International Literacy Day 2016
September 8, 2016, marks the 50th Anniversary of International Literacy Day that began with the Tehran Conference in 1965. Since then, UNESCO has been celebrating the day with its motto “Reading the past, writing the future”.
UNESCO plans to celebrate International Literacy Day over two days at its headquarters in Paris by organizing a conference to recognize and give away prizes for contribution to the cause of literacy attainment. This year’s theme for prizes is ‘Innovation’.
On this day, World Literacy Foundation is launching ‘Sky’s The Limit’, an initiative to bridge the digital divide between students in developing countries and improving the digital learning platforms for all.
Basic literacy and education is a fundamental right of all human beings and it is the responsibility of governments, schools, teachers, communities, NGOs and social activists, to all contribute in ensuring every citizen in their respective countries attain 100% literacy and numeracy levels.
While that’s a goal, ground reality in many underdeveloped and developing countries puts up a dismal picture. UNESCO, along with various governments, has agreed upon the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, of which 2030 Education Agenda is an important part.
The aim is to attain near 100% literacy amongst youth and near 100% literacy at the adult level, through inclusive and equitable quality education which offers lifelong learning opportunities for all.
So after 50 years of the literacy initiative, how does the world stand on literacy levels?
Despite 50 years of initiative, 758 million persons are still illiterate which represents 15% of the global adult population. 114 million of the world’s youth remains illiterate and 59% of the world illiterate population are young women between 15 and 24 years. That should be a cause for concern to all stakeholders worldwide.
Globally, there was a 4% rise in literacy levels among youth – from 82% in 2000 to 86% in 2015 in the 15 years and above category, 4% rise in the 15-25 years category – from 87% in 2000 to 91% in 2015, and 6% rise in women’s literacy, in the 15 years and above category – from 77% in 2000 to 83% in 2015.
During the last 15 years, the global progress in literacy levels has shown an improvement though it is not as significant as it could have been, especially since this period also witnessed a significant improvement in technology and internet penetration that has not been fully exploited to spread literacy.
In global comparison, youth literacy rate in India is in the region of 80% to 89% and between 60% to 69% for adult literacy.
India and SAARC
India has been a proactive participant in the spread of literacy and in October 2015, India hosted the Sub-regional Conference on EFA Unfinished and Post 2015 Agendas in SAARC Countries, as part of UNESCO and UNICEF initiative.
The conference aimed at reviewing achievements in literacy levels within member countries, as laid down in Education 2030 Agenda. The conference was important since South Asia happens to be home to 51% of the global illiterate adult population, 17.3% of out-of-school children at the primary level, and 40.4% of the secondary level school children not attending school. That’s not a healthy picture at all.
Among SAARC countries, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and India have shown significant improvements in various levels of literacy enrolment. Challenges of last grade at primary level drop-outs remains a concern.
Challenges before India in achieving stated goals
The distinction between basic levels of literacy and skill-based education must be understood. Governments tend to focus on numbers while evaluating performance but these don’t reveal the entire story.
Ministry of Human Resource Development in India would rattle out statistics that would reflect all is great with achieving literacy goals at primary and secondary level in schools but these numbers don’t reveal quality of education imparted and don’t offer any metrics to judge relevance and subsequent employability.
The challenges before government are:
- Large sections of children still remain outside the education system
- Poor gender parity in education with low level of girl participation
- Poor school penetration in interior and remote parts of India
- High levels of school drop outs at the primary and secondary levels
- Poor quality of mid-day meals that are supposed to provide healthy and nutritious food and also act as an incentive to attend school, especially in poorer communities
- Poor infrastructure which includes crumbling and poorly maintained buildings and classrooms, lack of furniture, lack of water and electricity, lack of toilets and lack of sports facilities and playgrounds
- Little emphasis on vocational training for those weak in studies
- Poor quality of school teachers with little motivation to inspire or teach children
- Outdated methods of teaching with little innovation or creativity
- Focus is on learning by rote rather than through analyzing, assimilating and applying learnings
- Disparity between quality of education imparted between states
- Lack of English as a medium of instruction stifling chances of employability in later years
- Political interference in education an impediment to its quality
Technology can be a game changer
India is on the cusp of major economic development and there is dire need for skilled youth in various industries and at all levels. The pace of literacy penetration has been slow in the last 50 years but now technology can play a significant role in not only ensuring 100% literacy rate in India but significantly improve access to quality and skill-based education by all, irrespective of their location or economic status.
Broadband penetration is poised to reach interior India, and with dramatic improvement in speed and quality of data transmission. India must take up this opportunity to unleash its talent for developing and delivering quality content, which in turn can help achieve literacy and education goals that was not possible to attain thus far.
As India joins in celebrating the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, it is also a good time for all stakeholders to commit themselves once again in meeting the 2030 Education Agenda and surpass it before stated time. Time for India to unleash its true potential.