Our interpretation of literacy differs across the globe. Let’s take the United States for example; people who can simply read out a few stanzas based on the education received in the first four grades of school are presumed to be functionally literate. On the other hand, in India, having the ability to sign your own name is deemed ‘literate enough’.
“Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” This powerful statement made by Malcom X still holds true today. It resonates with what India, as a country, needs to achieve.
If we look back at India a century ago, the need for education or ‘literacy’ was not strongly felt. It was not essential for a person to be educated, especially a girl. Take a city like Ahmedabad for example; approximately 3% of the women and 12% of the men were educated. Fast forward to today, 84% women and 92% men are literate in that same city. It took a century for this huge leap in literacy to transpire. Now, the leap might be commendable but the literacy gap between men and women is miniscule.
Talking about female literacy in India, the growth in that arena has not been substantial. An estimate of 20 million girls drop out of school every year. Why are women not soaking up the knowledge in today’s modern-age India? Why are they still restricted from receiving the rightful education they deserve? The negative attitude of parents towards a girl child and her education is one of the major reasons as to why the female literacy rate in India is low. Lack of education is an instrument to lack of awareness. Illiterate women are unaware of their rights; this generates a direct and negative impact on their development. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation. Project Nanhi Kali, first started in 1996 by K. C. Mahindra, talks about this very concept. It is an initiative to educate the young girls of India and ensure they complete 10 years of it. Since the start of Nanhi Kali, there are approximately 1,54,000 girls being educated and 94,736 girls are in primary school. The impact of this campaign has grown tenfold in the last 20 years. Nestle then partnered with this project and started the campaign #EducateTheGirlChild; Nestle won the hearts of millions with this move. Nestle went bold and changed the packaging of its famous products. The cover of KitKat read ‘No break from education’, Maggi noodles packaging illustrated ‘2 minutes for education’ and the packet of Nescafe read ‘It all starts with education’.
Start early; Read in Time was an extraordinary project started under the Girls Education Program in the year 2017. Highlighting the significance of educating children and reviving the allegiance towards lifelong learning with regards to sustainable development goals gave impetus to this project. Another commendable campaign is the one started by Pratham Books’ Champion program 7 years ago called One Day, One Story. It is a visionary initiative where around 6,300 storytelling sessions are held for underprivileged children in order to foster in them the inclination to read books. These sessions that span all over India are recited in over 26 languages and are free of cost; this encourages and ensures the partaking of the children. The Dell Aarambh campaign was an initiative by Dell India to allow students to have access to technology and utilise it to its best. Such campaigns bring about an integration between the digital world and the illiterate children in India. It is something that helps making education fun, accessible and interactive.
India is growing at a tremendous speed. But there is an imminent need to bridge the literacy gap today and eradicate the inequalities. To ensure it is implemented, this year, World Literacy Day should highlight the challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in India. Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself!