during the last global pandemic, few technological advanced countries have created literacy learning spaces ensuring the continuation of formal,  informal and non-formal learning mechanisms. But those countries which do not have adequate infrastructure were left behind in ensuring learning spaces for the youth and adults. This year’s theme is focusing on increasing awareness of diverse learning spaces centred on needs of youth and adults  based on new knowledge of teaching and learning practices. It also aims to leverage the development in multiple types of literacy learning spaces such as home, workplace, community, social media, digital platforms etc and to adapt the existing and the upcoming transformation in the literacy learning spaces to ensure quality, equality and inclusive education for all.
Literacy scenario
Global : 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 (2020) Global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.68%. Global Male and Female literacy rates stood at 90.0% and 82.7% respectively. 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 (66%) is women.  According to Global Education Monitoring Report (2018) released by UNESCO, 771 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. These figures indicate enormous task ahead for governments and all stakeholders and the urgent need to take a giant step forward in achieving the SDG specially Target 4.6 in ensuring tat all youth and adults achieveliteracy and numeracy by 2030.
National : 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 (2015). As per Census 2011, the absolute number of non-literates of the country in 15 years and above age group is 25.76 crore (Male 9.08 crore, Female 16.68 crore). As  7.64 crore illeterates are certified as literate  under the Saakshar Bharat programme implemented during 2009-10 to 2017-18, it is estimated that currently around 18.12 crore adults are still non-literate in India. To face this challenges, the Government of India, Ministry of Education has launched a new Centrally Sponsored Scheme, namely, New India Literacy Programme (NILP) for the next five financial years (2022-27) in order to integrate all the aspects of adult education with the National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP). The Education Ministry has chosen to use ‘Education for All’ rather than ‘Adult Education,’ since the previous terminology was not applicable to non-literates aged 15 and above. This new programme aims to support the States and Union Territories in promoting literacy among non-literates in the age group of 15 and above. It will cover across the country covering 5 crore non-literates during the implementation period from 2022-23 to 2026-27. As in the last Mission known as Sakshar Bharat which ended in 2017-18, the new  scheme has also five components namely: (1) Foundational Literacy and Numeracy. (2) Critical Life Skills. (3) Vocational Skills Development. (4) Basic Education. (5) Continuing Education. The salient features of the NILP are: Involvement of school students, pre-service students of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), school teachers, Anganwadi and ASHA workers. School to be unit for implementation of the scheme. Use of ICT and online implementation of the scheme through ‘Online Teaching Learning and Assessment System’ (OTLAS) material and resources through digital modes, viz, TV, radio, cell phone-based free/open-source Apps/portals, etc.
State : As per Census-2011, Manipur’s literacy rate is 79.85% (Male-86.49% and Female-73.17%) which means that there are more than 20% illiterate adults in Manipur. 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%. Manipur’s literacy ranking among the Indian State stood at 16. District-wise Literacy Rates are: Imphal West-86.08%, Churachandpur-82.78%,  Imphal East-81.95%, Ukhrul-81.35%, Thoubal-74.47%, Chandel-71.11%, Tamenglong-70.05% and Senapati- 63.60%.
Our State also needs to implement the new programme NILP launched by the Union Government and to achieve the SDG target of 100% literacy by 2030.
Since literacy is recognised as a basic human right, organisations all over the world are pushing towards increasing the literacy rate. Being literate and trained in different 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 every literate person accepts the eradication of illiteracy as a personal goal, achieving the target of cent percent literacy in our country will not be a far fetched dream.  Let our Government seriously re-look into  the challenges of illiteracy by implementing the newly launched Literacy Programme (NILP) without loss of time and change the scenario of literacy of our State.
As in the words of former US President, Barack 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.”
Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani Nobel laureate also said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.
The writer is Former Member Secretary, State Literacy Mission Authority, Government of Manipur