Impact of Primary Education on Literacy: An Analysis of Census 2001 Provisional Data

by Arun C. Mehta

1. Introduction

Free and compulsory education to all children up to the age fourteen is the constitutional commitment in India. Despite spectacular quantitative expansion in every sphere of elementary education, the goal to achieve universal enrolment is still a far distant dream. While adopting the constitution in 1950, the goal of UEE was to be achieved in a period of ten years i.e. 1960. Keeping in view the educational facilities available in the country at that time, the goal of UEE was far too ambitious to achieve it in a short span of ten years. Hence, the target date was revised a number of times. During the last decade 1991-2001, a number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes, as well as, new programmes and projects were initiated across the country. The Operation Blackboard scheme initiated in 1987 also got momentum during this period so as the large number of District Institutes of Educational Training (DIETs) established across the country. The Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project, Bihar Education Project, UP Basic Education Project, Lok Jumbish and Shiksha Karmi projects of Rajasthan and District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) were the main programmes initiated during 1991-2001. The mid-day meal scheme was also initiated during this period. Primary education remained in the focus in all these programmes. The most recent among these programmes, namely the DPEP is presently under implementation in about 248 districts across 18 states. In addition, the State Governments also initiated a number of other programmes. The success of these programmes is partially reflected in primary enrolment which increased from 97 million in 1991 to 111 million in 1999; thus giving a rate of growth of 1.75 per cent per annum. The share of girls enrolment during the same period increased from 41.5 to 43.5 per cent at the primary and from 36.9 to 40.5 per cent at the upper primary level. The transition rate from primary to upper primary level of education is about 86 per cent. However, still the dropout rates are high at 40 and 57 per cent respectively at the primary and upper primary levels of education. The attendance rate and learners attainment across the country is also low. To improve upon the situation, Government recently launched an ambitious programme, namely Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which envisages covering all non-DPEP districts before the end of the ninth five-year plan with focus on entire elementary level.

The success or failure of primary education system has direct bearing on upper primary, non-formal and adult and continuing education systems to expand. An inefficient primary education system, as it is today, will continue to send a fewer number of primary graduates to upper primary level of education. Needless to mention that unless all children of age 6-11 years graduate primary level and transit to upper primary level, the goal of UEE cannot be achieved. An efficient primary education system is expected to contribute significantly to total literates and also to literacy levels of population. However, an inefficient primary system will extract more burden on non-formal and adult education programmes. The NLM authority is the main agency responsible for the adult education, which undertakes literacy programmes through Total Literacy Campaigns (TLC). The TLC also got momentum in early 1990’s, which created environment for primary education system to expand. The literacy rates across the country increased impressively from 52.21 per cent in 1991 to 65.38 per cent in 2001. However, the country still has more than 296 million illiterates of age 7 & above and male/female differential in literacy is also high at 22 percentage points.

The Census 2001 results are just released. So far, only total population and its male and female distribution, 0-6 population, sex ratio, density of population and literacy rates have been disseminated. The data is available both at the all-India, as well as, state level. However, information on a variety of other indicators included in the Census is eagerly awaited. An attempt has been made in the present article to use this set of data to assess the contribution of formal education system to total literates produced between the period 1991 to 2001. In addition indicators, such as, male/female differential in literacy rate, literate per lakh population, sex ratio among literate population and number of decades required to achieve universal literacy have also been analysed to know more about literacy development in the country. Needless to mention that the analysis undertaken is purely quantitative in nature and qualitative aspects have not been touched upon. By and large, the analysis is confined to all-India level but wherever necessary, state-specific information is also presented and analysed. The analysis presented is tentative in nature till more detailed set of data about literates in different age groups and their educational attainment is available. More specifically, the main objectives of the present article are:

  • To analyse the Census definitions of literates and possible errors in enumeration;
  • To take a view of the literacy development in India; and
  • To assess the contribution of both the formal, as well as, non-formal education systems to total literates produced between different periods.

First, definitions of literacy and possible errors in enumeration are briefly discussed below.

2. Definition of Literacy and Possible Errors in Enumeration

The UNESCO definition of literate is “One who has acquired all the essential knowledge and skills which enable him/her to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his/her group and community and whose attaining in reading, writing and numeracy make it possible to use these skills towards his/her own and his/her community’s development” (see Box). On the other hand, the NLM definition of literacy is acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life. More specifically, the Census definition

Literacy as Defined by UNESCO

  1. A Literate person is a one who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement relevant to his everyday life.
  2. Literacy is not the simple reading of word or a set of associated symbols and sounds, but an act of critical understanding of men’s situation in the world.
  3. Literacy is not an end in itself but a means of personal liberation and development and extending individuals educational efforts involving overall inter-disciplinary responses to concrete problems
  4. A literate person is one who has acquired all the essential knowledge and skills which enable him to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community and whose attaining in reading, writing and numeracy make it possible to use these skills towards his own and his community’s development.

What is Literacy? : Arun Gosh Committee, 1994

Literacy is a form of training. Literacy is not the guarantee that one will become more educated. But it certainly provided the potential for such enhancement. It increases one’s access and capacity to enrich one’s education. It also provides access and capacity to enrich one’s education. It also provides access to better training, the possibility of improving ones economic condition, and enhances one’s capability to function more effectively in a fast changing world.

Literacy as Defined by NLM

The National Literacy Mission defines literacy as acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life. Thus the goal of the National Literacy Mission goes beyond the simple achievement of self-reliance in literacy and numeracy of functional literacy. The achievement of functional literacy implies:

  • Self-reliance in 3 R’s
  • Becoming aware of the causes of deprivation and moving towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development
  • Acquiring skills to improve their economics status and general well-being
  • Imbibing values of national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance of small family norms, etc.

The acquisition of functional literacy results in empowerment and a definite improvement in the quality of life. It helps to ensure the participation of the masses in sharing the benefits of the information era.

Source: NLM (1994) and website of National Literacy Mission.

is read and write with ability any language. However, tests are not conducted by the enumerators in the Census operations to know the ability of respondents about their literacy status. Ashish Bose very rightly pointed out that “we have made no progress in our understanding or definition of what it means to be lettered. And even in this limited definition, we have failed. No tests are conducted by data collectors during surveys. People are merely asked whether they are literate or not and entries are made”. The household proforma used in 2001 Census also do not mention any specific guidelines to know the literacy status of the members of the household. Needless to mention that the respondent in the Census was the head of the household and were not the members of the household. In fact, enumerators didn’t come into the contact of the members of the household. The literacy status of the members of the household was entirely based upon the response of the head of the household, which may not always be correct. The Census didn’t adopt any procedure to counter check the responses of the head of the households about the literacy status of the members of the house. There is no question about the integrity of the head of households but their perception of literate may vary from one head of the household to another. This is more specifically true keeping in view that a large number of head of the households themselves are illiterates. There may be significant difference in the perception of a literate and educated head of the household and that of an illiterate head of the household.

Prima-facie, it seems that the Census data do not present the true picture of the literacy status of the population. There may be measurement errors in enumeration also, which may be because of a variety of reasons. First, those who are treated literates may be many of them are illiterates. There ability to read and write with understanding is questionable. This can be checked on sample basis. The external evaluations conducted in the past also support this argument (NLM, 1994). Second, many a time when children in households are reported to be in schools, the enumerator unconsciously treated them as literates, which may not always be true. In all practical purposes, a child of Grade I was treated as literate in 2001 Census so as the Child of Grade II. A child of age 9 or 10, if reported enrolled in school may also not necessarily be literate because of the lateral entry. Many of them still be in Grade I or II. The grossness in primary enrolment is in the tune of about 20 per cent (NCERT, 1998a), majority of them are over-aged children. This supports the argument that the number of literates and also the literacy rates reported in the Census are over estimated. The distribution of literates by age and educational attainment when available will throw more light on this aspect. Lastly, the majority of enumerators in Census 2001 were the local school teachers. This may also perhaps be one of the factors that might have influenced number of literates. Therefore, the analysis of literacy and number of literates presented below should be viewed in the light of the above considerations. First, the progress made in literacy is analysed

3. Improvement in Literacy Rates

More than decline in population growth rate, it is the spurt in literacy rates that make the present Census stand out from others in post-independence India. More than three-fourths of our male population and a little more than half of the female population are now literate compared to one-third of Indians still do not possess even the basic proficiency in literacy. During 1991-2001, literacy rates improved impressively from 52.21 per cent in 1991 to 65.38 per cent in 2001; thus showing an improvement of more than 13 percentage points (Table 1). More glaring aspect of improving literacy rates is the significant increase of 14.87 per cent in case of female literacy rate, which is more than the increase in the male literacy rate, which is increased by 11.72 per cent. However, still the male/female differential in literacy rate is of the tune of almost 22 percentage points. This is also reflected in the sex ratio among literate population, which is as low as 667 compared to 933 overall sex ratio. Despite the decline in number of illiterates and improvised literacy rates, India has to go a long way to achieve the goal of universal literacy. The progress in literacy during the previous decade looks impressive mainly because of the fact that during the last four decades, the same remained very low and only a little progress could be achieved. Because of the parental thirst for education, the literacy rates have now reached to somewhat reasonable levels (Reddy, 2001). Therefore a literacy rate at 65 per cent appears to be far more credible. It is rather a mater of grate shame that Kerala attained 65 per cent literacy way back in 60’s and even now many states have literacy rates well below the national average of 65 per cent. The more detailed Census data when available will throw more light on the status of literates that are being produced. However, 1991 Census suggests that about 25 per cent of the total literates were just literates and had never been completed even primary education. As mentioned above, the Census definition of literacy is read and write but even the poorest of parents want their child to complete a bare minimum elementary education. Will it be possible in the near future? is a moot question.

During 1991-2001, the highest change in literacy rate was recorded in case of Rajasthan (22.48 per cent) followed by Dadra & Nagar Haveli (19.32 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (19.91 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (17.02 per cent), Meghalaya (14.21 per cent) etc. The improvement in literacy rates in case of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh is worth noticing; all of which are the educationally deprived states (Table 2). However, the male/female differential especially in case of Madhya Pradesh (26.52 per cent) and Rajasthan (32.12 per cent) is still very high and do not suggest that the goal of universal literacy can be achieved in the near future. The increase during 1991-2001 was lowest in case of Kerala (1.11 per cent) followed by Chandigarh (3.95 per cent), Nagaland (5.46 per cent) etc. The low increase at least in case of Kerala and Chandigarh is mainly because of their base year (1991) literacy rates, which were as high as 89.81 and 77.81 per cent. In 2001 also, Kerala has the highest literacy rate (90.92 per cent) followed by Mizoram (88.44 per cent), Lakshadweep (87.52 per cent), Goa (82.52 per cent), Delhi (81.82 per cent), Dadra & Nagar Haveli (81.09 per cent), etc. On the other hand, more than half of the total 7 & above population in Bihar is still illiterate. The state also has the lowest literacy (47.53 per cent) rate and is the only state, which has less than 50 per cent literacy rate across the country. Bihar is closely followed by Jharkhand (54.13 per cent), Jammu & Kashmir (54.46 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (54.74 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (57.36 per cent).

Census 2001 further reveals that the increase in female literacy rate (39.29 to 54.16 per cent) was much higher than the increase in their counterparts’ males (64.13 to 75.85 per cent). The lowest female literacy rate is noticed in case of Bihar (33.57 per cent), followed by Jharkhand (41.82 per cent), Jammu & Kashmir (41.82 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (42.98 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (44.24 per cent), Rajasthan (44.34 per cent) etc. Both the Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have a little above 50 per cent female literacy rate against Kerala’s 87.86 per cent which is also the highest in the country. The low female literacy rates in these states are well reflected in the male/female differential, which is still high at about 22 percentage points. The States of Bihar (26.75 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (26.52 per cent), Orissa (24.98 per cent), Rajasthan (32.12 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (27.25 per cent) have a very high significant male/female differential in literacy, all which need immediate attention without which the goal of universal literacy even cannot be dreamt. Though the situation during 1991-2001 in these states improved but they still remained (in terms of literacy) the most deprived states of the country. So far as the ranking of States & UTs by literacy rates are concerned, it is found that the first three states namely, Kerala, Mizoram and Lakshadweep maintained their position in 2001 also. The ranking of Rajasthan is worth noticing which improved its position from 33 in 1991 to 29 in 2001. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar maintained their positions respectively at 31 and 34 where as Madhya Pradesh improved from 26 to 25. Similarly, West Bengal improved its position from 19 to 18 but Orissa and Andhra Pradesh slide from 25 and 27 to 26 and 28. Maharashtra retained its ranking at number 10 where as, Karnataka (21) and Tamil Nadu (12) lost their positions to 22 and 13 in 2001.

The improvement in literacy is also reflected in a variety of indicators calculated. Literates per lakh population suggest that on an average there are 55 thousand literates compared to only 29 thousand illiterates. A wide gap is also noticed between male (64 thousand) and female (46 thousand) literates per lakh population. Similar is the case with illiterates per lakh population, which are 21 thousand for male and 39 thousand per lakh for female population. Similarly, the female/male ratio of literacy rate improved from 61 in 1991 to 71 in 2001; which also shows differential in male/female literacy rate. In 1991, two States/UTs had below 40 per cent literacy rate compared to no state under this category in 2001. One significant improvement, which is quite visible, is increase in number of states from 6 to 16 in the literacy range 60-70. Only three State/UTs had literacy levels above 80 per cent in 1991, which has now been increased to 9 in 2001.

4. Decline in Illiterates

There has been a decline during 1991-2001 in the absolute number of illiterates. The total number of illiterates declined is 31.96 million, 21.45 million among males and 10.51 million among females. It may be noted that the four most educationally deprived states of the country, namely Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh together have 298 million population of 7 & above, which is about 34 per cent of the total population in 2001. The bifurcated parts of three newly created states, namely Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Uttaranchal, if considered along with their parent states will increase the share to 39.69 percent (345 million). However, the number of literates they have is much lower than their share in the total 7 & above population. Together, they have 169 million literates, which is only 30 per cent of the total literates in the country. Together with three new states, the share of literates increases to 34.84 per cent (197 million), which is far below than their share (39.69 per cent) to total 7 & above population.

Individually, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have 34.97, 17.86, 17.94 and 57.80 million illiterates respectively, which gives a total of 128.57 million illiterates. This is 42.51 per cent of the total illiterates in the country. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone have about 93 million illiterates (30.75 per cent). The improvement in literacy programmes in these states would help in declining illiterates by at least 43 per cent. Unless the goal of universal literacy is achieved in these states, India too cannot become a literate state. The trend in illiterates during the period 1991-2001, however indicate that these states experienced a decline in illiterates but the decline is only marginal. During 1991-2001, the number of illiterates in these four states along with three new states, declined by only 11.48 million which is about 36 per cent of the total 31.96 million decline at the all-India level. The other states, which also have significant number of illiterates, are Andhra Pradesh (25.69 million), West Bengal (21.27 million), Maharashtra (19.00 million), Karnataka (15.13 million), Gujarat (14.70 million), Tamil Nadu (14.67 million), Orissa (11.47 million) and Assam (7.96 million). The number of illiterates in rest of the states varies from 6.38 million in Punjab to 6,454 in Lakshadweep. Kerala too have 2.16 million illiterates of 7 & above population. Many smaller States & UTs are in a position to achieve the goal of universal literacy in the near future. Even the female literacy rates in these states are well above the 70 per cent.

Of the total 31.96 million decline in number of illiterates during 1991-2001, the maximum contribution come from Andhra Pradesh (16.79 per cent) followed by Uttar Pradesh (14.09 per cent), Mahasashtra (12.48 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (11.43 per cent), Tamil Nadu (10.66 per cent) and Rajasthan (11.46 per cent). Similarly, of the total 203.61 million increase in number of literates, the contribution of these six states was 55.2 per cent with Uttar Pradesh share to the tune of 17.18 million. But a few states, such as, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Manipur and Nagaland experienced increase in number of illiterates during 1991-2001 but except Bihar (- 9.33 per cent), elsewhere the increase is small in nature. However, Bihar contributed 6.13 per cent to total increase in number of literates.
Definitions, Literate

Literacy as Defined by UNESCO

  1. A literate person is the one who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement relevant to his everyday life.
  2. Literacy is not the simple reading of word or a set of associated symbols and sounds, but an act of critical understanding of men’s situation in the world.
  3. Literacy is not an end in itself but a means of personal liberation and development and extending individuals’ educational efforts involving overall inter-disciplinary responses to concrete problems.
  4. A literate person is the one who has acquired all the essential knowledge and skills which enable him to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community and whose attaining in reading, writing and numeracy make it possible to use these skills towards his own and his community’s development.

What is Literacy? : Arun Gosh Committee, 1994

Literacy is a form of training. Literacy is not the guarantee that one will become more educated. But it certainly provides the potential for such enhancement. It increases one’s access and capacity to enrich one’s education. It also provides access to better training, the possibility of improving one’s economic condition, and enhances one’s capability to function more effectively in a fast changing world.

Literacy as Defined by NLM

The National Literacy Mission defines literacy as acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life. Thus, the goal of the National Literacy Mission goes beyond the simple achievement of self-reliance in literacy and numeracy of functional literacy. The achievement of functional literacy implies:

  • Self-reliance in 3 Rs.
  • Becoming aware of the causes of deprivation and moving towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development
  • Acquiring skills to improve their economic status and general well-being
  • Imbibing values of national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance of small family norms, etc.

The acquisition of functional literacy results in empowerment and a definite improvement in the quality of life. It helps to ensure participation of the masses in sharing the benefits of the information era.

Source: NLM (1994) and website of National Literacy Mission.

5. Future Prospects

An attempt has also been made to project likely year (in terms of number of decades)* by which the goal of universal literacy (100 per cent) will be achieved (Table 2). The likely year is projected on the basis of progress made during the decade 1991 and 2001 and the amount of unfinished task (100 – Literacy Rate, 2001). Needless to mention that the method adopted is crude in nature but gives enough indication about the rigorous efforts that would be required to complete the unfinished task. One of the limitations of the procedure adopted is that it should not be applied to states, which have very high literacy levels, say about 80-85 per cent in the base year. Once a state has 80 per cent and above literacy levels, its rate of increase during the next decade is likely to be much lower than the states, which have low literacy levels. Since both the Kerala and Mizoram fall in this category, likely year is not attempted in these states. The results reveal that at the present rate of increase (between 1991 and 2001), Bihar would need at least 5 decades to attain the status of total literate state. However, it may attain 85 per cent literacy levels in about four decades. Nagaland is also likely to take more than 6 decades to become total literate state. Rest of the States/UTs would need about 1-3 decades. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal are likely to take at least 1.80, 1.73, 2.71, 2.51 and 2.67 decades to fully become literate. In all the states, females would take more years to become literate than their male counterparts. Needless to mention that India cannot attain the status of total literate state unless all of its States & UTs also attain the same.

6. Comparison of NSSO (1997) & Census (2001) Literacy Rates

An attempt has also been made in the present article to compare literacy rates estimated by the NSSO for year 1997 with those of the Census of India for the year 2007. It may be noted that the NSSO estimates are based on the sample basis whereas the Census estimates are based on the complete enumeration. However, both the estimates are based on the data collected from the households and the respondent was the head of the household.

As against the NSSO literacy rate (Total) of 62 per cent in 1997, the Census estimate is 65 per cent in 2001. This otherwise suggests that during 1997 to 2001, literacy rate was further improved by more than 3 percentage points, which is quite possible (Table 3). This is also true separately for male and female literacy rates. However, in a number of states, a significant deviation in literacy is noticed. In case of only two states, namely, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura, both the estimates are found almost same which suggests that during 1997 to 2001, no progress was made in these states, which may not be true. On the other hand, in about 19 states, the NSSO 1997 literacy rates are found higher than the actual 2001 Census literacy rates, which put a question mark about the reliability of NSSO literacy rates at least at the state level. Or the Census estimates are gross underestimation of the actual literacy rates. In case of a few smaller states, such as, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Pondicherry and Sikkim, the NSSO literacy rates are significantly higher than the Census estimates. In Assam, the difference is of the tune of almost 11 percentage points. In Kerala too, the NSSO literacy rate was 93 per cent as against 91 per cent of the Census 2001.

On the other hand, there are a few states where the NSSO literacy rates of 1997 are found much lower than the Census 2001 rates, which is quite possible. Some of these states are, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan, most of which have also gained significantly between the period 1991 and 2001. In all these states, both the male and female NSSO literacy rates are found much lower than the Census literacy rates; thus indicating underestimation of the literacy rates or they significantly progressed between the period 1997 to 2001. In case of Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, both the estimates compare well but this otherwise also suggest that no progress is made in these states between the period 1997 and 2001, which is also not possible.

The analysis presented above beyond doubt indicate that NSSO estimates of literacy rates are quite comparable at the all-India level but the same is not true in case of the literacy rates at the state level. Both the estimates compare well only in case of two states and in all other states; the same was either under or over estimation of the actual literacy levels. Specially, in case of smaller states, the NSSO estimates are not at all comparable. The NSSO may like to re look into its sampling procedure.

7. Contribution of Formal System to Total Literates

(a) Trends in 7 & Above Population

The population of seven & above years which was 686.57 million in 1991 increased to 858.22 million in 2001; thus showing an increase of 171.65 million, which is 25.00 per cent more than it was in 1991 (Table 4). This gives an annual rate of growth of 2.26 per cent per annum. The country had about 328.17 million illiterates in 1991, which has now been declined by 31.96 million to 296.21 million in 2001. This gives an annual rate of growth of – 1.02 per cent per annum. This means that between 1991-2001, 31.96 million illiterates were made literate which can be treated as the contribution of literacy campaigns. In fact, a few illiterates may also be added from the population of 7 & above to total illiterates between the periods 1991-2001. On the other hand, the number of literates during the same period increased by more than 203.61 million to 562.01 million in 2001; thus giving an annual rate of growth of 4.60 per cent. In 1991, there were 358.40 million literates in the country. This also indicates that the country produced more than 203 million literates during the period 1991-2001. It may be noticed that the rate of increase in literates is much higher at 4.60 per cent than the increase in total 7 & above population (2.26 per cent). The increase in 7 & above population by 172 million was largely the clientele of the formal education system most of which, as it seems, are now literates. Thus, the total literates (203.61 million) between 1991-2001 are the addition of total illiterates who are now made literate (31.96 million) and increase in seven and above population (171.65 million) who perhaps are made literates. However, the decline in number of illiterates will be slightly low at 29.92 million, if projected figures of Jammu & Kashmir based on interpolations between 1981-2001 are used.

(b) Enrolment Vs Literates

Since the literacy rate is computed for age 7 & above population, the corresponding grade under the formal education system is Grade II. In fact, the NSSO data suggests that a few children aged below 7 are also literate (NSSO, 1991). However, high incidence of drop out and low learners attainment (NCERT, 1998b)do not suggest that Grade I children be treated as literates. For that mater even children of Grade II cannot be considered literate. Alternatively, children of Grade III can be considered literate. Children of age-8 are expected to be in Grade III. In addition, children below and above age ‘8’ may also be in Grade III because of the early and lateral entry. Therefore, in the first exercise Grade III enrolment during the period 1991-2001 is estimated and termed literate.

Enrolment in India is available from two sources, namely, the MHRD and NCERT. However, it may be noted that the same from the MHRD publications is latest available for the year 1992-93. Beyond that year, the same is provisionally available up to the year 1998-99. In addition, grade-specific enrolments in 1993-94 are also available from the all-India educational survey (NCERT, 1998a). In order to obtain total enrolment in Grade III, first the average enrolment (of available years) is calculated, which is in turn multiplied by ten to obtain total (average) enrolment during 1991-2001. The total enrolment in Grade III during the entire period from 1991 to 2001 comes out to be 196.3 million. It may be recalled that the country has produced 203.61 million literates during 1991-2001. The total enrolment of 196.30 million in Grade III is thus treated as the contribution of the formal education system, which is 95 per cent of the total literates produced between 1991 and 2001. This otherwise indicates that the contribution of NLM to be in the tune of only 7.31 million. It may be recalled that decline in illiterate population during 1991 to 2001 was 31.96 million. This indicates two possibilities, (a) NLM contributes 7.31 million to the total 31.96 million decline in illiterates and the balance 24.65 million is contributed by the formal system; or (b) the contribution of the formal system is much less than 24.65 million. In that case the contribution of NLM to the total decline will improve and consequently the contribution of formal system would be much lower than 24.65 million. In that case, NLMs’ highest contribution could be around 31.96 million. This can be verified by analysing increase in number of literates among the age group 15-35 years between 1991-2001, which is not readily available. If true, this would mean that the formal system failed to literate all of its clientele population, which was added during the period 1991 to 2001. However, even if the lowest enrolment of 18.48 million (1993-94) in Grade III is considered average, will give a total enrolment of 184.8 million, which is 90.76 per cent of the total literates. This indicates the contribution of NLM to the tune of about 18.81 million, which is 59 per cent of the total decline in illiterates during 1991-2001. In that case, the contribution of formal system to the total decline would be only 13.15 million (41 per cent).

Needless to mention that a large number of children take admission in primary classes but dropout from the system before the completion of an education cycle. This has contributed significantly to wastage in the system. Had there been no wastage in the primary education system, it would have contributed a large number of literates to total literates. At present, dropout rate at the primary level is about 40 per cent. More specifically, it is better to apply correction factor on account of dropout to the total enrolment in Grade III but the requisite set of data to compute grade-to-grade dropout is not available. In addition, Grade III enrolment should also be adjusted for the mort ality rates that also vary from age to age. Since the Grade III enrolment is gross in nature, children of different ages constitute total enrolment. But since the survival rates are not available, it is not possible to apply the same to enrolment in Grade III. Alternatively, it is assumed that a student of Grade IV be considered literate and contribution of formal education system is assessed. Officially a child of age ‘9’ is supposed to be in Grade IV but because of the early and lateral entry, a large number of over-age and under-age children also form the total enrolment in Grade IV. By considering enrolment in Grade IV, we assume that children have completed Grade III, survived and retained in the system at least up to the Grade IV. However, a few of them may dropout from the system (also because of morality) even before the completion of Grade IV. During the period 1990-91 to 1998-99, the lowest enrolment in Grade IV was 16.15 million in 1990-91 and the highest 18.36 million in 1998-99. The average comes out to be 17.04 million, which gives a total enrolment of 170.40 million in Grade IV during the entire period from 1991 to 2001. This should be treated as the contribution of formal system, which is 82.90 per cent of the total literates produced between 1991 and 2001. The past data suggests that about 5 per cent children used to repeat a grade, in this case Grade IV. Thus, 5 per cent children is taken out from 170 million enrolment; which gives an effective enrolment of 161.88 million in Grade IV, which is 79.50 per cent of the total literates. Alternatively, if the total enrolment in Grade IV calculated on the basis of the lowest enrolment i.e.16.15 million, will give an enrolment of 161.5 million, which is 79.32 per cent of the total literates. This should be considered as the lowest possible contribution of the formal system to the total literates produced between the periods 1991 to 2001. However, the contribution may be slightly lower than 161.5 million, if survival factor is also applied to enrolment.

The recently conducted Mid-term Assessment Survey of Learners’ Achievement (NCERT, 1998b) reveals that the learners’ attainment in Grade IV across the country is far below than the expectations. Therefore in the last alternative, children of Grade V is considered literate and total enrolment in Grade V is obtained, which comes out to be 153.72 million. This is 75 per cent of the total literate produced between the periods 1991-2001. By assuming Grade V students as literates, we assume that children have completed Grade IV, survived and retained in the system at least up to the Grade V. However, it would be better and safe to consider primary graduates as literate but completion rates required to know graduates are not available. It may however be noted that Gaj Raj (UNESCO, 1992) considered Grade IV students as literate.

8. Concluding Remarks

During the previous decade, literacy rate has increased from 52 to 65 per cent. Despite the impressive improvement in literacy rates in case of female population, the male/female differential in literacy still remained high at 22 percentage points. The number of illiterates has also declined but the country still has more than 296 million illiterates. Tests are not conducted to know the literacy status of the members of the household. The respondent in the Census was the head of the household. The perception of an educated head of the household and that of an illiterate head of the household about literate differ and may affect significantly the actual number of literates. This is more specifically true keeping in view a large number of illiterate head of the households. Apart this, there may be a few errors in the enumeration also. The actual literacy rate may perhaps be lower than what is that been presented. The TLCs initiated in early 1990’s created positive environment for the primary education to expand, however the tempo couldn’t be maintained in the later part of the 1990’s. A large number of programmes concerning to primary education were initiated in the country during the last decade, which might have contributed significantly to total number of literates produced during the period 1991 to 2001. Therefore, an attempt has been made in the present article to assess the contribution of formal education system to total literates produced. For this purpose, literacy data of Census 2001 and enrolment data produced by the MHRD have been extensively used.

Different alternatives attempted suggest that the contribution of the formal system to be in the tune of between 162 to 196 million. Even in the extreme case (Grade V, if considered literate), it comes out to be 153 million (75 per cent), which should be the lowest possible contribution of the formal system. This also suggests that the maximum contribution of NLM to be in the tune of 50 million, which also includes its contribution to total decline in illiterates. Whatever progress is reflected in literacy rates (7 & above), beyond doubt is because of the ongoing educational programmes under the formal education system. The real contribution of NLM would be known only when literacy levels in the age group 15-35 years is available which is also the clientele of the adult literacy programmes. In addition, the educational attainment of literates will also throw light on the status of literates being produced.

NLM may not have contributed to total literates significantly but why has the primary enrolment increased? NLM influenced parents through its literacy campaigns to send children to schools. Definitely it has created positive environment for the primary education to expand. This is largely because of the aggressive campaigns initiated by it during 1990’s, which generated demand for the primary education. One of the many gains of TLC has been the prominence given to education at decentralised levels and in the agenda of government development departments. The new programmes concerning to primary education initiated during 1990’s were also based upon the assumption that the literacy campaigns have generated demand for education. This is also reflected in the state-specific analysis of enrolment data during 1991-2001 (Table 5). Prima-facie, it suggests that the states that have contributed significantly to total literates are the ones, which have initiated TLCs in a big way. A large number of districts during this period were declared total literate in these states. However, the tempo of early 1990’s couldn’t be maintained in the later part of the decade. By and large, the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka have done comparatively better in the literacy phase where all most all the districts were covered with the TLC projects. The TLC in these states have created positive environment for primary education, which is well reflected in their contribution to total literates produced between 1991 and 2001 which is above 80 per cent except in case of Andhra Pradesh.

The other noticeable point is that all is not well with the official set of enrolment data. Researchers, time and again, had pointed out deficiencies, inconsistencies and overestimation in the official data, which is found to have contributed significantly to total number of literates produced between 1991 and 2001. This argument is further strengthened when the official statistics is compared with those of the all-India educational survey data. Over a period of time between second survey to the present sixth survey, the gap between the two estimates has increased significantly and the same was of the tune of 10.46 million at the primary and 16.32 million at the upper primary level of education. In all these surveys, the official estimates are found higher than the corresponding survey estimates. A close examination of grade-specific enrolment further reveals that the gap is more wide and significant in Grade I & II but in later grades of primary level, Grades III, IV and V in particular, it is not so significant. The both the set of estimates are also comparable at the upper primary level of education. Therefore, enrolment in Grade V, if considered literate will not present misleading picture of its contribution to total literates.

TABLE 1

Literacy Rates (%) in India: 1951 to 2001

Census Year Persons Males Females Differential Female/Male Literacy Ratio
5 & Above
1951 18.33 27.16 8.86 18.30 33
1961 28.30 40.40 15.35 25.05 38
1971 34.45 45.96 21.97 23.99 48
7 & Above
1981 43.57 56.38 29.71 26.67 53
1991 52.21 64.13 39.29 24.84 61
2001 65.38 75.85 54.16 21.69 71

Source: Census of India 2001, Series-1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper-1 of 2001, Registrar General and Census Commissioner,

TABLE 2 (I)
Literacy Statistics, Census of India 2001

States/UT Literacy Rate, 2001 Increase in Literacy over 1991 Census (%) Male/Female Differential in Literacy (%) Rank In Literacy Rate
Persons Females Total 2001 1991 2001
A & N Islands        81.18        75.29 8.16 10.78 8 8
Andhra Pradesh        61.11        51.17 17.02 19.68 27 28
Arunachal Pradesh        54.74        44.24 13.15 19.83 29 32
Assam        64.28        56.03 11.59 15.90 23 24
Bihar        47.53        33.57 9.05 26.75 34 34
Chandigarh        81.76        76.65 3.95 9.00 4 6
Chattisgarh        65.18        52.40 25.46 28 23
D& N Haveli        60.03        42.99 19.32 30.32 32 30
Daman & Diu        81.09        70.37 9.89 18.03 9 9
Delhi        81.82        75.00 6.62 12.36 6 5
Goa        82.32        75.51 6.81 13.37 5 4
Gujarat        69.97        58.60 8.68 21.90 14 15
Haryana        68.59        56.31 12.74 22.94 22 20
Himachal Pradesh        77.13        68.08 13.27 17.94 11 11
Jammu & Kashmir        54.46        41.82 23.93
Jharkhand        54.13        39.38 28.57 30 33
Karnataka        67.04        57.45 11.00 18.84 21 22
Kerala        90.92        87.86 1.11 6.34 1 1
Lakshadweep        87.52        81.56 5.74 11.59 3 3
Madhya Pradesh        64.11        50.28 19.91 26.52 26 25
Maharashtra        77.27        67.51 12.40 18.75 10 10
Manipur        68.87        59.70 8.98 18.17 16 19
Meghalaya        63.31        60.41 14.21 5.73 24 27
Mizoram        88.49        86.13 6.22 4.56 2 2
Nagaland        67.11        61.92 5.46 9.85 13 21
Orissa        63.61        50.97 14.52 24.98 25 26
Pondicherry        81.49        74.13 6.75 14.76 7 7
Punjab        69.95        63.55 11.44 12.08 17 16
Rajasthan        61.03        44.34 22.48 32.12 33 29
Sikkim        69.68        61.46 12.74 15.27 20 17
Tamil Nadu        73.47        64.55 10.81 17.78 12 13
Tripura        73.66        65.41 13.22 16.06 15 12
Uttar Pradesh        57.36        42.98 15.76 27.25 31 31
Uttaranchal        72.28        60.26 23.75 18 14
West Bengal        69.22        60.22 11.52 17.35 19 18
INDIA       65.38       54.16 13.17 21.70

Source: Adopted/calculated on the basis of Census of India 2001, Series-1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper-1 of 2001, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, 2001.

TABLE 2 (II)
Literacy Statistics, Census of India 2001

State/UT Number of Decades Required to Achieve Universal Literacy* % Contribution in Literates Increase over 1991 to 2001 %  Contribution in Illiterates Decrease over 1991 to 2001
Persons Male Female
A & N Islands 2.31 1.97 2.52 0.04 0.01
Andhra Pradesh 2.29 1.85 2.65 7.80 16.79
Arunachal 3.44 2.85 3.83 0.10 -0.02
Assam 3.08 2.79 3.38 2.36 1.61
Bihar 5.80 5.07 6.22 6.13 -9.33
Chandigarh 4.62 3.97 5.41 0.11 -0.07
Chattisgarh 2.55 6.50
D  & N Haveli 2.07 1.35 3.56 0.03 -0.02
Daman & Diu 1.91 2.02 2.70 0.02 0.00
Delhi 2.75 2.36 3.12 1.88 -0.70
Goa 2.60 2.12 2.91 0.10 0.13
Gujarat 3.46 2.65 4.16 4.31 0.60
Haryana 2.47 2.04 2.76 2.35 0.91
Himachal Pradesh 1.72 1.31 2.00 0.64 1.08
J & Kashmir
Jharkhand 2.33 0.24
Karnataka 3.00 2.63 3.24 4.79 4.24
Kerala 1.44 0.05
Lakshadweep 2.17 2.31 2.13 0.01 0.00
Madhya Pradesh 1.80 1.26 2.32 7.14 11.43
Maharashtra 1.83 1.42 2.14 10.86 12.48
Manipur 3.47 3.55 3.33 0.25 -0.10
Meghalaya 2.58 2.60 2.54 0.24 0.08
Mizoram 0.10 0.04
Nagaland 6.03 6.80 5.31 0.26 -0.56
Orissa 2.51 1.87 3.01 3.51 6.02
Pondicherry 2.74 2.13 3.04 0.09 0.05
Punjab 2.63 2.44 2.77 2.42 2.08
Rajasthan 1.73 1.10 2.33 7.14 11.46
Sikkim 2.38 2.12 2.61 0.07 0.01
Tamil Nadu 2.45 2.06 2.68 5.05 10.66
Tripura 1.99 1.70 2.19 0.33 0.52
Uttar Pradesh 2.71 2.05 3.23 17.18 14.09
Uttaranchal 0.89 1.47
West Bengal 2.67 2.30 2.91 7.47 8.26

* D = (100 – Literacy Rate in 2001) / (Literacy Rate, 2001 – Literacy Rate, 1991).

Source: Adopted/calculated on the basis of Census of India 2001, Series-1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper-1 of 2001, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, 2001.

TABLE 3

Comparison of NSSO (1997) and Census Literacy Rates (2001)

State/UT Male Female Persons
1997 2001 1997 2001 1997 2001
Andaman & Nicobar Islands      100.00        86.07        94.00        75.29        97.00        81.18
Andhra Pradesh        64.00        70.85        43.00        51.17        54.00        61.11
Arunachal Pradesh        69.00        64.07        48.00        44.24        60.00        54.74
Assam        82.00        71.93        66.00        56.03        75.00        64.28
Bihar        62.00        60.32        34.00        33.57        49.00        47.53
Chandigarh        90.00        85.65        74.00        76.65        83.00        81.76
Chattisgarh        77.86        52.40        65.18
Dadra & Nagar Haveli        66.00        73.32        30.00        42.99        49.00        60.03
Daman & Diu        95.00        88.40        73.00        70.37        86.00        81.09
Delhi        91.00        87.37        76.00        75.00        85.00        81.82
Goa        93.00        88.88        79.00        75.51        86.00        82.32
Gujarat        80.00        80.50        57.00        58.60        68.00        69.97
Haryana        76.00        79.25        52.00        56.31        65.00        68.59
Himachal Pradesh        87.00        86.02        70.00        68.08        77.00        77.13
Jammu & Kashmir        71.00        65.75        48.00        41.82        59.00        54.46
Jharkhand        67.94        39.38        54.13
Karnataka        66.00        76.29        50.00        57.45        58.00        67.04
Kerala        98.00        94.20        90.00        87.86        93.00        90.92
Lakshadweep        98.00        93.15        93.00        81.56        96.00        87.52
Madhya Pradesh        70.00        76.80        41.00        50.28        56.00        64.11
Maharashtra        84.00        86.27        63.00        67.51        74.00        77.27
Manipur        86.00        77.87        66.00        59.70        76.00        68.87
Meghalaya        79.00        66.14        74.00        60.41        77.00        63.31
Mizoram        96.00        90.69        95.00        86.13        95.00        88.49
Nagaland        91.00        71.77        77.00        61.92        84.00        67.11
Orissa        64.00        75.95        38.00        50.97        51.00        63.61
Pondicherry        94.00        88.89        86.00        74.13        90.00        81.49
Punjab        72.00        75.63        62.00        63.55        67.00        69.95
Rajasthan        73.00        76.46        35.00        44.34        55.00        61.03
Sikkim        86.00        76.73        72.00        61.46        79.00        69.68
Tamil Nadu        80.00        82.33        60.00        64.55        70.00        73.47
Tripura        79.00        81.47        67.00        65.41        73.00        73.66
Uttar Pradesh        69.00        70.23        41.00        42.98        56.00        57.36
Uttaranchal        84.01        60.26        72.28
West Bengal        81.00        77.58        63.00        60.22        72.00        69.22
INDIA        73.00        75.85        50.00        54.16        62.00        65.38

Source: NSSO (1998) and Census (2001).

TABLE 4

Contribution of Formal Education System to Total Literates During 1991-2001

(Figures in millions)

Year Grade III Grade IV Grade V Total Grades I-V Total Grades VI-VIII
1990-91 18.87 16.15 14.30 97.38 30.89
1991-92 19.51 16.80 14.98 100.94 34.03
1992-93 19.28 16.68 14.80 99.62 35.65
1993-94* 18.48 16.35 14.82 97.03 34.09
1997-98** 20.53 17.90 16.49 34.07
1998-99 21.13 18.36 16.84 110.99 40.35
Total
(Average) Enrolment: 1990-91 to 2000-01
196.30

(95.50%)

170.40

(82.90%)

153.72

(74.79%)

LITERACY STATISTICS

(For a Comparison point of view, figures of Jammu & Kashmir are not used in both 1991 and 2001 Census years)

 

Item

 

1991

 

2001

Change Over 1991 without

J & K Estimates

Change Over 1991 with Projected J & K Estimates@ Difference

(Absolute)

Total Literates (7+) 358.40 562.01 203.61 205.54 1.93
Illiterates (7+) 328.17 296.21 -31.96 -29.92 2.04
Total Population (7+) 686.57 858.22 171.65 175.62 3.97

* Sixth All India Educational Survey, NCERT, (1998), New Delhi. Rest of the figures are taken from the MHRD Publications in different years. In the parentheses percentage to total literates produced between 1991-2001 is presented.

** Provisional thereafter.

@ The census couldn’t be conducted in Jammu & Kashmir in 1991.The number of literates (7 & above) in case of Jammu & Kashmir in 1991 is projected by the author on the basis of literates in 1981 and 2001, which is then added to number of literates in 1991 to obtain total literates in the country.

TABLE 5
State-wise Average Enrolment in Grade IV and V: 1991 to 2001
(Figures in millions)

State Total Number of Districts Districts Covered under TLC (Up to March 1998) Learners Made literate under TLC (1989 to 1998) Grade IV Grade V Increase in Total Literates between 1991-2001
Average Enrolment % to Total Literates Average Enrolment % to Total Literates
Andhra Pradesh 23 23 7.09 11.95 75.26 11.00 69.25 15.88
Arunachal 13 0 0.19 94.96 0.16 80.68 0.20
Assam 23 21 0.39 4.57 94.89 4.67 97.09 4.81
Bihar 55 39 2.26 13.37 107.02 11.66 93.38 12.49
Gujarat 19 19 4.11 10.27 117.20 9.06 103.41 8.77
Haryana 19 16* 0.33 3.42 71.54 3.14 65.72 4.78
Himachal 12 12 0.41 1.26 97.21 1.14 88.05 1.30
Karnataka 27 20* 3.83 11.20 114.71 9.09 93.14 9.76
Kerala 14 14 1.35 5.98 203.30 6.18 210.34 2.94
Madhya Pradesh 61 45* 4.24 15.78 108.58 13.67 94.05 14.54
Maharashtra 33 30* 3.80 19.70 89.06 18.25 82.52 22.12
Manipur 8 1 0.41 80.40 0.38 73.55 0.51
Meghalaya 7 6 0.01 0.36 72.46 0.33 67.91 0.49
Mizoram 3 0 0.19 93.92 0.17 84.67 0.20
Nagaland 7 0 0.30 55.91 0.31 59.35 0.53
Orissa 30 25 2.10 6.22 87.12 5.32 74.52 7.14
Punjab 17 14 0.28 3.98 80.82 3.50 71.19 4.92
Rajasthan 32 31* 2.86 7.65 52.59 6.89 47.40 14.54
Sikkim 4 0 0.11 83.41 0.10 72.37 0.13
Tamil Nadu 29 23 5.77 13.65 132.69 13.20 128.29 10.29
Tripura 4 3* 0.36 0.68 100.97 0.53 78.61 0.67
Uttar Pradesh 83 68* 4.63 21.64 61.86 18.56 53.07 34.98
West Bengal 18 17 8.25 13.54 88.98 12.45 81.86 15.21
INDIA** 577 442 52.45 170.40 82.90 153.72 74.79 203.61

Note: * New districts carved out after sanction of literacy campaigns. Hence, these states are fully covered. For details, see Literacy Campaigns, NLM: Annual Report: 1997-98, Directorate of Adult Education, MHRD, New Delhi, 1999.

** In few states, total contribution comes out to be more than 100 per cent which may be because of (i) either the grade-wise enrolment is overestimated; or corresponding estimates of literates are underestimated in states, like Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; or (ii) it may be because of provisional set of data used in calculating average enrolment.

*** Totals may not tally because of rounding of figures.

Source: Computed by the author.

References

Census of India 2001, Series-1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper-1 of 2001, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, 2001, New Delhi

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