An illiterate person is someone who would not be able to read this article, no matter what language it was written in. Illiteracy is rampant in underdeveloped countries throughout the world and its expansion, if it occurs, poses a significant threat to the future of education, development and peace of any nation. But why does this condition exist? Why haven’t we been able to educate so many of our citizens? The causes are many, and often they involve issues more pertinent than illiteracy itself.
10. Attitude Towards Learning
We believe that education uplifts us. It is the only path which can lead us to wisdom and liberation. This is what we believe. But there are certain sections of people who think otherwise, who look down upon education and regard it with contempt. They claim that it is of no use to build a scholarly mind or enlighten it through academics. They forget, however, that education comprises holistic development of the mind, body and soul. It does not concern academics alone. Families of poor financial standing often discourage studying in their households as they wish to engage the children in work as soon as possible to expand their collective remuneration. They do not realize that uneducated workers can never survive comfortably in a fast changing world where competition is extreme. Depriving children of basic reading and writing skills limits their opportunities to a bare minimum and inhibits their mental capacity to contribute productively to society and to their own betterment. All members of a society need to look up to education with respect and a will to learn. Parents must inculcate such a will in the minds of their children, for only then will the future generations be adequately equipped to take care of our world.
9. Geographical Factors
These contribute too, to the illiteracy rate. If a family lives in a remote location – like deep within the Himalayan forests or in the arid desert lands of the Thar, they are often cut-off from mainstream civilization and all convenient facilities of education. This is true especially in the case of wandering tribes like the Warlis of the West and the numerous forest communities residing at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. These tribes often follow shifting cultivation as a result of which they have no permanent dwelling place. Moreover, their culture and practices are so different from the mainstream that it is difficult to bring them in sync with modern society and provide them with similar kind of education. There has also been great debate on whether these communities should be modernized and taught to read and write like the rest of us, as many assert that such efforts might lead to the destruction of their indigenous tribal culture and loss of identity. Bringing them out of the hills and forests and forcing them into education is a step which might lead to great resentment on their part. Trying to educate them in their remote living areas is also very inconvenient and will raise many questions about their future prospects. Though they contribute to the illiteracy rate, many argue that we should let them be, as they have held on to their customs and way of life for centuries, which is what defines them.
8. Backward Thinking
A section of our society has been unable to move with the times, owing to generations of being ensconced by religious dogma or orthodox family practices. They reject modern education as a threat to their beliefs and way of life. Consequently, the children of such households are also deprived of the opportunity to study in modern schools and free their minds of meaningless conventions and conservative ideologies. Man has made religion and tradition integral aspects of his being, but they lose their purpose if we allow them to constrain our liberties and blind our minds to the virtues of new learning, innovation and discovery. Such backward thinking limits the scope of human achievement and is an unfortunate cause of illiteracy in our country. Spreading awareness and convincing theses sections of our society to open their eyes to education is the only way to rid them of such ignorance.
7. Individual Disabilities
The most unfortunate are those whose physical or mental conditions do not allow them to educate themselves easily. Disabled children find it exceedingly difficult to read, write, absorb and remember information. For example, a dyslexic child will find it hard to remember the letters of the alphabet and to interpret words when they are formed with those same letters. (Dyslexia is a reading disorder in which individuals, despite having normal intelligence face problems with reading and comprehension.) Physical disabilities also inhibit literacy. A blind child will find it difficult to read without assistance. A child with a disabled arm will find writing a tough task. Such persons are often neglected and shunned from schools. The truth is that with proper care and assistance, many of these differently-abled children can be taught to read and write almost as well as anybody else. This will not only empower them to overcome their disabilities and become achievers in life, it will also improve the literacy situation of the entire country. Such children and adults require special schools where they can be taught with suitable methods so that their disabilities do not come in the way of their education. With a little humanity and compassion, we can change their lives for the best.
6. Emigration of Educated Individuals
Emigration is a steadily increasing phenomenon in today’s globalized world. Many Indians are working abroad in search of more opportunities. Many such individuals decide to settle overseas on account of better working conditions and higher compensations, to acquire greater living standards, or to advance their own personal development by exposing themselves to new cultures. The outflux of such educated individuals creates a negative impact on the literacy rates of our country, lowering it further. The well-educated and professionally successful class of workers are also the ones who own the finances involved in such migration. The illiterate masses who often lack the means to educate themselves obviously cannot dream of shifting to another country to do so. Hence, as far as national literacy is concerned, emigration of educated individuals is detrimental to the improvement of educational statistics in the country.
5. Gender Bias
This is once again, a significant contributor to illiteracy in India and many other countries. Since ancient times, the male child has always been prodded into education while the female child is expected to remain at home and assist in housework, sewing and cooking. No need was seen to educate her in equal terms or encourage her to read. Instead,she was to be married off as soon as possible, and looked down upon as a burden. Not until the modern age had reformers hailed the education and empowerment of the girl child as a necessity to build a constructive and balanced society. Till date, rural India has not completely succeeded in treating its daughters equally in terms of respect and education. Such abominable biases and beliefs have restricted the growth of literacy and sharply skewed the ratio of literate females to males in the country. Such a lopsided statistic in nationwide education is bound to have a dramatically negative impact on society and productivity.
4. Social Evils
Our country has been unable to eradicate its many social evils completely. Child labour, child marriage, untouchability and the caste system are strong causes of a large percentage of Indian children being denied even basic primary school education. Child Labour is rampant among poor families who aim to increase their family income by sending out children to work from a very young age. Moreover, these children are forced into illegal early marriages and then saddled forever with the responsibility of managing a household, family and work on their young shoulders before even gaining the maturity to fully comprehend the meaning of any of them. Malnourished and overworked, they lead impoverished lives, cut off from mainstream education and productive employment, remaining ignorant and resigned to their fate. The caste system and untouchability is another ugly element yet to be shaken off by orthodox Hindu communities. Many children are denied entry into schools on grounds of caste and social standing, the ones belonging to the lowest ranks being forced to live separately outside the main village. Such ruthless segregation of humanity and exploitation of innocent individuals warps the very soul of our society, apart from contributing to national illiteracy.
3. Inadequate Facilities
As population increases, so should development, in order to neutralize the negative effects of the former. However, it is deplorable how in our country, the case is the exact opposite. Our development efforts need to be more radical, lasting and sound. But they are often half-baked and implemented in a hurry which causes their limited benefits to be steamrolled by the ever-expanding population. The administration has not been able to provide adequate facilities for education, particularly in villages throughout the country. A directive principle in our constitution indicates that we should strive to make education free for all children in the country up to the age of fourteen years. Yet, it is shocking how we have been unable to create facilities for even paid education for all our young children, who are essentially the future of this nation. More schools must be built, more teachers must be appointed and trained to impart education to every young mind in the country. Without these basic facilities, we will be hard pressed to eliminate illiteracy in the country.
2. Population Explosion
Our country is the second most populated nation in the world, after China. The population is growing at a rate of 1.2% per annum. Our governments have failed, as yet, to enforce the two-child-per-family policy to curb population, especially in the rural areas. The combination of increasing population and development has led to a situation where the country has innumerable citizens who wish to learn but not enough educational institutions to teach them. The existing schools are already overflowing with students and lack the infrastructure to take in more. As more and more children are born every year, the pressure on these institutions keeps ballooning up continuously. Consequently, entry into these schools gets increasingly difficult, and a majority of the vast population, who are poor, are denied a chance to admit their children owing to insufficient funds.
A huge portion of our population (29.8%) lies below the National Poverty Line, which indicates that they do not have access to basic requirements of essential commodities, including food and water, for themselves or their families. If you do not even have enough to eat, how can you dream of going to a school? These families earn barely enough to feed their children one square meal a day. Education is a luxury they cannot afford. Unlike speaking, reading and writing cannot be learnt on your own. You have to be taught, or have to follow someone very closely. And that costs money. Poor families don’t have that kind of money. A great portion of India’s population is deprived of education because it is poor. No wonder our literacy rate stands at a meagre 56%. The vicious circle of poverty stands like an evil ring of fire between the society and its education.