India Home To Third Of World's Illiterates

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New Delhi, Nov 28 (UNI) Acknowledging it is home to 268 million of the world's 771 million illiterates, India today cited plans to spend Rs 6,000 crores to make 85 per cent of Indians literate over the next five years.

The acknowledgement came at a presentation on the eve of a conference in New Delhi sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The conference on Addressing the Literacy Challenge in South, Southwest and Central Asia: Building Partnerships and Promoting Innovative Approaches is scheduled for November 29-30.

The literacy rate reflected in census data in 2001 was 71 per cent among India's 15-to-35-year-olds. It placed the number of non-literates in 7+ age group at 304 million and in 15-35 age group at 100 million.

India's National Literacy Mission launched in May 1988 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi set about imparting functional literacy to adult illiterates in the 15-35 age group.

The goal: 75 per cent literacy rate by 2007.

Indian officials said the campaign did not specifically target illiterates over 35 years of age. The UNESCO calculates literacy in the 15+ age group.

Covering the entire population, Indian experts estimate, would cost Rs 34,000 crores over the five year period-- a far cry for a programme on which the nation spent just Rs 2,387.15 in the past 15 years.

But the cost-cutting is not without a price-- a sizeable section of people unable to read, write or count and to that extent take part in an accountable democracy.

The Right to Information Act, for instance, is a potent instrument for accountability, but not necessarily for millions hampered by an inability to read or write, experts point out.

Authorities point to the brighter side.

''We have made significant progress in literacy in the last century,'' Human Resource Development Ministry secretary Arun Kumar Rath told journalists.

He said from 5.35 per cent in 1901-- 9.83 per cent for male and 0.60 per cent for female-- and 18.33 per cent in 1951, India's literacy rate rose in 1951 to 64.84 per cent-- 75.26 per cent for male and 53.67 per cent for female.

But he said, ''India has still a large number of illiterates and strenuous efforts need to be made to cover all these people.'' Rath and and joint secretary Vandana Jena said the 11th Plan target is to achieve 85 per cent literacy by 2012, cut gender gap to 10 per cent and bridge regional and social gaps.

As Mrs Jena explained, the achievement currently was about 71 per cent literacy rate in the targeted age group. But taking into account the 35+ age group brought it down to 64.84 per cent.

The Delhi meet is 4th in a series of six Regional Conferences covering Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Latin America and Caribbean in a global drive to promote literacy.

India's Adult Education Department is co-host of the event at which Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be the chief guest.

Speakers will include Dr Shanta Sinha, Chairperson National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh.

The meetings are a followup of the White House Conference on Global Literacy hosted in September 2006 by Laura Bush, first Lady of the United States and Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade.

UNI

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