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On Path To Functional Literacy


The purpose of education is to help individuals gain skills and achieve their complete potential. Schools, universities and professional institutions are key in nurturing the intellect and curiosity of a person. Without measuring the quality of education, we are unable to define its effectiveness. There is a growing need for more sophisticated educational resources.

The current landscape of Indian education is such that a large part of population is literate but not well educated. India has a huge contrast on one hand we have a large populace that is uneducated and illiterate. On the other hand Indians also contribute a large numbers to the global technical workforce and as CEOs of multinational companies.

Achieving functional literacy is an integral and indispensable element of educational development. What level of functionality in reading, writing and numeracy skills is sufficient to sustain in a community? Is the concept by itself relevant in today’s times?

The concern for improvement of education has always been at the pinnacle for the country since independence. All policies have stressed on the importance of establishing a closer relation between education and life of people. This is done in-order to accentuate a sense of common citizenship and culture for national integration. But do these policies really account for improved ability to sustain oneself in a rapidly changing environment? For example, despite us saying that illiteracy today is reducing at the rate of 1.5% per annum, we have about 200 million adults that cannot read and write.

We have a glaring need for trained teachers who use conventional methods of learning, which requires 300 hours of instruction. At this pace, we will need 20 years to attain a literacy level of 95%. We also have a massive number of children who are literate but cannot read. Currently, there are a large number of literates who have incipient letter knowledge but struggle to read simple texts. So what is the innovative solution to take this nation to achieve functional literacy?

It is imperative for us to distinguish education from learning; this would help us to measure actual outcomes of skills imparted under the Indian education system. Saakshar Bharat is a government initiative, which provides educational options to those adults, who have lost the opportunity and have crossed the age of formal education, but now feel a need for learning. This step being in the right direction will help target imparting functional literacy to people will have a huge trickle-down effect.

Apart from government plans and policies, NGOs too can contribute significantly towards establishing local learning centres in villages as well as semi-urban dwellings. University students and young professionals should be mobilized to assist in this spread of knowledge. It will not only improve literacy levels but also cultivate a culture of care.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives are already boosting infrastructural development for education. They can be complimented with efforts from local governments to organize decentralized learning platforms for people across ages with specific focus on vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society. NGOs again can play a vital role in this initiative owing to their grass roots experience.

While the traditional infrastructure gives thrust to functional literacy, there is a parallel digital revolution also seeping in. Technology is an essential tool for education today. Smart classrooms can be used to improve syllabus that could focus on reading and writing skills.

One of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The tasks envisioned in the agenda would help realise the potential of the country’s demographic dividend. This can be achieved rapidly if societal institutions capitalize on the digital revolution.

India needs to focus on improving the education system by defining the change in goals, structure, content and processes. Up-gradation of information and communication technologies being employed in the current set up. This should be done keeping in view past experiences and the concerns/imperatives that have emerged in the light of changing national development goals.

The needs of society should be taken into account along with the changing dynamics of local, regional, national and global realities. The learning needs of children, youth and adults, need to be at the heart of all governmental policies. Stakeholders in the education system need to not only take occupational responsibility towards delivering outcomes, but also be ethically accountable to make India a self sustaining nation.


Sweta Rawat, Co-Founder & Chairperson, The Hans FoundationSweta Rawat is Chairperson of The Hans Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization based in New Delhi. She plays a key role in defining the goals and direction of the organization.  Since its inception, The Hans Foundation has funded social initiatives and projects in areas of healthcare, women empowerment, livelihood, disability, and education across India.

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

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The CSR Journal Team