Literacy is an important indicator of development and status. It provides access to information necessary for growth and decent living. It also provides an account of the socio-economic condition of an individual and its family. On the other hand, illiteracy stands for ignorance, defeatism, frustration and lack of aspiration. Literacy and education generate hope, aspiration and ability to move forward.
India has been an independent nation for last 54 years. Recently the right to education has been incorporated into the fundamental right of a citizen. Literacy stands for the ability to read and write to function as a good citizen. There is no doubt that literacy is a feature of human dignity and good citizenship. Little education is veritable window to modernization and acquire knowledge for healthy living. During the last five and a half decades, the country has not become fully literate and the figure of 2001 census indicates that the total literacy rate in the country was 65.38%, with 75.85% for males and 54.16% for females. This is highly discouraging and appalling.
A country’s self image rests on the level and the range of education of its total population. It is also a measure of progress and socio-economic development. The composition of Indian society is heterogeneous and unequal. In the country 8 per cent of its population belong to different tribal communities and 16 % comprise Dalit Communities. This apart, women who lag far behind male population of the country are veritably termed as a part of the weaker section of the society. When one looks at literacy percentage of these vulnerable sections, literacy image of the country presents a dismal picture. Among the so called literates there are ample semi-literates who have acquired competence in simple reading, writing and numeracy.
After independence there has been lot of emphasis on functional literacy. Functional literacy has produced half educated parasites in the society who have developed a special ability to communicate with the bureaucratic process. Educated women are household assets who have the ability to cope with the present day life in the context of modernisation or globalization. Women literacy being low in India, household management in most cases is age-old and lack efficiency.
Only a handful of persons, who have seized with the opportunity available for higher education, have succeeded in developing ability to compete and get into white- collar jobs. Education in the traditional sense is supposed to contribute to the mental and moral development of the educant through appropriate instruction, but what we see in it is pathetic. There might be mental development but hardly there is moral development or refinement. Such fortunate educants become individualistic, eschew social commitment and become oblivious about their responsibility towards their societies. There is unequal development of Indian society. This is the sordid situation in different States and regions too. As literate societies socio-economically rapidly develop, so also, the literate sections in traditional and backward societies move very fast in the scale of development leaving behind their fellow members.
Government should realise that cognitive development is an asset of literate and educated society. Thus, government should ensure ‘Education for All’ and should make literate everyone, so that the cognitive level of the people would rise and societies would move from their traditional moorings to higher spheres of socio-economic development.
A lot of hue and cry is raised about the dropouts among the weaker section educants, i.e. Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and women. There are many concomitant socio-economic factors of dropouts. Poverty is one of the outstanding factors of dropout; besides there are many other factors. Poverty will not be a great barrier to become literate if people develop positive attitude towards literacy and education. The methods of education at the pre-primary and primary stages, in overwhelming number of cases, continue to be age-old and humdrum routine. There are four factors associated with learning, namely observation, imitation, verbal instruction and reading. These four factors must go together in teaching-learning situation.
Along with these four factors if emphasis is laid on vocabulary acquisition and their appropriate application, the epistemological domain of a person will constantly expand. When we look at the learning situation of weaker sections in the Indian context, we realize that the neo-educants lack linguistic dynamism and linguistic novelty. Linguistic input should be made available in a phased manner to the educant of weaker sections as their home atmosphere is traditional and confined to a limited worldview. The vocabulary stock is the medium for acquiring knowledge as well as for clarifying, systematizing and storing knowledge through the process of memorization. It is a fact that a learner’s cognitive frame does not conflict with the pedagogical language if such language is designed to be made comprehensive for all categories of learners.
It is not the forum to dilate on the programmes of teaching-learning process for the neo-educants and more specifically the problems of the weaker sections. All problem; can be sorted out through the rapid spread of literacy and education of the masses if there is the given political will. One thing need be stated here, though education is knowledge-specific (general, technical, cultural, scientific, concrete, abstract etc.), should move along the line of culture of the society and requirement of the nation, other words, only emphasis should not be laid on the marketability of education but establishment of a healthy society, culture and nation.
The above table indicates that the rate of literacy has moved upwards, during the post-independence period, i.e. from 1951 to 2001. This half a century is a long period for fulfillment of educational requirements and aspirations of Indian masses. The country has achieved 65.38% total literacy, with 75.85% for males and 54.16% for females. By any standard, however, it is not an appreciable performance. There is no gain-saying that literacy is not education. The country is lagging behind some of the Third World countries so far as their laudable objective is concerned.