Literacy is an indispensable prerequisite for individual empowerment, offering vast advantages to individuals, families, and communities’ capabilities, providing them access to health, education, economic opportunities, political participation, and cultural enrichment. Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 recognized the significance of literacy as a fundamental human right and pledged to ensure access to it for all.
India has undergone a transformative journey, with a mere one in five Indians considered literate in 1950. By 2023, the narrative had undergone a remarkable reversal. A literacy rate of 18.3 percent in 1951 rose to 74.4 percent in 2018; and as of 2023 (male literacy stands at an impressive 84.70 percent, and the literacy rate of women in India is 70.30 percent). India has traversed a substantial path toward fostering a well-educated nation. This transformation is a testament to the nation’s commitment to improving the literacy rate and its recognition as a pivotal force in shaping the course of individual lives and the collective progress of society.
But how did India manage to make such this considerable improvement?
Efforts Behind Improved Literacy Rate In India
The Indian government launched several initiatives and schemes to improve the literacy rate and promote the significance of education in the country, especially in rural and marginalized communities.
Some of these notable initiatives:
- National Literacy Mission (NLM). Launched in 1988, NLM imparts functional literacy to non-literate and neo-literate adults ages 15 to 35.
- Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The Mid-Day Meal scheme was launched on August 15, 1995, as a centrally sponsored program to provide nutritious meals to schoolchildren.
- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Launched in 2001, SSA is a flagship program to achieve universal elementary education that focuses on providing free and compulsory education to all children ages 6 to 14 in an effort to bridge gender and social gaps.
- Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Launched in 2009, RMSA focuses on enhancing access to quality education at the secondary level, focusing on increasing enrollment, improving infrastructure, and upskilling teachers.
- Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat. The Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat initiative, launched on June 5, 2014 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, focuses is improving students’ foundational literacy and numeracy skills in the early grades.
- Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters) initiative was launched on January 22, 2015, to address gender-based discrimination, promote girls’ education, and improve the gender ratio in India.
- National Skills Development Mission. The National Skills Development Mission was launched on July 15, 2015, centered on creating a skilled workforce to meet the demands of various industries and sectors in India.
- Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA). PMGDISHA was launched on February 19, 2017 to ensure that one member of every rural household is digitally literate by providing digital education and training.
In addition, the Saakshar Bharat scheme, a centrally sponsored, nationwide initiative, was introduced to enhance the literacy rate among adults. This program was implemented in rural areas across 404 districts spanning 26 states and one Union Territory. The districts targeted were those with an adult female literacy rate of 50 percent and below as of the Census of 2001. The scheme was carried out from 2009 until March 31, 2018.
Throughout the tenure of the Saakshar Bharat initiative, the overarching goal was to transform 7.00 crore illiterate adults into literate individuals. Remarkably, this objective was met and exceeded, with approximately 7.64 crore learners passing the biannual Basic Literacy Assessment Tests. The evaluations, which took place from August 2010 to March 2018, were conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), certifying these learners as literate.
The Top Rural Development NGO In India
Since 1999, S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) has been enhancing the quality of life in rural communities across India. The top sustainable rural development NGO in India was established as a public charitable trust, with a team of passionate and skilled individuals. The foundation team collaborates to devise and implement sustainable programs to address rural India’s most critical needs.
S M Sehgal Foundation’s mission lies in the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a life marked by security, prosperity, and dignity. With this guiding principle, the foundation is resolutely committed to advancing community-led development initiatives. Through these efforts, their ultimate objective is to catalyze meaningful and enduring positive changes across rural India’s social, economic, and environmental landscape.
In a bid to create secure, healthy, and engaging learning environments in government schools within Bhandari, Sitamarhi district, Bihar, S M Sehgal Foundation partnered with PTC Foundation and Power Finance Corporation Limited that yielded the Hamari Paathshaala (2018–2021) initiative, operating under their CSR initiative.
As a result of the Hamari Paathshaala endeavor, two schools within the Bhandari Panchayat area were transformed and now feature intact classrooms, access to safe drinking water, functional sanitation facilities, solar-powered energy, and state-of-the-art digital smart classrooms to promote education in rural India. The metamorphosis was grounded in the BALA (Building as a Learning Aid) accreditation, wherein the physical infrastructure of classrooms, corridors, walls, and outdoor spaces was designed to serve as supplementary learning resources. Including BALA surface art reinforces language, communication, and mathematical skills and fosters a heightened awareness of nature and the environment among students.
Project Vriddhi 2.0
In a concerted effort to create a positive and lasting impact within marginalized communities, Nestlé India, in collaboration with S M Sehgal Foundation, launched Project Vriddhi 2.0 in July 2021. The inaugural phase of the project, initiated in April 2019, focused on uplifting the lives of 1,500 individuals residing in the village of Rohira.
A pivotal aspect of the project involved a comprehensive transformation of the Rohira School, which was completed in October 2019. This required a rainwater harvesting system, afforestation efforts, swings installation, educational wall paintings, sanitary facilities, and a midday meal kitchen. Collectively, these enhancements focused on providing schoolchildren with a conducive and stimulating environment for learning. Additionally, a Digital Literacy and Life Skills Education Centre cum Library was set up, further empowering students with new skills and knowledge.
Addressing the Pandemic-Sharpened the Digital Gender Divide
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation highlighted a significant gender disparity in access to digital education in rural India, with notably fewer girls benefiting from it. Young girls’ limited or absent access to the internet was an important contributing factor to this disparity.
In response to this challenge, S M Sehgal Foundation took proactive measures to empower girls by providing digital and life skills training classes. Despite the closure of schools, these sessions continued seamlessly online and later transitioned to offline mode, adhering to COVID guidelines. These training sessions emerged as transformative, instilling a sense of hope and empowerment among numerous girls who harnessed digital skills while nurturing their self-esteem.
The digital and life skills awareness training programs engaged young women and girls in mastering various computer applications and acquiring foundational knowledge in internet research. They gained proficiency in tasks like job searching, online payment procedures, and applying for governmental support programs, contributing to the economic well-being of their families. A striking example is Manju, a Class XI student at Beejwad Naruka School in Alwar, Rajasthan, who successfully tracked her Public Distribution System status and applied online for rations under the COVID program.