Zenfolio | Maulshree Gangwar | Literacy in India

Literacy in India

December 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Ancient India was referred to as the ‘Golden Bird’ for its tremendous wealth. It was time and again colonized by foreign powers that took advantage of the highly class based division of the society. These classes lived harmoniously amongst each other and had their own duties to fulfill. However, the disparity led to conflicts that were noticed by outsiders and hence taken advantage of. Colonization left great impact on the economy, society and education system. I have chosen a paper that was commissioned by Education for All Global Monitoring Report (UNESCO) to provide background information in outlining the 2006 report. The scope of my paper is to analyze Literacy options in India from Modernist view and huge aid flowing in Human Capital to provide free and compulsory primary education to all. The desperate need to spread mass schooling can be explained from a Functionalist perspective Since India has been the center for colonial powers, I will extract the reforms made by the British in Education from a Dependency theorist perspective and discuss the situation of female education from a Feminist perspective.

The document by Mathew (2005) is an analysis of the steps taken to improve the Literacy rate in India and how they were either successful or failed depending on their approaches towards achieving literacy. Since India achieved independence from the British rule, the Government has made literacy a priority. 84% of the population was illiterate in the year 1951. Conventional methods of literacy proved to be a failure and this led to a reform in the literacy methods. National Literacy Mission (NLM) was established in 1988. Basic Education became a priority and efforts were made to improve education of school age children. The outcomes of these efforts are further discussed in the States of Andhra Pradesh (AP), Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (MP); these being the states with lowest literacy in India. Even free education was unable to attract the students to schools because they were not aware about the importance of education in their lives and place in the society. More dropouts were reported in the backward castes. Adult Literacy was however increasing with the help of Total Literacy Campaign (TLC), still poverty proved to be a cause of illiteracy. The next step of EFA was to focus on Poverty Reduction Strategies along side improving Literacy. There is discussion on management of funds at the national and state level and the role of non-governmental organizations in literacy. Introduction of Innovative Peoples’ methods improved the interest of people in getting education but the absence of funding from the Government rendered these programs to come to a standstill. Focus on gender education and adult literacy is also the focus of the paper.

Modernization Theory

            It is based on the assumption that education makes men modern. Inkeles (1969) quotes “Education is the most powerful factor in making men modern…” It mentions development in terms of linear progression of economy i.e. progress from traditional agricultural economy to modern industrialized nation. This is well supported by Inkeles (1969) who believes that men who work in factories tend to have a better attitude towards schooling and have more modern attributes than those working and living on the farms: “The factory can be a school- a school for modernization”. Schools are a place for modernization where students learn about the technological advancements and to achieve independence in terms of making decisions on their own without the fear of an authoritative figure.


            Functionalists believe in the idea of naturalism. They draw from the fact that different parts of the body have a different function and at the same time each part is important for the body to function well. In the same way, schools should serve to the social needs and focus on those that can help in the survival of the society as a whole. It can also be explained by Plato would say ‘It was focused towards benefit of the state’ (Noddings, 1995). In serving the society, functionalism ignores the learners’ interest in fulfilling their belief that everyone should be mass schooled and they should have their own roles in the society. The children learn the family work by watching their family and schools should impart required skills and attitudes to enhance these social norms. This helps achieve social solidarity and role differentiation (Feinberg, 1998).

Human Capital

            This is based on the assumption that for the development of the society it is imperative for everyone to develop skills and schools help acquire these skills. Investment in human capital is more important than non-human capital since trained people are more efficient than their untrained counterparts. They believe that investing in human capital has higher returns than putting money in building infrastructure etc. The World Bank started investing in primary education and there was no capital for infrastructure. Schultz (1961) contests that “investment in human capital accounts for most of the impressive rise in the real earnings per worker”. As a human capitalist, it is wise to invest in the education of people who would be employed; it goes waste in the case of females who get educated and then do not work.


            According to this theory, the world countries are divided into ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ categories. The core countries are central economically developed and technologically advanced whereas the peripheral countries are dependent on the core countries for their economical and technological advancement. India is a country colonized by the British for over 200 years. They brought several changes to society and educational system. Even after independence, the current education system in the country is the one brought by the British called the Macaulay system. It was introduced in the country to make sure the citizens are trained according to the needs of the British in fulfilling their work. The British are gone but it still continues to create the rift between the social classes; the elites study in schools with expensive facilities and they continue to rule the economically weaker class in terms of providing them with low quality education. As Arnove (1980) puts it “blatant institutionalization of cultural domination by the urban elite”.


            The feminists believe in the importance of women in development. This theory has three main tenets. First, Women in Development (WID) incorporates women in development without considering the role of policy-making decisions by men. Second, Women and Development (WAD) overcomes the flaws of WID and assumes that the program for women should be designed and implemented by women at the grassroots. Third one assumes a greater role of constructing Gender and Development (GAD) in the patriarchal society.


Page 6: In respect of primary education, there is a well-defined system, evolved over a long period of time, of end of the year testing of levels of learning of prescribed competencies. Page 17: …and targets set up in Dakar Framework for action.

            From dependency view this well-defined system was put in place by the Western Educators (British in this case), in the Indian Education system and it evolved as per Western objectives. This method did not prove successful in achieving the literacy standards of the population. This system serves to exploit the rural population that continues to live in poverty.

Page 7-8: The adoption of World Declaration on EFA in Jomtien in 1990… and an endorsement at the national policy level.  Page 9: engaged in child labor and urban street and slum children, into the educational mainstream through flexible delivery modes like bridge courses, summer programs etc.

            This Universalist functionalist approach to improving literacy was successful in achieving the results. The program was implemented keeping in mind that every learner is equal, a close watch was kept by the civil society initiatives to ensure guaranteed student learning. Bridge courses and special programs for working children and those freed from bonded labor further propagated the equal learning opportunities.

            However, from a human rights perspective it is unclear if the children who were freed from bonded labor were given any sort of special psychological support to overcome their experience living in bondage. This education seems superficial if it was not concerned with the well being of the learners. There was continued work for educating working children but nothing was being done to eradicate child labor.

Page 8: educated and aware mother will change the world of their daughters, their education and their lives. Page 24: five of them being neo-literates and 4 of whom, women.

            In the ancient India, men and women has same status and respect in the society, it was only after colonization by the Mughals that the status of women started deteriorating and hence the deterioration of the nation. It is very important that the women be educated, not just for employment but also because they play an important part in shaping the next generation. The inclusion of women in the West Godavari project proved to be a success and it was able to reach a greater population.

            According to Raman (2006), “number of literate women among the female population of India was 2–6% from the British Raj onwards to the formation of the Republic of India in 1947, which led to improvement from 15.3% in 1961 to 28.5% in 1981. By 2001 literacy for women had exceeded 50% of the overall female population”. This number is still very low considering the world literacy rates of females but it is a clear indication that women education has great impacts on the economic growth of the country.

Page 18: MP evolved its own strategy for literacy, moving away from the standardized national model.

            From a modernist view, this was a strategy that involved using western method of clubbing education with economic incentive. This was fruitful in terms of increasing the literacy rate from 20% in 1990s to 64.11% in 2001 (Mathew, 2005). The economic incentives can also be perceived as Feinberg’s hidden curriculum to develop interest in learners get education. From the Census data drawn, it is clear that the increase in literacy has led to increase in GDP of the country (Census of India). In the year 2001, the literacy was 64.84% and it increased to 74.04% in 2011. At the same time Real GDP growth in 2001 was 3.9% that increased to 7.2% in 2011.

Page 8-9: Operation Blackboard

            This operation showed investment in human capital especially in the form of training teachers. Later on there was aid for building infrastructure that led to increase in number of students. But increase in number of teachers was not proportional to the increase in number of students. The Teacher-Pupil ratio was 1:38 in 1981 and 1:43 in 1991. This however remained stable until 2002 at 1:42.

            India is a developing country and according to the World Systems theorists, it is no longer a peripheral country. It lies in between the core and peripheral as a semi-peripheral nation. It is estimated that in the next 50 years, India will be amongst the top economies of the world. The development of a country lies in the development of its people. Ever since the British robbed the country of its riches and exploited the social class, we have made great progress. We still however lack in giving equal status to its entire people. There is huge income disparity and gender inequality. Government and other agencies are doing the very best to increase literacy rates but is this education really good quality. People ‘need’ to be aware about the importance of good quality education. The Government has enforced the ‘Right to Education’ (RTE) Act but it is flawed in every way possible. Under the act, every child gets Basic Education (up to grade 8) free of cost and there are no exams for students. This is a very new concept in a country where the entire education system is based on tests and exams. If a change is to be brought, it has to be gradual and not just put out there. As a result of this, more students are going to school but their learning outcomes have deteriorated way below acceptable standards. According to Pratham’s (non-profit organization) Annual Report (2011), the percentage of students in grade 5 who can read the texts of grade 2 have fallen down from 53.7% to 48.2% since the RTE was implemented. I am not sure if this kind of mass schooling is going to be of actual help. People need to be more aware in order for the country to be successful in the global market. Schooling of the masses is essential but it should be quality education that the people get. There is also clear evidence from the document that as the programs were becoming more people centric, they were getting more returns. It is imperative to involve the basic requirements of the regional or local population before implementing any literacy program. 


  • Mathew, A. (2006). Literacy: Real options for policy and practice in India. Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
  • Feinberg, W., & Soltis, J. F. (1998). School and society. Teachers College Press.
  • Peet, R., & Hartwick, E. (2009). Theories of development: contentions, arguments, alternatives. Guilford Press.
  • Noddings, N. (1995). Philosophy of education (Vol. 190). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Inkeles, A. (1969). Making men modern: On the causes and consequences of individual change in six developing countries. American Journal of Sociology, 208-225.
  • Arnove, R. F. (1980). Comparative education and world-systems analysis. Comparative Education Review, 24(1), 48-62.
  • Schultz, T. W. (1961). Investment in human capital. The American economic review, 51(1), 1-17.
  • Pratham (2011). Annual Status of Education Report. India.
  • Raman, S. A. (2006). Women's education. Encyclopedia of India, 4, 235-239.


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