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V. Mohan Rao**

September 8th of every year is observed as International Literacy Day. India has put its Literacy Mission high on agenda with the government initiating a number of measures including the adoption of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, to achieve higher literacy rate in the country. The measures also include the recasting of the National Literacy Mission to focus on literacy of women, reduction in the dropout rate of children at school levels and introduction of Public-Private Participation in the school education. The Human Resource Development Ministry has set a target of achieving 80 per cent literacy for women by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan and have recast the National Literacy Mission to National Womenís Literacy Mission to provide a thrust to it. With its new slogan, Literate India, the Mission will be launched soon in about 365 districts in the country, where the literacy rate is below 50 per cent. The Government is also trying to reduce the gap between literacy levels of men and women at All India level, which is 21 per cent at present. Through this Mission, the Government is planning to educate 70 million adults, out of which 60 million would be women. The Centre has also decided to set up 6,000 high quality model schools at the block level, at the rate of one school per block, as benchmarks of excellence. The first phase of the scheme to set up 2,500 Model Schools in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs) under the State Governments was launched in November 2008.

Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill, 2009

Recently, the Government has adopted the Right to Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill 2009. It provides that every child in the age group of six to fourteen shall have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education. The measure will lead to significant reform in the elementary education system besides ensuring universalisation of elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality. The measure provides that appropriate government and the local authority will establish elementary schools in such area or limits of neighbourhood as may be prescribed. The Billís enactment was also a part of the UPA Governmentís agenda during its first 100 days of governance.

Measures to reduce Illiteracy

As per UNESCOíS Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2006, the number of illiterates in the population aged 15 plus was estimated to be 771 million in the world, out of which 267 million are in India. The Centre has taken several steps to improve the literacy scenario in the country. They include renewed focus on low literacy areas with special emphasis on female, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and minorities, enhanced budget allocation for adult education and significant enhancement in access and quality of elementary education to reduce the influx into the pool of adult illiterate population. At present, the Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) is in progress in 95 districts of the country. About 127.45 million persons in the country have been made literate since the launching of the National Literacy Mission in 1988 till 2008-09.

Enrolment Of Children at Primary And Secondary Levels

The Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach for improving the enrolment of children at primary level and their retention. The Gross Enrolment Ratio at the primary level was 111.24 in 2006-07 and the drop out rate for that level has decreased from 31.5 per cent in 2003-04 to 25.43 per cent in 2006-07. The National Programme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), aimed at achieving Universal Elementary Education, launched in 2001, provides for, among other things, opening of new schools, strengthening of school infrastructure, inclusive education for children with special needs. The Government has allocated Rs.71,000 crore as its share during the 11th Plan. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme is supported by the National Programme of Mid Day Meal scheme in schools. At the secondary level, various schemes like Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in secondary schools, scholarship for girls have been started. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher educations is estimated to be about 12.4 per cent as compared to estimated world average of 26 per cent. In order to achieve the targeted GER of an additional five per cent by the end of 11th Plan, a substantial increase in plan allocation has been made for the expansion of higher education, by way of setting up of institutions such as Central Universities in uncovered states. The Government also plans to increase the GER to 21 per cent by the end of 12th Five Year Plan period. The GER of Scheduled Tribe students has increased from 86.06 per cent in 2003-04 to 109.48 per cent at the elementary level and the dropout rate has reduced in the same period from 70.05 per cent to 62.54 per cent.

Public Spending on Education

The Government has accorded very high importance to the education sector during the 11th Plan. An allocation of Rs.2,69,873 crore has been made to the Human Resource Development Ministry. The allocation includes Rs.1,84,930 crore for the Department of School Education and Literacy. This constitutes 19.4 per cent of the total 11th Plan allocation compared to 7.7 per cent in the 10th Plan. This is a very substantial effort on the part of the Central Government towards raising the public spending on education towards the goal of 6 per cent of GDP. The overall progress towards this goal will however, also depend on the efforts by the State Governments. The Government favours active support and involvement of private sector participation for funding and management of educational institutions subject to reasonable surplus earned and the same being ploughed back for development of institutions. The 11th Plan document as approved by the National Development Council, also mentions the need to explore private sector initiatives and various forms of Public Private Partnerships in the education sector. A proposal for setting up of 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIIT) in various parts of the country under Public-Private-Participation (PPP) mode is also under consideration of the government.

Empowerment of Women in Education

The National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986, as modified in 1992 provides that education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of woman. The removal of illiteracy among women and obstacles inhibiting their access to, and retention in, elementary education will receive overriding priority through the provision of special support services and effective monitoring. The University Grants Commission (UGC) also implements various schemes for educational empowerment of women like Indira Gandhi Scholarships for single girl child for pursuing higher and technical education, construction of womenís hostels, womenís study centers in universities for gender studies and policies in respect of empowerment of women and their role in the society. The positive impact of above schemes has resulted in increased enrolment of girls, decrease in dropout rates of girls, improved learning achievement level of girls/women and the overall reduction in gender gaps.

International Scenario

Despite many and varied efforts, literacy remains an elusive target globally. About 776 million adults lack minimum literacy skills which means that one in five adults is still not literate; 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. This yearís International Literacy Day puts the spotlight on the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship and social development. Literacy and Empowerment is the theme for the 2009-10 biennium of the United Nations Literacy Decade.

Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB


**Freelance Writer


PIB Aizawl

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