International Literacy Day, 2017

Abdus Salam *

50th International Literacy Day Celebration at GM Hall, Imphal :: September 8 2016
50th International Literacy Day Celebration at GM Hall, Imphal on September 8 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

International Literacy Day, 2017 is being celebrated today (Friday) the 8th of September 2017 across the world under the theme of "Literacy in a digital world". The celebrations are observed to draw the attention and concern of the leaders of the governments, public authorities etc towards eradicating the illiteracy and creating a literate world.

One of the objectives of the celebrations is to encourage the people to get continuous education and understand their rights and responsibilities in the society and to emphasize the importance of literacy to individuals, society and to remind the status of literacy of the world communities. UNESCO states the importance of literacy as-

" Literacy is a human right, a tool of persomnal empowerment and a means for social and human development. It is at the heart of basic education for all and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, acheiving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy".

In today’s world, digital technologies have drastically changed the way people live, learn, work , trade everywhere providing new opportunities and facilities and access to every kind of information and knowledge to improve in every sphere of lives. But those who do not have access to digital technologies have been marginalised rapidly.

Thus, digital literacy is now one of the essential skills required for a digitally illiterate person in this information age to lead a peaceful life. According to a study by Google company, an estimated 2 billion people around the world who inspite of having access to the internet in their own language are not able google anything, let alone do something meaningful with the search results.

According to Global Monitoring on Education released by UNESCO in 2014, more than 758 million adults and 263 million out of school children of primary and secondary school age still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Out of this two-thirds of them are women.

Further, as per report of International Assessment of Adult Competencies surveyed by OECD in the OECD countries last year, 8.9% of adults are found to have poor reading skills and 22.7% of adults have poor numeracy skills.

According to the National Sample Survey (2015), 75% Indians above age 7 are literate however 50% of these literates are found incapable of reading a Grade-II level text or newspaper headline. Having alphabetic knowledge cannot be called literate. The Government should not call these people as literate.

Many literacy campaigns have been taken by various countries to promote literacy since the last 5 decades or so under common goal and targets set up by world bodies like UNESCO, UNDP, World Bank etc particularly during the last one and half decade, the latest being Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No.4. The SDG 4 states- By 2030, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Its vision is to transform lives through education.

Out of 10 targets under SDG 4, adult literacy comes under Target.4.6 which envisages that By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial portion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy. With this commitment, the youth and adults can acquire life skills and proficiency through flexible learning processes (informal/non-formal) in all over the country.

In our country, literacy programme is implemented in a mission mode by National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA, an autonomous body of MHRD Government of India, under the flagship programme called Saakshar Bharat (Literate India). The programme was launched in 2009 with the objective of achieving 80% literacy level at the national level and to reduce the gap between male and female literacy to not more than 10 percentage points.

The programme consists of four components viz
(i) Basic literacy,
(ii) Basic Education (Equivalency to Formal Education),
(iv) Vocational Education (Skill development) and
(iv) Continuing Education (Lifelong Learning.

In Manipur, the programme is implemented through State Literacy Mission Authorities (SLMA) by focussing only on women and girls who have lost the opportunity of access to formal education and crossed the age of 15 years and only in 4 (four) districts namely Thoubal, Chandel, Tamenglong and Senapati where the adult female literacy rate is below 50% or below as per 2001 census.

In tune with the Education For All -2015 (MDG) and Education 2030: new vision for education (SDG), NLMA has been able to make literate 80% of targeted 70 million adult non-literates. In Manipur, against the targets of making 1,00, 800, it is reported that more than 80,000 women have been certified as literate having passed the Assessment Test conducted by NLMA-NIOS.

But most of these so called neo- literates are facing numerous challenges as they lack access to continue education and digital technologies and as a result, they are exploited and marginalised by the educated and digitally-literate people. Unfortunately, digital literacy is not part of the literacy programmes being implemented in the country, perhaps due to paucity of fund and absence of commitment.

As per Census 2011, literacy rate of India is 72.98% (Male-80.88%, Female 64.63%) and that of Manipur is 76.94% (Male-83.58 % Female-70.26 %). Still there are more than 23% (6.44 lakhs) non-literate people amongst us in Manipur. It is high time that both the Central and State Governments take responsibilities for bringing them under the scheme of Saakshar Bharat (Literate India) programme so that they can be given literacy and numeracy proficiency and life skills as envisaged in the new vision of Education Agenda 2030 adopted by the UNESCO , other world bodies and 160 countries in May 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea.

The Government should take up the matter on priority and make a policy framework as to what kind and levels of literacy skills are required in a rapidly advancing digital world and as how do literacy programmes need to adapt in a digital world in terms of curriculum, teaching learning materials, methodologies etc so that the country is able to achieve the targets set under SDG-4 and join the development race of the world without any loss of time.

Happy International Literacy Day, 2017.

* Abdus Salam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is former Director of Adult Education
This article was posted on September 08, 2017.

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