Pratibha D Patil

International Literacy Day Speech - Sept. 8, 2007

Pratibha D Patil
September 08, 2007— New Delhi, India
International Literacy Day
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Shri Arjun Singhji, Minister of Human Resource Development,

Shri M.A.A. Fatmi, Minister of State of Human Resource Development,

Shrimati D. Purandeswari, Minister of State of Human Resource Development,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have gathered here today to celebrate the International Literacy Day and to reaffirm our commitment to the goal of eradication of illiteracy. I congratulate all those who have won awards for their excellent implementation of the literacy advancement programmes. The many teachers, scholars, NGOs and volunteers in our country who are making substantial contributions to education also deserve our appreciation.

In the ancient world, with an oral tradition, the mode of transmission of knowledge was through discourses and discussions. However, in the modern world, literacy skills are fundamental to informed decision making, personal empowerment, and participation in the local and global community. Literacy is an indispensable component of human resource development. There is a phrase in Marathi which means that you will survive only if you read.

Basic education, within which literacy is the key learning tool, was recognized as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over 50 years ago. At the Millennium Development Summit held in New York in 2000, world leaders agreed on a global partnership to work collectively for eradicating poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance and improving the lives of people. They adopted specific goals. One of the Millennium Development Goals is the achievement of universal primary education by 2015 and within the context of the goal on gender equality, the target is to eliminate gender disparity in education.

2015 is only 8 years away. Globally, there are still 77 million primary school age children who are not enrolled in schools and 771 million adults who do not have basic literacy skills. The proportion of women who are not literate is very high. Concerted action will be required if the Millennium Development education targets are to be reached by 2015.

India is home to some of the best engineering and management institutions in the world. Every year at least 30 lakh graduates and 7 lakh post-graduates are added to its knowledge capital. India has one of the largest manpower of computer specialists and also one of the largest body of English speaking IT professionals in the world. However, on the other hand, India is home to the world's largest number of illiterates and this is a matter of great concern. India accounts for 20 percent of the world's out-of-school children and 35 percent adult illiterates. When such a large number of the population remains outside the pale of literacy and education, it makes the task of development more complex and daunting.

Education and literacy are of immense importance to India. Recognizing this and taking into account the high rate of illiteracy in pre-Independent India, Mahatma Gandhi had stated that, and I quote, "illiteracy is our sin and shame and must be liquidated." Since then eradicating illiteracy has been our abiding concern. Article 45 of the Directive Principles of our Constitution provides for free and compulsory education for children. By including this provision in our Constitution, our founding fathers envisaged education as a vehicle of social change for building a modern society. Eradicating illiteracy is important for the success of our efforts to eradicate poverty and ignorance.

The National Education Policy - 1986, as modified in 1992, recognized the National Literacy Mission as one of the three instruments to eradicate illiteracy from the country. The National Literacy Mission has been striving to spread basic literacy among adult illiterates in nearly 600 districts of the country through the Total Literacy Campaigns and Post Literacy Programmes, strengthened further by the Continuing Education Programme. In the 328 districts covered under the Continuing Education Programme, more than 2 lakh Continuing Education Centres have been established, with each Centre catering to a population of approximately 2500 persons. In 198 districts, Jan Shikshan Sansthans that is, Institutes of Peoples Education, are enabling people to acquire new vocational skills and improve upon old ones. State Resource Centres continue to provide resource support to the States, train volunteers and publish a large number of literacy materials for neo-literates. These institutions need to be strengthened so that they work in consonance with each other.

The flagship programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, addresses the issue of illiteracy in the 6 to14 years age group and aims to achieve universal elementary education. It must be ensured that future generations become educated by proper implementation and monitoring of this programme.

As we enter the 11th Plan period we need to take stock of the literacy rates in the country. We have made tremendous progress in literacy in the last century. In 1901, India had an abysmally low literacy rate of 5.35 percent, at the time of Independence literacy had risen to only 18.33 percent but in 2001, the literacy rate had risen substantially to 64.84 percent. This is considerable progress, but there are still millions in our country without basic literary skills.

It is also a matter of concern that the male-female gap in literacy rates continues to be unacceptably high. This divide is sharper in rural areas. Women's literacy and education has to be made a priority. If we make women literate, they will be self-reliant and the beneficial impact on society will be manifold. It has been observed that where the women are literate, the rate of infant mortality comes down and the quality of life improves. Also, when women are taught how to read and write they in turn begin to send their girl child to school, breaking the pattern of social gender discrimination, which is a strong a barrier to girls' education. It is important that in schools, girls must get equal opportunity to study and acquire necessary skills and knowledge. Specific education programmes, with targets, should be launched for education of girls.

Better education, particularly for women, provides greater awareness of about diseases and their treatment. It provides a better capability to deal with sickness and disease and the confidence to approach medical assistance without unwarranted fear and at times, embarrassment. Similarly, access to better medical facilities would mean that children are healthier and therefore, more alert in their studies. The theme for the International Literacy Day this year is that literacy is the key to good health and well being and it is, indeed, very appropriate.

I am confident that with the combined efforts of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for children and a revamped National Literacy Mission, for adults, Gandhiji's dream of eradicating the scourge of illiteracy and our goal of creating a knowledge society will be very much within our reach. On this day, let us all join together to dedicate ourselves for achieving this laudable goal so that future generations can look back with pride on our achievement.

Thank you.


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