India has come a long way in its 75 years of independence in terms of literacy. In 1947, the country's literacy rate stood at a meagre 12 per cent, while the same stands at 77.7 per cent. In India, any person over seven years who can read and write is considered literate. Kerala is the most literate state, with over 93 per cent of its population falling under the literate bracket. An increase in female literacy over the years has contributed to the decadal rise in national literacy. Several states and union territories like Mizoram, Kerala, Puducherry, Delhi, Lakshwadeep, Chandigarh and Daman and Diu have shown significant progress with literacy rates above 85 per cent.
Significance of Literacy Day
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed September 8 as the International Literacy Day to remind the international community, individuals, corporates and societies about the need for intensified efforts to promote education and literacy. For Literacy Day, 2021, the United Nations Organisation said, "International Literacy Day (ILD) 2021 will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults.", The Indian Express reported.
UNESCO further added that it would explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive and meaningful to leave nobody behind. By doing so, it further mentioned, International Literacy Day 2021 would be an opportunity to further re-imagine future literacy learning and teaching within and beyond the concept of the pandemic. Literacy goals are an essential element of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The SDGs were adopted in 2015 to meet the Millenium Development Goals that were taken up in 2000. SDGs form a part of the UN Resolution and fall under "The Agenda of 2030", which are aimed to be achieved by 2030.
However, even after several years of independence, literacy and education in India face many roadblocks, increase in drop-out rates, the gender divide in education, pandemic-steered slowdown in education are just to name a few. The National Education Policy is the light at the end of the tunnel, which aims to reform the education system from a theory-based to a practical learning experience. Moreover, the coming times are likely to allow children to choose only the subjects that interest them. The policy was the government's initiative to align with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and was built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, affordability and accountability.
For a country like India, it is understandable that dynamic policymaking is a paradox. As flexible policies are the need of the hour, it is also challenging to implement policies at such a large scale and monitor significant changes. COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost all sectors alike. The impact on education was inevitable too. But the larger question is to understand what is at stake? With education moving digital, several students and teachers faced hurdles adjusting to the new way of learning and teaching. Children are amongst the worst-affected in the pandemic times.
Impact On Learning Of Young Children
Children on the verge of beginning their school-life, have now been home for almost two years. Moreover, opening schools for children in pre-primary and primary classes in the near future is not likely. Young children are more likely to learn by observing adults and other children. Due to COVID, they have been confined to four walls of their homes with limited exposure to the world outside. The children are more likely to observe and learn from a limited number of people at home, thus stunting their practical learning experience in playschools.
Child Psychologists have also mentioned that such a prolonged period away from practical learning facilities can hinder the child's mental development. Children tend to grasp top things through observation in the formative years, and the COVID-induced lockdown has indeed cut down the scope for such a development. Such events can have a lasting impact on the child's growth and slow down their academic performance in the coming years.
A supportive remote learning experience at the government's end and an inclusive and encouraging environment where children are pushed to progress is the line of direction policymakers, and experts should be thinking on. According to the World Bank, the Centre and state governments can take remedial measures to avoid maximum roadblocks in imparting education. By implementing learning recovery programs, the government can ensure that students who have fallen behind in learning due to lack of technical assistance of increasing financial struggles are immediately put back on track. Carrying out tests to calculate the number of students who need help with academics can be stepping stones.
A Miniscule Percentage Of Budget Allocated To Education
Countries like Ukraine are implementing continuity programs, including establishing online platforms for distance and blended learning experiences. The pandemic has opened the eyes of governments worldwide to make considerable investments in healthcare; it is high time that annual budget allocation for education increases. From 2014 to 2019, the education budget has stagnated at 2.8 per cent of the Union Budget but showed an increase of 3 to 3.5 per cent from 2019 to 2021. However, that is still not enough to meet the growing needs of 250 million children of the country. Norway is considered top-notch in education, and the country spends 6.6 per cent of its annual budget on education.
The pandemic has put the reality in front of everyone that this is not the last crisis that the world has come across. Therefore, this recovery period and the years to come is sufficient for India to under, formulate and assess better policies that focus on the holistic development of children. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pointed out several times that children are the bright future of the country, and the onus of making sure that all their needs are met lies on the shoulders of the government and citizens to raise more responsible and more assertive citizens for a better, more inclusive and development-oriented India.