The economy of India has developed rapidly in the last years to become the ninth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP with astonishing growth rates of gross national income per capita since 2002 (Google Public Data Explorer, 2011). India's per capita income (in current US$) has nearly tripled from $470 in 2002 to $1340 in 2010, averaging 14.4% growth over these eight years (Google Public Data Explorer, 2011). However, India ranks a low 134 among 187 countries in terms of the HDI and its literacy rate of 74% in 2011 is still lower than the worldwide average of 84% in 2008 (UNESCO, 2010). But why is literacy important for sustainable development? What causes can be found for particularly high rural and female illiteracy? How can we solve this development issues? This paper will analyze the development issue of illiteracy in India – in particular the disparity in literacy rates and educational opportunities between urban and rural areas, males and females, and among different social groups. Finally the paper will provide suggestions to overcome the development issue of illiteracy.
By definition a person aged seven and above, who can both read and write with any understanding in any language, is treated as literate (The Viewspaper, 2011). However, one in five adults of the world is still not literate and about two-thirds of them are woman (UNESCO, 2011). One could ask, why literacy is important for the development of a country – particularly for India with a continuously increasing GDP per capita (PPP$ inflation adjusted) from $877 in 1981 to $2478 in 2007 based on the following data: www.bit.ly/w3vtri (Gapminder World, 2008). But literacy is at least as important as GDP growth for a sustainable, equitable, and democratic development that focuses on increasing living standards in India (Stiglitz, 2006). It is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development (UNESCO, 2011). Moreover it is connected either directly or indirectly to other development issues. Illiteracy is the mother of all issues as it gives birth to other problems like poverty, child mortality, population burst, gender inequality, unemployment, and child labor (The Viewspaper, 2011). Consequently literacy is a reasonable good indicator of development in a society.
Although India was home to one third of the world’s non-literate people according to the 2004 Global Education Report of the UNESCO (The Times of India, 2004), the literacy rate in the country has increased significantly since the British colonialism. Whereas the literacy rate during the British period slowly increased from 3.2% in 1881 to 12.2% in 1947, there has been phenomenal increase in the literacy rate until 1991 (52.2%), along with an increased number of educational institutions, faculties, teachers, and students (Wikipedia, 2011). However, it is relevant to consider the absolute figures of literates and illiterates. From 1951 to 1991 India’s population has been increasing at a growth rate of more than 2 per cent per annum. While the expanded educational facilities increased the number of literates in the country it has not been able to keep pace with the fast growing population. In absolute terms, while the number of literates has increased from about 60 million in 1951 to about 359 million in 1991, the number of illiterates has increased from about 300 million in 1951 to about 328 million in 1991 (Government of India, 1997). The Indian government had recognized the neglect of education during colonial times and increased the awareness, that the nation building process would never be complete without giving literacy a major thrust (UNESCO, 2000). It launched several programs (National Policy of Education, 1986; National Literacy Mission, 1988; Education Policy 1992), aimed at attaining a literacy rate of 75 per cent by 2007 (UNESCO, 2000) and free and compulsory elementary education to all children up to the age of 14 (The...
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