One of the important indicators of social development is the level of literacy and educational attainment, a high level of which is considered to be an important factor in the process of modernisation.
Education is an important variable affecting demographic behaviour concerning marriage, fertility, mortality, migration as well as participation in the labour force. Several illustrations are available in the literature covering demographic research in support of this claim.
In a number of research studies, a clear-cut negative relationship has been established between the educational level of women and their fertility.
The age of females at marriage is another demographic variable which is influenced by the level of educational attainment. Even infant mortality is found to be affected by the educational status of the mother.
The findings of the Fertility and Family Planning Survey, conducted in Greater Bombay in 1966 by the International Institute for Population Studies, provide research evidence for many of these relationships.
The average age at marriage for currently married women was the highest for those women who were either graduates or had studied beyond that level, while the lowest was for the illiterate or the semi-literate women.
An indirect relationship between the educational attainment of women and their fertility and a direct relationship between educational attainment and the practice of family planning was also observed. Infant mortality rates were lower when mothers were either matriculates or had studied beyond that level.
The uses of statistics on literacy and educational attainment are many. The level of social development in different countries, regions or even in the various political divisions of the same country may be compared on the basis of this type of information.
These statistics are also useful in providing a basis for the preparation of development plans, as well as for formulation of an education policy.
The United Nations has defined literacy as the ability of a person to read and write with understanding a short simple statement on his everyday life. An important aspect of the definition of literacy is the ability to read and write with “understanding.”
On this basis, a person who can only write his name or numbers or who can ritualistically read religious books like the Koran or recite passages from such books, which are actually memorised, is not considered to be literate.
The United Nations has recommended that information on literacy should be collected from only those who are either 10 years of age or above, for the ability to read and write is not generally achieved until one has had some schooling or has had some time to develop these skills.
Measures Used to Study Literacy
The simplest measure used to assess the level of literacy in a population is the Crude Literacy Rate. This may be expressed as follows:
Where L and P indicate number of literate persons in the population and the total population respectively, and K is equal to 100. Using this formula, the Crude Literacy Rate for the population in 1971 may be computed as follows:
This Crude Literacy Rate of 29.46, based on one per cent sample data of the 1971 Census, indicates that, in 1971, 29.46 per cent of the Indian population was literate, and that 70.54 per cent was illiterate.
Using the same formula, literacy rates may be computed separately for males and females, for rural and urban areas, and for various regions.
The study of the educational attainment of males and females in the population is important for the study of population characteristics.
Educational attainment is generally measured by the percentage distribution of various levels of educational attainment in the literate population above the age of 10 or 15, gives the figures bearing on the educational attainment of males and females above the age of 15 in India.
As sizable percentage of literate males and females do not undergo any formal schooling or education, the category of “literate but without formal education” has to be introduced.
It has been observed that one-fourth of the literate population in India was literate but had not the benefit of any formal education. Only 22 per cent of the literate males and 15 per cent of the literate females had either studied up to the matriculation standard or beyond that level.