Illiteracy describes the inability to read and/or write. Because of the problem of unemployment and poverty, children have no chance of proper education. Many people remain illiterate because of physical or mental disabilities. Other social evils like the caste system and gender inequalities also cause illiteracy. One of the leading causes of crime is illiteracy.
Most illiterate people are unaware of the advantages of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene. Illiterates have difficulty in getting a good job and earning. Overpopulation is a massive increase in the number of people and is causing by some factors.
The only and best way to eliminate illiteracy from society is education. The government should take steps to promote free education for the backward class of society in government schools. The government is also looking at the fact that people receive fair pay for their work.
Illiteracy in India has, since long before independence, been regarded as an obstacle to development. It is commonly believed that without substantially eliminating illiteracy, India cannot become a cohesive nation and give to all its citizens the quality of life they have long yearned for. No wonder that education in general and literacy in particular have been accorded a high priority in the country’s development process. How is literacy defined? Who is literate? One who can read and write some language is ‘literate’.
UNESCO has defined a literate person as “one who can with understanding both read and writes a short simple statement on his everyday life”. Following UNESCO, the Census Commission in India in 1991 also defined ‘literate’ person as one who can read and write “with understanding” in any Indian language, and not merely read and write. Those who can read but cannot write are not literate. Formal education in a school is not necessary for a person to be considered as literate.
In a resolution on National Policy on Education adopted in 1968, radical reconstruction of education was proposed so that it involved:
(i) A transformation of the system to relate it more closely to the life of the people,
(ii) A continuous effort to expand educational opportunity,
(iii) A sustained effort to raise the quality of education at all stages,
(iv) An emphasis on the development of science and technology, and
(v) Cultivation of moral and social values.
In 1986, stress was laid on the educational policy and the provision of equal opportunities of education to all classes was emphasized. There has been some progress in the field of education since the 1950s. The number of recognized primary and middle schools has increased more than three times (that is, from 2.23 lakh in 1951 to 6.94 lakh in 1989-90).
The enrolment of students in the primary and middle schools has increased by about five times (that is, from 22.27 million to 107.31 million) in the same period (India, 1992: 83) A little more than a three-fold increase has also been registered in the total number of literates, that is, from 16.7 per cent of the total population in 1951 to 52.11 per cent in 1991.
The literacy rate in India in different years was found as: 1901:5.3 percent, 1921:7.2 percent, 1941:16.1 percent, 1961:24.0 per cent, 1981:36.2 per cent, and 1991:52.1 per cent. Among males, the literacy rate increased from 9.8 per cent in 1901 to 12.2 per cent in 1921, 24.9 per cent in 1941, 34.4 per cent in 1961, 46.9 per cent in 1981, and 63.8 per cent in 1991; while among females it rose from 0.6 per cent in 1901 to 1.8 per cent in 1921, 7.3 percent in 1941, 13.0 percent in 1961, 24.8 per cent in 1981 and 39.4 per cent in 1991 (literacy rates relate to population aged seven years and above in 1991 but to the total population of the country up to 1981) (The Hindustan Times, March 26, 1991 and Frontline, April 27-May 10, 1991).
If the old definition of the literacy is adopted and the entire population considered, the literacy rate was 42.94 per cent for 1991 compared to 36.23 per cent in 1981 and 29.48 per cent in 1971. Together with the quantitative expansion of education facilities, there is now a greater emphasis on the qualitative aspect as well. Before 1976, education was exclusively the responsibility of the states, the central government being concerned only with the coordination and determination of standards in technical and higher education.
In 1976, through a constitutional amendment, education became the joint responsibility of both the Centre and the states. Determined efforts are now being made to achieve the goal of universal elementary education and eradication of illiteracy in the age group 15-35 by the end of the century. On one hand, community participation has been planned, and on the other hand, a programme named “Operation Blackboard” has been implemented to provide the basic amenities in education in primary schools.
Non-formal education and open learning systems are being encouraged at all levels. However, in the field of removing illiteracy in the country, not much progress could be made an account of its huge population. This is evident from the vast magnitude of illiterate persons still found in the country.