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 many 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.
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 to 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 a 100% literacy rate.
Causes and effects 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. Also known as intergenerational illiteracy as it is a vicious cyclic that continues through the different generations of the family. As education is given little to no value in the family set up the children doesn’t see it as important and even the third or fourth generations of family members suffer the same fate and remain illiterate. But the inverse is also true 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 the 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. Education provides one with the necessary skills and expertise for gainful employment and a higher standard of living.
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 a further education due to financial problem.
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 lives 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.
Negative impacts on health illiterate individuals are more prone to workplace accidents, diseases (due to lower hygiene and cleanliness practices) and take longer to recover. There can be a misuse of medication due to ignorance, lack of knowledge or simply having trouble reading and understanding the relevant information (warnings, dosage etc.). They also can have low self-esteem, which can lead to isolation and disconnection from society.
Crimes and social problems can be reduced through education as a person who is educated is more likely to be tolerant/broad-minded and better able to understand and cultivate some basic civic sense. Education also helps develop behavior that is socially acceptable and trains us in social skills which improve the individual and allows him/her to adapt to changes and contribute for the benefit to the society. Illiterate people are more likely to engage in unlawful acts in the society due to lack of knowledge/skill, lack of employment or simply as a result of being uncultured.
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.
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.
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 and making people understand the importance of education and the opportunities and jobs they can get. NGO-Non-governmental organizations, other government agencies should take deliberate measures to create awareness in the society and reduce the number of people who are unable to read and write.
Grants, scholarships, subsidies can reduce the financial burden and encourage parents to send their children to school. This will also encourage and motivate the students to learn and there will be no interruption in their education due to a lack of means or poverty. Parents can also channel money saved from not paying for school fees towards other income-generating projects/activities.
Late night classes or evening classes are very useful and the working population can opt for these classes where they can learn even as they earn their income through their daytime jobs.
Providing free books either through the government or through different foundations/institutions can encourage students to develop a reading culture. Offering free books can also reduce the financial burden placed on parents in the provision of textbooks. Creation of libraries and providing memberships to school students free of cost is also beneficial.
Digitization and technological advancement allow us to transfer information, knowledge, and ideas etc through the internet or virtual/digital platforms that enable learning. It can help reduce illiteracy in the society while also providing technical skills and training people to use the new technology. It mitigates the problem of shortage of education facilities and 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.
Education has great merits/rewards but it is quite a costly investment and many graduates usually leave universities with huge debts in the form of student loans. This reduces their earnings and thereby their saving/investing till they repay the loans. The cost of university education has been a key political and social issue and by lowering the cost of education, the government can make it easier for people to study up to the highest level possible.
The value of education cannot be emphasized enough and cannot be underestimated. To most, it is simply a means to an end to gain the skills and expertise necessary to join the job market. True education gives a competitive advantage in the job market but 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 and adaptability which is necessary to overcome everyday life challenges. Illiteracy, therefore, has no room in the modern society. The number of people who get educated the better will be the community. Everyone should aspire to be educated and gain knowledge because of the important benefits of being literate.