The national literacy level has increased from 64.8 per cent to 74.04 per cent in the decade 2001 to 2011 and the number of illiterates has declined by 31 million with a considerable rise in the number of literates by 218 million. The female literacy rate has shown a faster increase (11.79 per cent) than the male literacy rate (6.88 per cent), thus reducing the gender gap from 21.59 per cent to 16.68 per cent. This is one part of the story.
The other side however, is that despite a decadal increase of 9.2 per cent points in literacy, only 15 states/union territories—Kerala, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Tripura, Goa, Daman and Diu, Pudducherry, Chandigarh, Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Nagaland have managed to achieve an 80 per cent or above literacy rate. Though the gender gap is reduced by five percentage points yet only eight states/union territories —Chandigarh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Lakshadweep, Kerala and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been able to reduce the gender gap to ten percent or below. Furthermore, regional disparities continue to be widespread across the country, with a more than 30 percentage point difference between Kerala (93.91 per cent) and Bihar (63.82 per cent), not to mention district and block level disparities. Thus, by the end of the 11th plan period in 2012, the three plan targets of achieving 80 per cent literacy rate, reducing the gender gap in literacy to 10 per cent and to minimise regional, social and gender disparities in literacy remained incomplete. Reasons for non-achievement of plan targets suggests low priority to adult education, unrealistically high targets and high school dropout rates as the major factors.
During the 11th Plan, Saakshar Bharat, a centrally sponsored scheme of the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) was launched by the former prime minister on International Literacy Day, September 8, 2009. As stated by the then Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, in his keynote address at the inauguration in New Delhi, “the Mission entails a mammoth mobilisation of resources, physical, human, financial and technological with 70 million learners, nearly 10 million voluntary teachers and trainers, 3 million literacy managers and administrators”. Under the programme, 70 lakh literacy centres and 1.70 lakh continuing education centres were set up in over 1.70 lakh villages and 210 million books and 70 million learner kits were distributed, at an investment of over 1 billion USD.
The Saakshar Bharat Programme (SBP) aims to establish a literate and learning society by strengthening and promoting adult and continuing education. The scheme is currently operational in 372 districts. The National Literacy Mission, under the ministry of human resource development, has been revamped as a National Female Literacy Mission to impart functional literacy to all non-literate women. The programme under the Mission strives to impart functional literacy to 70 million adults (60 million women and 10 million men) in the age group of 15 years and above. It also envisages to enable 3 million adults (neo-literates) with basic education and vocational skills at Jan Shiksha Kendras or Adult Education Centres (AECs), where the programmes will be coordinated and managed in keeping with the respective territorial jurisdictions. The total estimated cost of the Mission is Rs 6502.7 crores, of which Rs 4993 crores is being contributed by the central government. The sharing between the centre and the state is 75:25 except for the north eastern region where it is 90:10.
The current scenario
Illiteracy being far more widespread in rural as compared to urban India, with 84 per cent of India’s non-literates living in rural India, the programme focuses on rural areas, especially in districts with a low (50 per cent and below) female literacy rate. Since the problem entails inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial cooperation at all administrative levels, along with the involvement of civil society, adult learners, educators, and other organisations at the grassroots level a permanent multi-level networking of structures that conform to these parameters become mandatory. Hence, the scheme has been anchored with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and local self-government bodies throughout the country to adopt a targeted approach focused on women, scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and minorities
Gandhiji’s dream of village level local democracy has been translated into reality with the introduction of the three-tier PRIs to ensure people’s participation in rural reconstruction. ‘Panchayat’ literally means an assembly (yat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. The passage of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992, on April 24,1993, marked a new era in the federal democratic set up of the country when constitutional status was provided to PRIs. The Government of India decentralised several administrative functions to the village level, empowering the elected gram panchayat. The panchayat or panchayati raj was constituted as a 3-tier system (gram panchayat at the village, the panchayat samiti at the block and the zila parishad at the district level) of governance for all states with populations of over 2 million, with elections scheduled to be regularly held every 5 years.
Saakshar Bharat and PRIs
Since the adult education programme has been envisaged as a people’s programme, the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) perceived a pivotal role for PRIs in implementation of the programme at the district and sub-district level. Consequently, the district, block and gram panchayat have been assigned the key role in planning, implementing and monitoring of the programme. The Mission is being implemented by the gram panchayat at the grassroots level and by other PRIs at the district and sub-district level. The respective state governments and the NLMA, the national implementing agency at the apex level, function in close association with the PRIs in this regard. The Saakshar Bharat programme, which came into operation from October 1, 2009, has anchored nearly 1, 70,000 gram panchayat in 372 districts under this scheme.
The planning process
Since all the activities in the programme are intended to be planned and implemented by the community and the panchayat, it can bring about an integrated representative (gram panchayat) and participatory (gram sabha) system of grassroots governance and reverse literacy related activities from being supply-driven to demand-driven. The national and state governments play the role of facilitators and resource providers here, with adequate resource support being provided through special purpose vehicles like the state resource centre and other bodies that have the required expertise to plan and implement the programme. Adequate representation of hitherto marginalised groups such as women, scheduled tribes and scheduled castes in governance, and especially decision-making roles will ensure a steady process of building human capital. This can certainly help achieve the targets for literacy in rural India.
The former HRD Minister M M PallamRaju, while addressing a convention of ministers and the panchayat on adult education attributed the success of the Saakshar Bharat Mission to PRIs, adding that “..since the programme was launched 1.73 crore adults have been certified as literate till August 2012.”
Currently, the PRIs play a pivotal role in planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme. The panchayat is responsible for micro-planning in respect of preparation of action plan at the gram panchayat level, which includes conducting surveys, data collection, mass mobilisation, training schedules of different levels of functionaries, procurement and distribution of teaching learning materials, evaluation of learning outcome of the learners, budgetary requirements, and the like. A gram panchayat plan takes into account all programmes and activities of the Mission. Blocks aggregate all gram panchayat and add their activity budget to it. The district implementing agency collates all the block plans, and adding their activity budget to the same submit the plans to the state level authority. Appraisal of the state plan leads to release of the funds at the top-rung.
Since, the programme is implemented as a mission mode project, hence an institutional framework involving PRIs, district administration and the state government has been adopted to ensure adequate representation of women in these structures. Activities regarding planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme have been delineated to PRIs as per table 1, 2 and 3.
Training and monitoring
Considering the larger canvas of roles and responsibilities involving PRIs across the country, it is obvious that various levels of planned orientation, training and sensitisation are needed for appraising the adult education programme for the benefit of stakeholders at the village, block, district and state levels. For this, NLMA in association with technical resource providers created a web-based management information system (MIS) for optimising the outreach and for real time monitoring.
A bottoms-up approach for the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the adult education programme built around a deeper involvement of PRIs can certainly show results, since, as a direct grassroots representative body of people in a decentralised structure, PRIs have huge potential to serve as a mouthpiece for all those far removed from the centres of power. With PRIs doing their job, adult education programmes, in turn, can help achieve the goal of total literacy, and hence, complete people’s participation in governance.