In our country is by far the most serious problem. We all recognize that illiteracy is bed, that it prevents the cultural growth of a people. But illiteracy in our country continues to exist on an appalling scale. Even today among ten in India about five are illiterate. Nor is there any organized effort to do away with this deplorable state of backlog. We tinker at the problem instead of tackling it thoroughly. We made experiments. The States have ambitious programmes of setting up primary schools in every village, but these are yet in the cold shade of neglect.
But illiteracy can be removed and that quickly, if concerted efforts are made both by private organizations and the states. Within a decade, the Russians got rid of ignorance as colossal as ours; and now the Chinese have also achieved it. They took at once a total war against illiteracy for which the services of all educated men and women were conscripted. Gurudev Rabindranath also praised efforts of the Russians.
For this, education must be made free and compulsory at least upto the age of fourteen. That is the plain directive of our Constitution. Recently a bill was adopted in the Parliament of India to make primary education a fundamental right. But even where education is free in India, it is not compulsory; and it is free only at the lower primary stage here and there. The result is that most of those who give up learning after this stage, are the drop-outs, lapse back, into ignorance. Of course, making elementary education compulsory demands money. Children of workers and peasants have to think of earning before they can think of learning.
Mahatma Gandhi recognized this basic difficulty and he suggested a scheme by which children would begin to earn while they were learning. In that scheme, known as basic Education scheme, it is not only craft-centered, but the crafts are so chosen as to have a profit basis. The scheme however did not make much headway in free India. The function of education should be to direct the child’s creative instincts properly. This has been ignored in the basis pattern advocated by Gandhiji.
The problem can be solved only by recognition of the fact that education must be the primary responsibility of the State. It must be given a high priority. Voluntary efforts can only touch a fringe of the problem. However, in a District of Kerala recently hundred percent literacy was achieved through combined efforts of the public and the government.
A scheme of having a network of primary schools has been drawn up. Provisions for financing the scheme have also been made. If implemented, it will mean the first step towards a nation-wide programme of fight against the curse of illiteracy.
The problem of illiteracy in India will not be solved only by providing education for the children. Illiteracy is rampant among the older generation of people, particularly in the rural areas: and not a little of our social and culture backwardness is due to this. Campaign among the illiterate adults, therefore, is also a crying necessity. Adult education has so long been only a piecemeal, voluntary affair. However, it has now found a place in the different schemes and projects of the Government. But much ground has not yet been covered to step up primary education. The segment has to be given top priority.