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
"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
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
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
"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.