OUTLOOK ON INDIA’S LITERACY AND EDUCATIONAL POLICIES
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. -Nelson Mandela
Literacy is a skill the privileged often take for granted. Education and literacy are basic factors for determination of the level of development achieved by a society. The UNESCO defines literacy as “something way beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification of text, understanding concepts, interpretation of words and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world”.[i] Propagation of literacy is generally associated with other significant indicators of modern civilization such as modernization, urbanization, industrialization, communication etc. Literacy is an important component in all round development of individuals, enabling them to comprehend their social, political and cultural environment better and respond to it appropriately. Proper level of education and literacy lead to more acute awareness and contributes to the development and improvement of the economy. It is the most powerful tool of social change. With 773 million adults and youth still lacking basic literacy skills, it remains a privilege to a large part of the population even today[ii]. One in five adults is still not literate, out of which two-third are females[iii]. About 60.7 million children are out of school and many more are irregular or have dropped out[iv]. Since the year 1966 many efforts have been made worldwide to enhance literacy and there has been a significant increase in the literacy rate, however, there is still a long way to go and robust efforts are needed in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
B. Literacy in India
In India, Literacy, as defined in Census operations, is “the ability to read and write with understanding in any language”. There are no formal criteria other than reading and writing skills necessary to be considered literate.[v]
“Literacy” is often used interchangeably with “Education”, however they differ in meanings. Literacy is the first step towards education. Education is “the complete development of a person in terms of knowledge, sensibility and behaviour in different situations”.[vi] An educated India is practically possible only if a literate India is achieved.
According to the Census of 2001, around 56 Crore persons in India were literate, out of these 33 Crore were males and 22 Crore were females. The overall literacy rate was 64 percent, the male literacy rate was 75.3 percent and that for females was 53.7 percent. There was a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level. The gap was more in rural areas than urban. Kerala, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Goa and Chandigarh were the five highest states in literacy while Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar were the lowest.[vii]
The Census of 2011 witnessed an escalation in the literacy rate in India as compared to the Census of 2001. Around 77 Crore persons were counted as literates in which around 33 Crore were females and around 44 Crore were males. The literacy rate of India as of 2011 is 74.0 percent. Literacy rate among females was 65.5 percent whereas the literacy rate among males was 82.1 percent. The literacy rates in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mizoram states was the first highest, second and third positions respectively; whereas in female literacy, Kerala was the first and Mizoram and Lakshadweep stood second and third positions respectively among all States and Union Territories.[viii] While there has been remarkable improvement in the literacy rate of India over the years, the stark difference in the literacy rates of the two sexes sheds light on the sociological issues which lead to this literacy imbalance in our society.
C. Legal Provisions relating to Education and Literacy
The Indian Constitution has recognized the importance of literacy and education for social development, while, some of the precedents have given wide amplitude to such provisions. Further, several amendments have also been made following landmark judgments owing to the Supreme Court’s constant vigilance. The legal matrix is discussed below:
- Constitutional Provisions
The Constitution of India provides for dedicated provisions for education, which also includes literacy, the text of the constitution has several provisions which aid in and hint towards India’s intent to promote literacy. Furthermore, several judicial pronouncements over the years have established strong foundations in the country’s social structures to aid in literacy and education.
a. Preamble of the Indian Constitution – The Preamble of the Constitution states, “to secure to all its citizens equality of status and opportunity”. ‘Equality of Opportunity’ is a part of the basic framework of the Indian Constitution and it has been interpreted by the judiciary to include equality of educational opportunity.[ix]
b. Article 21 and 21-A – Article 21 of the Constitution deals extensively with protection of life and personal liberty. The expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude, covering a variety of rights and right to education is the essence of the right to life.[x] The Supreme Court has held “Right to life and dignity of an individual cannot be ensured unless it is accompanied by the Right to Education”[xi]. Accordingly, the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 embedded Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and mandatory education to all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right.
c. Article 29 – 30 – Cultural and Educational Rights is a fundamental legislative tool for furtherance of the goal of literacy. Article 29 of the Constitution deals with protection of interests of minorities. Although Article 29(1) is generally considered to be associated with minorities; its scope is not necessarily so confined, as it is available to “any section of citizens resident in the territory of India”. This includes the majority, as observed in Ahmedabad St. Xavier College Society v. State of Gujarat.[xii] Article 30(1) deals with Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions: The right under this article is subject to the regulatory power of the State. It has been held that this Article is not a charter for maladministration.[xiii]This broad statement of the legal position is illustrated by and draws support from a host of decided cases beginning from Kerala Education Bill[xiv] to St. Stephen’s College v. University of Delhi.[xv]
d. Article 41 – Apart from inclusion in fundamental rights, the goal towards literacy also finds ground in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) which are although not enforceable, are a representation of the ideals of the State. With regards to Article 41, which deals with “Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases” it has been held that theCourts should so interpret an Act as to advance Article 41.[xvi]
e. Article 45 – Article 45, which provides for “Provision for free and compulsory education for children” states that “The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” This Directive Principle has now taken the form of a Fundamental Right under Article 21-A, as aforementioned.
f. Article 46 – Article 46 which deals with “Promotion of educational and economic interests of S.C, S.T. and other weaker sections” states that the State shall promote with due diligence the educational and economic interests of the marginalised sections of the society, and particularly the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
g. Article 337 – Apart from the aforementioned provisions, Article 337consists of special provision with respect to educational grants for the benefit of Anglo-Indian community.
h. Part XVII – Part XVII of the constitution which contains provisions for Official language deals with language as an inherent part of literacy with a specific mention in Article 350A which provides for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage.
The Indian constitution is a living, breathing document. Its long standing relevance can be attributed to its dynamic nature and ability to amend itself with the needs of the nation. In view of the goal of literacy; several amendments have been introduced to equip the constitution to provide opportunities for literacy and subsequently for education. The 42nd, 73rd, 74th and 83rd Amendment Acts have been specific amendments to the Constitution affecting education. These amendments include provisions to put education under the Concurrent List, devolution of powers to local bodies and to make elementary education a Fundamental Right formally.
2. Right to free and compulsory primary education:
The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 introduced Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in a manner as the State may determine by law. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, that came into effect on 1st April, 2010, is a resultant legislation under Article 21-A and intends to enshrine the principle that every child has a right to full time primary education of comparable quality in a formal school which fulfils essential norms and standards.
The title of the RTE Act mentions the words ‘free and compulsory’. The term ‘Free education’ means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, should be forcefully made to pay fee or charges which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ puts an obligation on the Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children of 6-14 age groups. This has been perceived as India’s step forward to a Right based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Governments to implement this Fundamental Right of children.
3. Important Precedents:
As aforementioned, the constitutional provisions for education and literacy for all were not ingrained but have evolved through a long process of judicial pronouncements. Several landmark judgments have been key catalysts in the pursuance of our goal towards literacy and education for all. These judgments have been cornerstones for not only providing people with a constitutional right of opportunity of education, but have also been fundamental in green lighting relevant legislations. Some of such precedents are discussed below in order to understand their contribution towards this goal.
In Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka,[xvii]the Court held that “the ‘Right to Education’ is concomitant to fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution” and that ‘every citizen has a right to education under the Constitution’. The Supreme Court observed that a ‘right’ to education ‘flowed from’ the Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution, since there could be no ‘dignified enjoyment of life’, or the realization of other rights, without adequate education.
Similarly in Unni Krishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh,[xviii] the Supreme Court ruled that Article 45 in Part IV of the Indian Constitution has to be read in ‘harmonious construction’ with Article 21 (Right to Life) in Part III of the Constitution, as Right to Life loses its significance without education. The apex Court made the below mentioned significant interpretation:
“It is thus well established by the decisions of this Court that the provisions of Part III and IV are supplementary and complementary to each other and that fundamental rights are but a means to achieve the goal indicated in Part IV. It is also held that the fundamental right must be construed in the light of the directive principle”[xix]
Further, in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India,[xx]the Supreme Court held that while exploitation of the child must be banned; alternate facilities for the child should be developed including providing education, health care, nutritious food, shelter and other means of livelihood with self-respect and dignity of person.
In the landmark case of M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.,[xxi] the Supreme Court stated thatArticle 45 had obtained the status of a fundamental right following the Constitutional Bench’s decision in Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh [1993 (1) SC 645] on Education of Children. In addition, the Court held that, it is not a necessary condition that in order to treat a right as fundamental right, it should be expressly stated in Part III of the Constitution: “the provisions of Part III and Part IV are supplementary and complementary to each other”. The Court discarded that the rights in the provisions of Part III are superior to the moral claims and aspirations in the provisions of Part IV.
In the case of Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. U.O.I. & Anr,[xxii] the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of section 12 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act), which requires all schools, both state-funded and private, to accept 25% intake of children from disadvantaged groups. However, the Court held that the RTE Act could not require private, minority schools to satisfy a 25% quota, as this would be a violation of the right of minority groups to establish private schools.
It is through these cases that the law has evolved and consequently education in India became a fundamental right for children. These decisions played a substantial role in development of literacy in the country. Literacy is to be seen as the means towards education and thus contribute to overall development of the society which is one of the key objectives of promoting literacy.
D. Policies and Initiatives of Indian Government to enhance Literacy
India is a signatory to three fundamental International covenants that guarantee the right to primary education i.e. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. Taking inspiration from these conventions, India has implemented a host of policies and nationwide programmes which aim to further the cause of literacy and education in the country. These policies are discussed below.
a) National Education Policy (NEP): The National Education Policy was first formed in 1968 and then in 1986 which was modified in 1992. The Union Cabinet recently approved of a New Education Policy, 2020 which aims at introducing major changes in the education system.
b) Operation Blackboard: It was a program sponsored by the Central Government which started in 1987, post Rajiv Gandhi National Policy on Education of 1986 and was released to supply the minimum essential facilities and equipment to all primary schools in India. The objective of this scheme is providing students with the necessary institutional equipment and instructional material for their education. This policy was further updated after an assessment of the drawbacks and setbacks of the policy and the challenges faced during its implementation.[xxiii]
c) Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Universal Education Movement): Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a programme for Universal Elementary Education. It aims to provide opportunities for improving capabilities to all children through a community -owned quality education. The renowned poet, Mehmood, penned down the “School Chale Hum” poem to propagate the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program. It was modified in 2009 to adhere to the provisions of the Right to Education Act, 2009. Among other things this program aims to open new schools in areas where schools are not present, it aims to promote digital learning to bridge the digital divide and aims at training teachers and developing teaching learning material to provide an enhanced quality of education.
d) Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat: It is a sub program launched under the Sarva Shikha Abhiyan in August 2014. It was observed that students who fail in early education tend to lag behind in other subjects. This program aims to improve comprehensive early reading, writing and early mathematics programmes for children in Classes I and II[xxiv]. The objective of the scheme was to encourage children to read and write, and use this habit to help solve problems. It thus, also promotes another objective of literacy as identified by UNESCO.
e) Saakshar Bharat: This was launched as a program which goes beyond ‘3’ R’s (i.e. Reading, Writing & Arithmetic) and to create awareness of social disparities and a person’s deprivation on the means for general well being. This programme was formulated in the year 2009 with an “aim to achieve 80% literacy level at national level, by focusing majorly on adult women literacy and reducing the gap between male female literacy to less than 10 percentage points. The major four objectives of the scheme are:
- Imparting functional literacy and numeracy to non-literates;
- Acquiring equivalency to formal educational system;
- Imparting relevant skill development programme; and
- Promoting a learning society by providing opportunities for continuing education”. [xxv]f) Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao: This was one of the most prominent initiatives taken by the government in the year 2015 to address the growing problems of female foeticide and female illiteracy. This scheme was a result of the growing gap in the literacy rate of the two sexes. The objectives of the campaign are: “preventing gender based selective discrimination, ensuring survival and protection of the girl child, ensuring education and participation of the girl child”[xxvi].
g) Kanya Saaksharta Protsahan Yojna – The aim and objective of this scheme is to reduce the dropout rate and to increase the interest of tribal girl students to continue their education. Under this scheme, Rs. 500 is awarded to those tribal girls who enroll to study in class sixth standard, an award of Rs. 1000 to those who enroll in ninth standard and an amount of Rs. 2000 to girls who enroll in eleventh standard.
E. National Education Policy 2020
The National Education Policy 2020[xxvii] was approved by the Union Cabinet on 29 July 2020. It is the third major change in education policy of India since independence. This policy has brought major changes to the existing system of education in India and aims at making India a “Global Knowledge Superpower”. Some major highlights of this policy include:
- Reforms in Schools:a).It aims to achieve 100 percent Gross Enrolment Ratio in school education by 2030.
b). Introducing an open schooling system for all students with special emphasis on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDG). These open and distant learning programs aim to meet learning needs of students and young people who are unable to attend schools physically.
c). 10 + 2 system to be replaced by 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 for the age groups 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, 14-18 respectively.
d). It lays an emphasis on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy and makes provision for no rigid separation between academic streams, extracurricular and vocational streams in schools.
e).It provides for vocational education to start from Class 6th through the means of internships.
f).It also provides for a 360 degree holistic progress card for tracking the student progress for achieving learning outcomes.
g).A new and comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) 2021, to be drafted by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) in consultation with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
2. Reforms in Higher Education:
a) It aims at achieving 50% Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education by 2035 and added 3.5 crore seats in higher education.
b) It provides that affiliation of colleges will be phased out in 15 years and a stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges will be established.
c) It aims at setting up a holistic undergraduate education with a flexible curriculum of 3 or 4 years with multiple exit options and appropriate certification within this period.
d) It states plans for setting up a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) as a single administrative body for all fields of higher education, excluding medical and legal education.
3. Other Reforms:
a) It aims at creating the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), an autonomous body to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration.
b) It provides for setting up a National Assessment Centre- ‘PARAKH’ to assess the students.
c) It also makes provisions for foreign universities to set up campuses in India.
d) It emphasizes creating a Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups.
e) It also aims to increase the public investment in the Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.
This is an unprecedented move in India by an education policy that has aimed to facilitate such a holistic approach. It takes into consideration field experiences and empirical studies etc. for the purpose of evaluation. It is indeed a revolutionary reform, however, how much of it is actually implemented and how, will be the true test of this policy. The actual application and its outcome, remains to be seen.
F. Significance of Literacy Day
International Literacy Day is an annual celebration by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization. It was proclaimed at the 14th session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) General Conference on October 26, 1966 and was celebrated for the first time in 1967. Every year 8th of September is celebrated as International Literacy Day to spread awareness about the importance of literacy in the development of individuals and the State. This annual celebration, observed by the United Nations Education and Scientific and Cultural Organization, comes with an objective of spreading awareness about literacy issues and creating a more literate and sustainable society. The theme of International Literacy day 2020 is “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond” with a focus on the role of educators and changing pedagogies. This day highlights the importance of education and literacy as a core human right and their role in creating a sustainable society. It aims to highlight the significance of literacy to people and communities. The concept behind celebrating International Literacy Day is to remind the community every year the challenges that the international community is still facing due to lack of literacy. International Literacy Day 2020 provides an opportunity to discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond. The Day will also give an opportunity to understand different roles e.g. the role of educators and formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning
The World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy convened by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization was held in Teheran from 8th to 19th September, 1965. In view of its membership, the nature of the problems discussed and the importance of its conclusions and recommendations, the Teheran Congress was decisive of the international importance in the evolution of ideas, particularly vis-à-vis literacy in particular; as well as education in general.[xxviii]
Literacy is one of the sustainable development goals that UNESCO has identified to be achieved before the year 2030. It observes: “To advance literacy as an important part of lifelong learning and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNESCO takes certain approaches to promote literacy worldwide, with an emphasis on youth and adults. They include: Building strong foundations through early childhood care and education, Providing quality basic education for all children, Scaling-up functional literacy levels for youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills and developing literate environments”[xxix]. India acknowledges these SustainableDevelopment Goals (SDGs) and hence is working towards achieving the goal of literacy. In addition, India has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1980. Article 10 of this Convention casts an obligation on the States “to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the fields of education and provide same opportunities for access to programmes on continuing education including adult and functional literacy programmes”[xxx].
Further, with a far-sighted aim to support literacy practices and encourage dynamic literate societies for closing the literacy gap of approximately 750 million people, the UNESCO has introduced the following two prestigious awards[xxxi]:
- The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize – Consisting of 2 awards.
- The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy – Consisting of 3 awards.
Thus there are a total of five awards where each prize winner receives a medal and USD $20.000.
International Literacy Day is recognized and celebrated all over the world however, there is still a long way to go. Further, with the ongoing pandemic, COVID -19, the entire world is witnessing an unprecedented disaster, and educational policies, like most of the other institutions, have experienced a major setback. To overcome the gap and ensure that learning never stops, the learning process started online and majority of schools have now begun e-classes. A rise in the statistics of literacy the changing legal framework has been witnessed, which aims to ensure every child gets an opportunity to learn and to educate. However, in order to provide everyone with an opportunity of learning and education, a great deal still remains to be done. With the ongoing pandemic learning has become even difficult for the underprivileged and marginalized. Nevertheless, the work and efforts of the government is persistent to facilitate online learning even in the remotest of areas. This pandemic has brought an opportunity to equip everyone with digital learning equipment which will benefit people not only right now but also in the long run. The New Education Policy has brought a completely different course to the education policy in India and it offers a very promising future to look forward to.
[iv] UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
[v]Consultation Paper on Literacy in the Context of Constitution of India, Legal Affairs, http://legalaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/%28III%29Literacy%20in%20the%20context%20of%20the%20Constitution%20of%20India%20.pdf , last visited (August 13,.2020).
[vi] Education and Literacy, The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/education-and-literacy/article29246363.ece, last visited (August 13, 2020).
[vii] Literacy and Level of Education, Census India, https://censusindia.gov.in/census_and_you/literacy_and_level_of_education.aspx, last visited (August 13,2020).
[viii]Status of Literacy, Census India, https://censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov-results/data_files/mp/07Literacy.pdf, last seen on 13.08.2020.
[ix] Km. Chitra Ghosh and Another vs. Union of India and Others [(1969) 2 SCC 228]
[x] Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, 1992 AIR 1858.
[xii] St.Xavier College Society v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1974 SC 1389.
[xiii] Virendra Nath v. Delhi, (1990) 2 SCC 307.
[xiv] In re. AIR 1958 SC 956.
[xv] WP(Civil) 1868 of 1980.
[xvi] Jacob v. Kerala Water Authority, (1991) I SCC 28.
[xvii] Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka ,1992 AIR 1858.
[xviii] Unni Krishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993 AIR 2178.
[xx] Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, 1997 (10) SCC 549.
[xxi] AIR 1997 SC 699: (1996) 6 SCC 756
[xxii] Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. U.O.I. & Anr, (2012) 6 SCC 1.
[xxiii] NPE 1986: Operation Blackboard, Education for All in India, https://www.educationforallinindia.com/page72.html
[xxiv] Samudranil, Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat Scheme, Maps of India, May 15, 2016, https://www.mapsofindia.com/my-india/india/padhe-bharat-badhe-bharat-scheme
[xxvii] National Education Policy 2020, Ministry of Human Resource and Development, https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf, last seen on August 18, 2020.
[xxviii]World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, Teheran, 1965, UNESDOC Digital Library, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000126383?posInSet=2&queryId=N-EXPLORE-d401a1fe-5053-44c2-ab31-c36c333305a4, last visited (August 13,.2020).
[xxx] https://www.ohchr.org/documents/professionalinterest/cedaw.pdf last visited (5th September, 2020)