10 facts on illiteracy in India that you must know

10 facts on illiteracy in India that you must know

Today is International Literacy Day!

Literacy level and educational attainment are backbone of development in a developing country like India. It enhances quality of life, awareness level and level of skill of people in the society. 

What is literacy?
The basic definition of literacy is having the ability to read and write.
Literacy refers to the total percentage of population of people of the age of seven years and above who can read and write with understanding. The Ministry Of Home Affairs conducts a census every 10 years. As per the last census that was conducted in 2011 the literacy rates of top five and bottom five states are given below.

literacy rate

The Constitution of India has also recognised the importance of educating the citizens therefore, several provisions in the constitution are laid down that take care of the rights of the individuals.
Education of Minorities- Article 30 of the Indian Constitution relates to certain cultural and educational rights to establish and administer educational institutions.
• Free and compulsory education- The constitution under article 41,article 45 and article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy instructs the state to take necessary steps for providing equal educational opportunities to the citizens.
Equality of Opportunity in Educational Institutions- The fundamental right of equality clearly signifies that in the eyes of law no distinction can be made on the basis of any position, caste, class or creed. Side by side the right of equality of opportunities to all is also provided. The equality of opportunity is meaningless, unless there are equal opportunities for one’s education.
• Through amendment in the constitution article 21(A) was added in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right.
Education of Weaker sections- Article 15, 17, 46 safeguard the educational interests of the weaker sections of the Indian Community, that is, socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. 

literacy rate in india

In the censuses prior to 1981, it was a practice to calculate the literacy rate by taking into account the whole population. Since, literacy rate will be more accurate if the population between the age group of 0-6 years is excluded. Therefore, from 1991 the literacy rate was calculated for population of seven years of age and above.
There is a wide gender disparity in the literacy in India. Despite various efforts taken by the government for upliftment of the women in the society, the rate of literacy in women is not that impressive, especially in the rural areas. . There are various reasons behind the improper education of the women like indifference in attitudes and practices against girl child including their health, and well-being, illiterate parents and guardians who have little or no awareness of the importance of education and most importantly financial constraints of various types etc.

Steps taken by the government-
• In order to increase the interest and encourage students and adults to study, the government conducts various scholarship examinations and also provides school uniform, textbooks and other necessary materials.
• Mid-day meal scheme is launched by the government under which students were provided with free meals and their parents are sending them to school.
• Samagra Shiksha which is prepared with the broader goal of improving school effectiveness measured in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and equitable learning outcomes.
• In the rural areas various campaigns were held in order to make people aware about the importance of education and to encourage them to attend schools.

India has rolled-out the Right to Education Act, but is yet to witness its complete and proper implementation.

Below are some facts on India’s standing on the literacy chart.

1. India is home of largest population of illiterate adults in world – 287 million, amounting to 37% of the global total.

2. 47.78 % out of school  children are girls. In the next census they will be calculated as illiterate women, which would then have a ripple effect on the education of their children.

3. Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are amongst the bottom five states in terms of literacy of Dalits.

4. India’s literacy rate has increased six times since the end of the British rule — from 12% to 74% in 2011, yet, India has the world’s largest population of illiterates.

5. The literacy rate of female Dalits in Bihar is 38.5% in 2011.  It is far behind India’s progress trend. It is still 30 years behind the India’s national literacy Rate which was 43.7 in 1981.

6. 60 lakh children in India are still out-of-school

7. 92% government schools are yet to fully implement the RTE Act.

8. India is ranked 123rd out of 135 countries in female literacy rate.

9. In the South Asian region, India ranks fourth, behind Sri Lanka with a female-male ratio of 0.97 and Bangladesh with a female-male ratio of 0.85.

10. The percentage of women to the total number of school teachers has gone up from 29.3% in 1991 to 47.16% in 2013-14.

Crores of children are out-of-school in India and may never get a chance to study. Your critical support of a small monthly gift will help them build a better life. Donate today.

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Written by: Oxfam India staff

Photo credit: Vivek M




We work to achieve the goal of universal, inclusive and quality elementary education.

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