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More literacy, but improve education quality too: Experts

Sunday April 10, 2011 11:46:27 AM, IANS

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New Delhi: Educationists have lauded the nearly 10 percent rise in India's literacy rate, which is around 75 percent now, but they say the quality of school education also needs to improve if the country wants to compete at the global level.

"If you see the increase in literacy rate with reference to India being the third largest Asian economy, then it is a boost for the country as it is likely to affect many other social variables such as employment, productivity, income growth and equitable distribution of the gains," Praveen Jha, associate professor of social sciences, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told IANS.

"More importantly, this increase in literacy rate comes with a slowing growth rate of population and a pacy income growth. The decade has seen the slowest population growth in almost 100 years," pointed out Jha.

Experts remain optimistic about the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) pushing up the literacy rate further.

"You have to be optimistic to understand that this is a great achievement for India. But the approach towards education and related policies has a long way to go, especially after the right to education," Urmila Sarkar, chief of education with Unicef, told IANS.

According to the provisional data for Census 2011 that has just been released, India's literacy level has increased by 9.21 percent in the past 10 years to reach 74.04 percent. The literacy rate was 64.83 percent in 2001.

"The increase is mainly because of high school enrolment rate, better policies that involve states at the grassroots and the will to move towards a lifelong education approach," added Sarkar, referring to the Unicef policies.

"Focus on teacher sensitisation towards children's needs if you want to take the literacy rate higher. Monitor school management, be it public or private schools," said Sarkar.

The statistics also reflected that literates constitute 74 percent of the total population, aged seven and above.

However, not all is hunky-dory as the quality of education being delivered still needs to improve, said experts.

"The policymakers have to consider the quality of education also. Just a high literacy rate will not give the exact picture of the reality that exists in the countrywide schools," said Randeep Kaur, technical advisor for education at Plan India, a voluntary organisation.

The working definition of crude literacy rate in the Indian Census since 1991 is the total percentage of people of an area at a particular time aged seven years or above who can read and write with understanding, taking the total population of the area (including below seven years of age) as the denominator.

"When you talk about literacy rate, you take into account the definition of literacy and the parameters that decide its level. The variation showed by different states is also important to note," said Kaur.

At 93.91 percent, Kerala continued to maintain its top position among states in the literacy rate. The top two districts in the country are Mizoram's Serchhip, with 98.76 percent literacy, and Aizawl with 98.5 percent.

According to statistics, the literacy rate improved sharply among females as compared to males in the last decade.

While the effective literacy rate for males rose from 75.26 percent to 82.14 percent, marking a rise of 6.8 percent, it increased by 11.8 percent for females to go up from 53.67 to 65.47 percent.

"You cannot deny that the increase is an achievement, but there is a long way to go, said Sarkar.

"We face some major challenges at the ground level in terms of cultural barriers, social barriers, lack of women's empowerment and lack of health facilities in schools. These have to be overcome to see more girls getting the benefits of education in Indian classrooms," said Sarkar.

"It would be crucial to observe how the RTE shapes up in the coming two years. It is too early to comment on the policy that has increased the enrolment rate," said Anurita Dey, professor of sociology at JNU.

The gap of 21.59 percentage points recorded between male and female literacy rates in Census 2001 has reduced to 16.68 percentage points in 2011. The Planning Commission has set up a target of reducing this gap to 10 percentage points by 2011-12.






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