If some 287 million Indians get an opportunity to turn a little literate, they could well contribute Rs. 3 lakh crore annually to the country’s growth.
This astounding figure, not a tall claim by a soothsayer on international literacy day, is a methodically calculated cost of India's illiteracy by Unesco-backed World Literacy Foundation (WLF).
“This loss is an opportunity cost arising out of poor participation of illiterates in the economic and social life of the country,” explained Saurabh Johri, programme advisor, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi. He was one of the panelists at a discussion on ‘centrality of literacy in inclusive development – situational analysis of UP’ organised during the opening function of three-day Saakshar Bharat Mahotsav at Dr RML National Law University in Lucknow on Friday.
Elaborating on the findings of a recent study by WLF, Johri said the effects of illiteracy are similar in developing as well as developed countries. “With limited opportunities for employment or income generation, illiterate people get trapped in the cycle of poverty, turn to crime or get dependent on social welfare and charity,” said Johri.
Prof Rakesh Basant, senior faculty, IIM, Ahmedabad spoke about China’s skilled workforce, which is not well educated but just literate. “Still they are contributing well in the country’s GDP,” he said. “There are 700 illiterate people in the world and of these one-third are in India. According to a recent literacy report some 287 million people are illiterate in the country. And two-thirds of these are women alone,” said Shigeru Aoyagi, director and UNESCO representative for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Venkatesh Malur, education specialist, Unicef advocated the use of information and communication technology in promoting literacy.
Rajesh Mahapatra, deputy executive editor, HT spoke on the role of media in spreading literacy for inclusive development by using tools such as awareness, advocacy and activism. Talking about HT initiative—You read they learn—in which 5 paisa of a newspaper’s income is spent on literacy campaign, Mahapatra said media should also play the role of a watchdog and keep a track on central and state government polices.