DEFINITION OF LITERACY
Literacy, as defined in Census operations, is the ability to read and write with understanding in any language. A person who can merely read but cannot write is not classified as literate. Any formal education or minimum educational standard is not necessarily to be considered literate.
(UNESCO) has drafted a definition of literacy which is, “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
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. The achievement of functional literacy implies (i) self-reliance in 3 R’s-reading, writing and arithmetic, (ii) awareness of the causes of deprivation and the ability to move towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development, (iii) acquiring skills to improve economic status and general well being, and (iv) imbibing values such as national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance of small family norms.”
According to the latest report released on 31 March 2011 the literacy rate of India has increased to 74%. This means a decadal growth of around 10 %.
BUT CAN MERE LITERACY GUARANTEE EMPLOYMENT?
Is the moot point, as literacy only provides general ability to read, write and a sense of better awareness, but jobs, require deeper and varied skills that need to be created. In the recent Times Ascent edition of 27th November, I read; in the just concluded PAN-IIM World Management Conference held at IIM-KOZHIKODE our HRD Minister Smriti Zubin Irani harping on some appreciative facts about India as a routine lullaby.
That India is one of the world’s largest democracies and according to some studies 57% of our population is under 30. Our average age is expected to be less than China and the US by 2050. This means more workers, or in other words, a demographic dividend. India has a large pool of workforce that is predominantly English-speaking. 4.4 million Graduates join the Indian job market annually, so there is no shortage of skilled workers in our country. So be it.
But then do we have appropriate jobs for all as she has not spoken about those unpleasant figures of unemployment. ILO indicates sluggishness in the job market over the last two years where jobless rate could be around 3.8% this year which sounds optimistic. On a more historic note the unemployment rate has been hovering around 6-8 % on an average over the last decade or so. So, can one say, each time when literacy levels have gone up unemployment hasn’t come down?
This necessitates, we should take up skill building on fast track. Which horrifyingly comes up in India at a later stage of our educational system. And considering, the alarming school dropout rate of 40% with more girls facing the brunt, this should start at secondary school level.
CAUSE OF SYSTEMIC WORRY
It is worrying to see, important ministers making isolated parroted statements in coveted milieus like IIMs and IITs, where even otherwise everything is hunky dory. And it goes without saying the stark reality continues to remain as it is and nothing much has changed on the ground. So the big question is how will the additional annual workforce of 4.4 million per annum be adjusted in the job market, and what is the road map for creating such jobs each year. Time has come when at least 74% of the literate Indians would want to know end-to-end on how these jobs would be created, before one brags about the English speaking workforce of 4.4 million and the young India. The central point therefore is the job-creators and the workforce creators of India need to meet on one platform to align, which is still missing.
In any case most IIT and IIM graduates or post graduates won’t remain unemployed, rather would be gainfully employed. But what is more worrying is the lower end of the pyramid that will bear the brunt of unemployment.
Considering the present unemployment rate. HRD minister would have done well by initiating a dialogue with those states and departments where huge vacancies are lying unfilled, especially teachers and police constables. The low hanging fruits. Which I guess is also the baby of HRD ministry. Needful to mention teacher appointments in some states have been subjected to scams, and appointments cancelled subsequently.
One of the biggest sources of employment in any country, with India being no exception is through business and industries. Where, according to the World Bank we are still at an agonizing 142 in the ease of doing business out of 189 countries. And time taken for registration of a business is currently at 27 days that needs to be cut down to one day, as in Canada and New Zealand.
Government intends to go online on approvals, for over 200 state and central permits by April next year which is laudable. Currently 81 state level clearances and another 133 at the central level are being put on line and out of these more than 50 relate to railway ministry, alone. But the big question remains; whether we can set up industries at a pace matching 4.4 million jobs a year, which will only increase by leaps and bounds. The answer as of now is no and that necessitates searching for other alternatives. And so; where is the MEA proposal (Ministry of External Affairs) if we were to export our workforce to various aging countries about which our Prime Minister talks so often? And which new countries have been identified where our young English speaking workforce can go and work safely with proper work permits and visas, in a safe manner. I guess, the two distinguished ladies Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani should meet on this agenda and at least identify the countries, and if for some reason it happens to be Germany, Smriti should not think of replacing German by Sanskrit.
THE ROUTE AHEAD
For brand India, literacy to full employment will be a long and arduous walk, considering its size and scale. Where, premier institutions such as IIT and IIM should also brainstorm to show the way out. And we will have to figure out other avenues also, where I guess PM Narendra Modi’s team needs to come together on one platform.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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