1. Introduction

For the purpose of census, a person is deemed as literate if he/she can read and write any language with understanding. In the 1991 census, the question on literacy was canvassed only for population aged seven years and above, unlike earlier censuses which took into account population of five years and above for this purpose.

The literacy rate in the country (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) is 52.51 per cent (64.1 per cent for males and 39.39 for females). Thus according to the preliminary estimates of the 1991 census, 47.89 per cent people of the total population of India or about 404 million persons are illiterate.

Kerala retained its position by being on top with a 89.81 per cent literacy rate in the country. Bihar stood at the bottom with a literacy rate of 38.4 per cent.


The Parliament approved in 1986 the National Policy on Education. It sought a national system of education laying down:

(i) a curricular framework to establish comparability of competence at the end of various stages of education all over the country, (ii) reinforcing the integrative aspect of society and culture, and (iii) establish­ing a value system necessary for an egalitarian, democratic and secular society.

2. Major Programmes for Eradication Illiteracy

National Adult Education Programme


The National Adult Education (NAE) programme was launched on October 2, 1978 to provide education among all illiterate persons particularly in the age group of 15- 35 years. The NAE programme covers: (i) imparting literacy skills to the target illiterate population, (ii) their functional development, and (iii) creation of awareness among them regarding laws and policies of the government for the efficient implementation of the strategy of redistributive justice.

The NAE programme also gives special attention for education of women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other weaker sections of the society. UNESCO had declared the year 1990 as the International Literacy Year (I.L.Y.).

At the national level, the I.L.Y. was launched by the Prime Minister of India at a special function in New Delhi on January 22, 1990.

Rural Functionary Literacy (RFL) Programme


The R.F.L. programme which is a sub-programme at the Adult Education is centrally funded and implemented by the States and UTs. The broad ideas of this programme are: (i) to develop abilities in the learners to read and write, and (ii) to create awareness among the learners about their rights and duties and the benefits they can draw from various schemes of socio-economic development being imple­mented by the government.

The R.EL. Programme was launched in May, 1986 by involving the NSS and other student volunteers in colleges and universities in the principle of “Each One, Teach One”.

National Literacy Mission (NLM)

National Literacy Mission was launched in May, 1988 by Rajiv Gandhi in accordance with the directives of National Policy on Education and the implementation strategies envisaged in the Programme of Action. It aims at educating persons in the age group of 15-35 years, by involving youth and voluntary agencies in the programme.


3. Objective of Five-Year Plan

Adult literacy and further education of literates, being vital more intensive efforts will be made to spread literacy in the rural and tribal areas which are lagging behind, with special attention to women and such marginalized groups as small and marginal formers, landless labourers and educationally neglected tribal groups.

For this purpose, a disaggregated and decentralized mode of planning and implementation will be adopted. Interlinkages of the adult education programme with income generation, better health and nutrition, women’s empowerment and overall rural development will be focused upon. At the grass roots level, people’s participation will be ensured.