International Literacy Day: 8th September

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                       Courtesy: karadionline.blogspot.com

Communication skills are the most important skills for the development of a society. It is needed to converse and engage with a fellow human being and to facilitate understanding. Nearly every individual learns to communicate verbally by observing their family and surrounding. But it is rather unfortunate that  not many get a chance for formal education. Thus with the call for eradicating illiteracy and bringing people together to help impart education the idea of celebrating an International Literacy Day was first discussed on September 8 to 19, 1965, during the World Conference of Ministers of Education in Tehran, Iran. On October 26, 1966, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gathered for the 14th general conference and proclaimed that September 8 will be celebrated as International Literacy Day.

This year, the 52nd International Literacy Day was celebrated on the theme ‘Literacy and skills development’. For ILD 2018, “skills” means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable and digital skills.

The main aim of the International Literacy Day is to draw attention towards and highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Literacy and level of education are basic indicators of the level of development achieved by a society.

In India, the literacy rate may have gone up over the decades, but the gap between literacy in urban and rural areas is still wide. There is also a gap between the male  and female literacy rate across India. The overall literacy rate works out to be 64.8 %, the male literacy rate is 75.3% and that for females is 53.7%, showing a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level.

One of the main factors contributing to this relatively low literacy rate is the usefulness of education and availability of schools in the vicinity in rural areas. According to a survey, there is a shortage of classrooms to accommodate all the students. The rural areas suffer with respect to providing a space where a school can function properly. Children are more often just seeing as helping in bringing more money to the otherwise burgeoning family. Thus education does not come across as a necessity or even of use in improving their quality of life. For them hours in school are loss of time that could earn them more. Thus they need to be first educated about the usefulness of education and how an educated child can raise the standard of the family.

Another deterrent towards complete literacy is lack of access to quality education.The Gross Enrolment Ratio is a yardstick used in the education sector to determine the number of students enrolled in schools at different levels. It is the ratio of the number of students who live in that country to those who qualify for a particular grade. The GER numbers for primary, upper primary and elementary levels of education is significant as it is close to 90%. But, there is one catch in this, studies show that many children, especially in the rural areas, of class 8 cannot read a class 2-level text. This clearly shows the gap to access to quality education. A lot is written on paper and a whole lot of policies and plans are made for opening of new schools. Crores are spent on the project but the question here is does it actually get translated into ‘well-educated and literate society’? We have many institutions at school and college levels. But often, these institutions don’t deliver what they are supposed to. It has been observed that the GER consistently drops with the increase in grades, dropping to a low 24.3%. This means that only 24.3% of the total number of students eligible to study in colleges are actually attending college. Now one may ask why is it so? There are many answers as well as questions to it.

Is the curriculum followed by the schools not practicable, or is it not followed effectively. Does the government have any checks in place to monitor the quality and standards of the teachers? Are there regular checks and inspection in the government run schools to ensure that the funds allocated are properly utilized? Are teachers inspected for their education and verified? Is the curriculum preparing the students for life outside or is it just imparting facts? Is vocational training and skill enhancement a part of regular curriculum?

From my point of view, all these questions together form the larger problem. A regular check of what students are taught in schools does not happen in many cases. The syllabus is not updated regularly to keep up with the new advances. The books only impart information which many a times is hardly relevant to developing skills. There are many instances reported where the teachers are not qualified enough to teach students, and yet continue to be part of the teaching fraternity. The problem of teacher absenteeism has also beleaguered the Indian education system for long. Studies suggest that improving school infrastructure, allocating sufficient funds, increasing the frequency of inspections, providing daily incentives to work and conducting frequent parent-teacher association meetings are the best ways to get teachers to attend schools regularly. There should be regular training programs for teachers to keep them updated about latest research and findings in the field of education. So, rather than focus just on improving literacy rate, which is, of course, important, the real focus should be on providing quality education. And education should mean downloading facts and information into young minds. But to create a generation that can read and write and is also adept at handling life situations competently by imparting skills and knowledge for the same.

After all, access to quality education, is the birthright of every child.

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