20 years on, mission to literacy still short of target (Special)

May 5th, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sanjay Singh
New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) Twenty years after its launch, the National Literacy Mission (NLM) is still struggling to meet its objective. It is 10 percent short of the literacy rate target and has been unable to bridge the gender literacy gap. The mission was launched on May 5, 1988, targeted to attain 75 percent literacy by 2007. But the literacy rate at present stands at 65 percent. Supposed to bring down the gender gap in literacy to 10 percent by 2007, the mission has failed to do so.

The male-female gender gap stands at over 21 percent now. The present male literacy is 75.85 percent, while it is 54.16 percent for females, according to a senior government official.

Unesco, which assists the mission, had in a report last year criticised the way the NLM was progressing, stating that “India was nowhere in terms of eradicating illiteracy”.

An embarrassed Indian government went in for damage control, but failed to convince the world community. It declared recently that it would achieve complete literacy by 2015.

The government has earmarked a whopping Rs.850 billion ($21 billion) - five times the budget allocated earlier - for the education sector in the 11th Five Year Plan, which ends in 2012. A huge fund has been kept aside for success of the mission, said a source.

A concerned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing a National Conference on Save the Girl Child here on April 28, urged that the NLM be reoriented to focus on female literacy.

Human resource development (HRD) ministry officials admitted that the failure of states to implement the NLM has forced the government to set another target - to attain 80 percent literacy rate by the end of 2012, and complete literacy three years later - by 2015.

The government feels a wrong impression has been created about the failure of the mission. A.K. Rath, secretary (secondary education and literacy) in the HRD ministry, said the government would achieve its target of complete literacy by 2015.

He said that Unesco had created a hype based on the feedback it received from NGOs, which the government disapproves.

Renowned educationist Professor Yashpal also questioned the credibility of the Unesco report. “Who are they (Unesco) to tell us? They aren’t aware of the ground situation and realities of our country,” he said.

He hoped that the Mission would complete its new target of complete literacy by 2015. “The government is committed to eradicating illiteracy. It is its top agenda. All the agencies are being put to work to ensure that the literacy target is met on time,” said Yashpal.

But the government’s very own National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) - India’s official census agency - has pointed to the sluggish rate of literacy.

Nearly 70 percent of the country’s illiterate population belong to the eight states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

These states have not shown any major improvement in the government’s flagship programmes, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All), for universalisation of elementary education in a time bound manner, and the National Literacy Mission, officials said.

(Sanjay Singh can be contacted at sanjay.singh@ians.in)

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