Social issues

Illiteracy in India

According to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), India has the highest population of illiterate adults at 287 million. The statistics point towards the staggering disparities in the educational levels in the country. The illiteracy levels from the year 1991 to 2006 have risen to a whopping 63 percent.

A higher literacy rate is an essential requirement for any nation to bring it at par on a global platform with other nations. No nation looks a promising nation if it has a stable economic growth rate but poor literacy rates. Education after all is a fundamental right which is ensured to the citizens.

Also, it needs to be highlighted that India is a country where the extent of disparities is such that one nation has achieved a literacy rate higher than 90 percent while on the other hand, there also exist nations where the literacy rates are still dismal i.e. Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar.

What is Literacy

Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. It is an evolving concept which not only entails the grasping abilities of printed text but also the abilities to adapt visual entities and technological awareness as well. It happens to be a multi-dimensional concept which keeps on adding new parameters to it with respect to the developments that are taking place in a globalized world.

According to the UNESCO, “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals to develop their knowledge and potential and to participate fully in their community and wider society”.

Causes of Illiteracy in India

Illiteracy in India is a problem which has complex dimensions attached to it. Illiteracy in India is more or less concerned with different forms of disparities that exist in the country. There are gender imbalances, income imbalances, state imbalances, caste imbalances, technological barriers which shape the literacy rates that exist in the country. India possesses the largest illiterate population.

Literacy rates stood at 82.14 percent for men in 2011 and 65.46 percent for women. This low female literacy is also responsible for the dependency of women on men for activities which requires them to read and write. Thus, this all leads to the formation of a vicious circle.

Again, it is no new concept that the rich households will have better access to educational facilities as compared to the poor households. Poor households due to the lack of skills and knowledge involve themselves with unskilled labour in order to save bread for the family, thus, this reduces the focus from achieving education as the main focus deviates to earning income so as to be able to survive in the society.


States that spend more on education seem to have a higher literacy rates as to the states which do not invest heavily on education. Kerala is a case in point. The state spends 685 dollars per pupil which also explains its educational levels.

One of the primary reasons for dismal literacy rates is inadequate school facilities. The teaching staff that is employed across the government-run schools is inefficient and unqualified. Another reason which leads to the maximum dropouts among the children is the lack of proper sanitation. A study has stated that 59 percent of the schools do not have drinking water facilities. There is a shortage of teachers as well.

Efforts to Improve Literacy Level

The Supreme Court in a ruling in 1993 said that children had a fundamental right to free education and thus in the year 2003 the “Right to Education was incorporated in the Constitution under the Constitution (83rd Amendment), 2000”.

Despite this, the country couldn’t provide free and compulsory education of children up to fourteen years of age within ten years of the bill coming into effect under Article 45 of the Constitution.

Several other schemes too had been launched to ensure the right to education in the country. The National Policy of Education in the year 1986 declared that the whole nation must commit itself to drive away the menaces of illiteracy especially among the young population. The National Literacy Mission in 1988 made literacy a community endeavor.

It aimed at attaining a literacy rate of 41 per cent by 2035. The 1992 education policy guaranteed free and compulsory education to all children up to 14 years of age before the advent of the 21st century, a policy which seems to biting the dust today as it has not been able to prevent dropouts among school children and illiteracy prevails.

The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan was launched in 2001 to ensure that all children in the 6–14-years of age-group attend school and complete eight years of schooling by 2010. An important component of the scheme is the Education Guarantee Scheme and Alternative and Innovative Education, meant primarily for children in areas with no formal school within a one kilometer radius.


Problems with Government Schemes

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan mainly incorporates decentralization for planning and management of elementary education because of which there is an absence of community participation and thus most of the policies fail to generate a mass consensus. Also the mandates of institutions like Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) clash with each other thus there is no clarity on the objectives of all these bodies with respect to the spread of education.

Also, there corruption has become an incorrigible element with respect to the allocation of funds by the government to education. Lesser money than actual budget allocation for education is utilized for the implementation of the schemes.

A major aspect that is slowly ruining the state of education is the commercialization of education both at the elementary and at the higher education levels. Private schools charge enormous fees which makes it difficult for the poor parents to send their children to the schools. The mid-may meal scheme was started with the aim to provide nutritious diet to the children in order to prepare them better for their studies. Instead, the future of the children covered under this scheme seems to be clouded with flies and lizards in the food.

A series of RTIs filed by journalist Siddheshwar Shukla has revealed that during the past three years, the majority of mid-day meals being served to the 11.5 lakh children in Delhi have failed tests conducted by the government.


Not only the government, but every literate person needs to accept the eradication of illiteracy as a personal goal. Each and every contribution by a literate person can make a contribution to eradicate the menace. One of the initiatives is “Teach India”, whose aim is to provide a platform to educated Indians to provide assistance in basic education to the unprivileged children.

As in the words of Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”


Related Information:

Social Reformers of India

For Students:

Women Empowerment Essay

Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh, is a content writer who formerly worked as a Electrical project Engineer. An engineer by circumstances and a writer by choice, He loves to express himself in writing. His day begins with writing and ends with reading in the night to share his vast knowledge with you all about the various topics He writes.

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Abhishek Singh