Social problems with reference to India (SO 5109)
Definition of illiteracy
According to Merriam-Webster illiteracy- “is the quality or state of being illiterate; especially the inability to read or write”.
According to the Cambridge English dictionary illiteracy- “is the fact of being unable to read and write or a situation in which someone knows little or nothing about a particular subject”.
Illiteracy is a major social problem as it can lead to various other problems (interconnected) in society such as intolerance, violence, cheating, corruption/bribery, unemployment, poverty, dominance/power control over people etc. Illiteracy on its own is a grave problem as it reduces the potential of a person and their ability to achieve their goals and contribute to society.
Illiteracy can be due to a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, health, gender discrimination, age, race, geographical location, cultures/traditions or simply that there is no access to education. And ironically the solution for many of these factors is education itself.
Causes of illiteracy
There are many reasons why an individual could be illiterate:-
If the parents are illiterate and don’t understand the importance of education the children born to them also end up also becoming illiterate. The inverse is also true though and the children of well-educated parents receive a good education.
Poverty is rampant in India and many of the poor parents with very low incomes find it difficult to pay the school fees. Even though government provides many benefits such as mid day meal schemes and subsidized fees most parents send their children to work and support their family than study. They are forced to choose between providing basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing or taking their children to school.
Many a time’s schools/educational institutes are not present or lack adequate resources, quality teachers and equipment. Many who live in remote areas or rural villages have to travel many miles to get to school. In our outreach program to a government school we saw how students from grade 1 to 8 are all in one class and have only one teacher. Many of them are bright and capable but lack the means to get further education.
India has a highly patriarchal society and girls face many social barriers and discriminations. Most are denied the right to education (guaranteed by RTE act-right to education for all children from age 3 to 14 year old) and forced into marriage and treated as a burden. Dowry, child marriage, female infanticide and feticide, honor killings are still common even though strong laws are in place to prevent this (prohibition of dowry act, prohibition of sati and child marriage). If people were educated and literate and made aware of these laws and their right it will vastly improve their life and prevent these social evils.
People with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism etc or other physically handicapped children (deaf, dumb or blind etc) face discrimination and need special care and attention to complete their education.
Most people get educated to find a good job and earn a good income; it is also a status symbol. The number of engineers and doctors in India shows how people are oriented towards these established fields even though there is no scope and most of the engineers are unemployed even after all the investment in their education. Previously government jobs were most sought after but now with liberalization, privatization and globalization (1991) MNC and foreign companies have become the ideal job providers.
Illiteracy has major consequences such as
1. Hinders economic and social progress: Illiteracy greatly inhibits the economic and social progress of an individual as well as that of the country. Education gives one the power to seek opportunities and pursue them. People who have gone to school or are well educated have the expertise and intelligence to make good investment decisions and drive the growth agenda of a nation. Illiteracy, therefore, hinders the development of the country.
2. Poverty: Illiteracy leads to poverty. Education equips one with the right skills and expertise for gainful employment. A person who has not gone to school and is unable to read and write may experience a hard time in finding a job especially in a world where the corporate environment is increasingly in demand for employees who are well-trained and can cope with an industry driven by technology. Without a reasonable source of income, taking care of the dependent family members may prove to be difficult.
5. Social crimes: Through education, a person can cultivate some civic sense and develop behavior patterns that are socially acceptable. Illiterate people may engage in unlawful acts in the society due to lack of employment or simply as a result of being uncultured. In countries where the number of those who have not gone to school is high, social crime levels also tend to be high.
6. Underpayment, Underemployment, and Unemployment: We live in a world where the job market favors people who are properly educated with useful skills to drive company growth. Many illiterate people are thus underpaid, underemployed or unemployed. They are unable to earn income and in many cases perform a lot of duties with little pay.
7. Intergenerational Illiteracy: The issue of illiteracy can cut across generations within a family. It can become cyclic in such a way that even the third or fourth generation family members suffer the same fate. Intergenerational Illiteracy mainly comes about because education is given little to no value in the family setup. The children that come along will thus see illiteracy as the norm and not make any effort to learn how to read and write.
Some steps to reduce illiteracy are
Properly implementing the RTE (right to education act) along with the mid day meal scheme and other government policies/provisions. Provision of good quality infrastructure and environment (schools, colleges, and universities) along with capable, trained and certified/professional teachers.
Creating awareness about the importance of education can help people understand why they need to go to school. Non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and other concerned parties should put in place deliberate measures to create awareness in the society and reduce the number of people who are unable to read and write.
Grants: Offering grants, subsidies, and scholarships can reduce the financial burden that parents and students bear in paying for education. It would make it possible for students to learn without interrupting their education due to lack of school fees. Parents would also channel the money that would have been used to pay for school fees towards other income-generating projects. The cost of financing education can prove to be too high especially for those who live in poverty.
Late night classes: Working people can opt for late night classes. In this way, they can learn even as they earn income through their daytime jobs.
Free books: The government and different foundations can offer free books in schools to encourage students to develop a reading culture. Offering free books can also reduce the financial burden placed on parents in the provision of textbooks.
Digitization: Since we live in the age of technology and information, creating digital platforms for reading and learning can help reduce illiteracy in the society. It can also help take care of the challenge of shortage of education facilities. Digital libraries can provide a good platform for those who live far away from urban centers to expand their knowledge base and become more informed.
Lower educational cost: Even though education has its rewards, it is very costly to finance. Many graduates usually leave school with huge debts in the form of student loans. It makes saving and investing difficult. The cost of university education has been a key political and social issue in many nations. By lowering the cost of education, the government can make it easier for people to study up to the highest level possible.
Little value is given to education and reading within the family, and this often leads to intergenerational transmission of illiteracy;
Low self-esteem, which can lead to isolation;
The value of education cannot be underestimated. Many people like to think of it merely as a process to gain the skills and expertise necessary for the job market. Even though education gives an individual a competitive advantage in the job market that is not all that it does. Going to schools plays a major role in the mental as well as social development of a person. The lessons learned and the experiences that a person goes through while in school prepare him or her for life in the society. One can learn problem-solving skills and develop social intelligence necessary to overcome everyday life challenges. Illiteracy, therefore, has no room in the modern society. The more the number of people who have gone to school the better will be the community. Everyone should aspire to be educated and gain knowledge because of the important benefits of being literate.
Impact on health: Illiterate individuals have more workplace accidents, take longer to recover and more often misuse medication through ignorance of healthcare resources and because they have trouble reading and understanding the relevant information (warnings, dosage, contraindications, etc.).
Since literacy is an essential tool for individuals and states to be competitive in the new global knowledge economy, many positions remain vacant for lack of personnel adequately trained to hold them;
The higher the proportion of adults with low literacy proficiency is, the slower the overall long-term GDP growth rate is;
The difficulty in understanding societal issues lowers the level of community involvement and civic participation.
Without the basic tools necessary for achieving their goals, individuals without an adequate level of literacy cannot be involved fully and on a completely equal basis in social and political discourse.
Illiteracy in individuals stems from different, generally inter-related causes which, together, create a series of often insurmountable barriers for those concerned.
For instance, for someone born into an underprivileged milieu to parents with little formal schooling, the likelihood of being illiterate or experiencing serious learning difficulties will be higher. This is known as intergenerational transmission of illiteracy.
Statistics in India
Indian literacy rate has been steadily increasing from the end of the British rule when it was just 12% it has risen six-fold to 74% according 2011census but sadly India still has the world’s largest population of illiterates. India is home to the largest population of illiterate adults in the world with around 287 million illiterates accounting for nearly 37% of the total illiterate in the world.
About 60 lakh children in India are still only dreaming of going to school. Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana are some of the states with the highest number of illiterates. Kerala is the only state with 100% literacy rate.
India is ranked 123rd out of 135 countries in female literacy rate.