India To Focus on Female Literacy: Sonia

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New Delhi, Nov 29 (UNI) Indian commitment to a ''sharper'' focus on making women literate was stressed at a United Nations-sponsored conference today at which illiteracy was dubbed ''a global disgrace.'' The sharper focus on female literacy was underscored by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi while opening a conference hosted by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The two-day event is centred on Addressing the Literacy Challenge in South, Southwest and Central Asia: Building Partnerships and Promoting Innovative Approaches.

The conference agenda includes going over the findings of EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008, which calls illiteracy ''a global disgrace.'' ''We cannot in all conscience,'' UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura pointed out, ''keep one in five adults-- one in four women-- on the margins of society.'' Speakers included Sri Lanka's first lady Shiranthi Rajapakse, who was guest of honour, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh and Dr Shanta Sinha, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Guests were welcomed by Minister of State for HRD M A A Fatmi. Audience viewed American first lady Laura Bush deliver a goodwill message for the success of the conference video-recorded for the occasion.

Mrs Gandhi electronically inaugurated an exhibit on best practices and materials for spread of literacy.

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

Recalling his initiative, Mrs Gandhi noted headway made in nearly two decades since and emphasised achievement of Millennium Development Goals 2015.

She said the Mission's efforts had helped raise the literacy rate from 44 per cent to 52 per cent between 1981-91 and to 65 per cent in 2001.

But she acknowledged ''regional variations''-- a few states performing as well as developed nations, while a number registering ''very low'' performance levels.

She said the Literacy Mission was now being given a new direction through a focus on female literacy in poorer areas and among disadvantaged communities.

This, she said, was intended to effect convergence of existing schemes and programmes, to link literacy to improved livelihood and career opportunities, particularly in the knowledge economy.

The Mission will be implemented by institutions of local self governments, to ensure greater accountability and responsiveness, she said.

Mrs Gandhi reiterated India's commitment to universalising elementary education by 2010.

She said the challenge was to ensure full enrollment, lower dropout rates and quality education.

A cooked mid day meal programme was an integral part of the strategy, she told participants, adding that nearly 120 million children are fed daily in schools.

She also said India, Bangladesh and Pakistan must redouble their efforts to eradicate illiteracy.

This will entail greater focus on Information and Communication Technologies and linking education with job opportunities or vocational education, she said.

Calling it a moment of convergence between technological development and educational need, as well as between educational need and political will, Mrs Gandhi urged grasping the moment.

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