Realizing that the eradication of illiteracy from a vast country like India beset by several social and economic hurdles is not an easy task, the National Literacy Mission (NLM) was set up on 5th May 1988 to impart a new sense of urgency and seriousness to adult education. The NLM accepted the literacy campaigns as the dominant strategy for eradication of illiteracy after the success of the areas-specific, time-bound, voluntary-based campaign approach first in Kottayam city and then in Ernakulum district in Kerala in 1990. Subsequently, all the districts in the country have been covered under Total Literacy Campaigns.

The creditable performance of ;he NLM received international recognition when it was awarded the UNESCO Noma Literacy Prize for 1999.The International Jury while selecting NLM for the prize recognized its initiation of the Total Literacy Campaigns (TLCs) and also its efforts in galvanizing activities towards integration, conservation of the environment, promotion of women’s equality, and the preservation of family customs and traditions. The Jury also appreciated the training imparted by NLM, the teaching learning material produced by it and the awareness created by it for the demand for raising both the quality and quantity of primary education.

In quantitative terms, the NLM seeks to impart functional literacy to all non-literates in the 15-35 age groups, because they are in the productive and reproductive period of life. The Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) offers them a second chance, in case they missed the opportunity or were denied access to mainstream formal education. The TLC has been enlarged to include people in the age group 9 to 14 years, in areas not covered by the non-formal education programme, to ensure that the benefits of TLCs are made available to out-of-school children as well.

The NLM takes special care to bring disadvantaged groups like women, scheduled castes and tribes and backward classes into the programme. The basic objective is to create a generation which will ensure that their children are educated and to realize the dream of ‘Education For All’. In qualitative terms, functional literacy implies: self-reliance in 3 Rs, becoming aware of the causes of deprivation and moving towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development, skill improvement to improve economic status and general well being, and imbibing values of national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality and observance of small family norms, etc.


During the Eleventh Five Year Plan, the goals of the Mission are to achieve a target of 85 per cent literacy rate; reduction in gender gap in literacy to 10 per cent; reduction of regional, social and gender disparities; use of ICT for literacy; and new models of Continuing Education.

To tackle the problem of residual illiteracy, the NLM has adopted an integrated approach to Total Literacy Campaigns and Post Literacy Programme, whereby the two literacy programmes are being implemented under one literacy project called ‘Literacy Campaigns and Operation Restoration’ to achieve continuity, efficiency and convergence and to minimize unnecessary time lag between the two. Post literacy programmes are treated only as a preparatory phase for launching Continuing Education with the ultimate aim of creating a learning society.

Ever since its inception the NLM has taken measures to strengthen its partnership with NGOs and to evolve both institutional and informal mechanisms to give voluntary organizations active promotional role in the literacy movement. Under the scheme ‘Support to NGOs’, the NGQs are encouraged and provided with financial assistance to run post literacy and continuing education programmes in well defined areas.

The National Literacy Mission has a three-tiered structure. At the apex is the National Literacy Mission Authority supported by the Directorate of Adult Education, which controls the programme at the national level. The State Literacy Mission Authority directs activities at the state level, supported by the State Directorate of Adult Education. Finally, the Zilla Saksharta Samiti helps make the programme a reality in districts and villages all over India. In urban areas, Nagar Palikas are being encouraged to take up the challenge.


The Zilla Saksharta Samitis are registered under the Societies Registration Act as independent and autonomous bodies, to provide a forum for individuals and organizations to work together. The leadership to these bodies is provided by the district collector. All sections of society are thus duly represented in the planning and implementation of the programme.

The Directorate of Adult Education, a sub-ordinate office of the Department of School Education and Literacy has been entrusted with the task of monitoring and evaluating the various literacy programmes launched under the aegis of the NLM. The Directorate also provides technical and resource support to the NLM including media support to enable it to achieve its objectives. There are 25 State Resource Centers working across the country which are mainly responsible for organizing training programmes for literacy functionaries in the States and to prepare literacy material in local languages.

Under the programmes of NLM, more than 125 million people have already been made literate. The male female ratio of learners has been 40:60. While 23 per cent of learners belonged to Scheduled Caste, 12 per cent belonged to Scheduled Tribes. The cumulative number of literary volunteers mobilized since the launching of literacy campaigns is about 15 million. The literacy campaigns thus represent the largest ever civil and military mobilization in the history of the country.

The single biggest characteristic of the literacy campaigns has been their ability to galvanize entire communities into believing that learning must become an integral part of their lives. The modus operandi has been to create and build an environment conducive to learning by accessing communities through their cultural roots and traditions. All manner of tools have been used such as cultural processions, street plays, local theatre, puppetry, folk songs, etc.


However, the biggest achievement of the adult education movement has been its impact on girls’ education. The confidence of the girls as they perform their scholastic and extra-curricular roles is the result of the awareness among neo-literate parents that girls need to be educated and outgoing. The need to provide equal opportunity to both girls and boys has also had the effect of generating greater demand for the quantity and quality of primary schooling. Literacy and adult education campaigns have actively promoted gender equity and have sought to empower women as to decision-making about themselves, their families and their communities. The effect of Adult Education on health and hygiene has been equally significant.