Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched a new adult literacy programme Sakshar Bharat (Literate India) on Tuesday, aimed at ending India’s dubious distinction as being the country with the highest number of illiterates.
Singh said, “The government has launched a number of initiatives (the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act) … literacy, in particular female literacy, is important to their success.”
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said, “We will digitally tag and track the progress of every learner in this programme. All information will be online, and in the public domain.”
Over 300 million Indians can neither read, nor write nor have facility with numbers.
Women form an important part of the programme. Over 60 million of the 70 million adults the programme aims at teaching in the coming three years will be women. Every second household in rural India is without a literate woman.
The Rs 6,500 crore (Rs 65 billion) programme has made significant shifts from its precursor, the National Literacy Mission of 1988, with its iconic logo and evocative “Chalo Padhaein” (Let’s teach) slogan.
Sakshar Bharat will be administered through 170,000 panchayats or village assemblies and not by the civil administration. It is going to concentrate on more than 300 districts where over 50 per cent of females are illiterate, as well as 33 districts where Naxalism is strong.
The 1988 National Literacy Mission helped India achieve its highest 10-year growth in literacy, from 52 per cent in 1991 to 65 per cent in 2001. But Sakshar Bharat moves beyond basic functional literacy to offer a basket of learning paths — imparting vocational skills and the option to continue education.
The programme aims at having 10 million voluntary teachers, but it is not clear how they will be roped in.