September 28, 2015
Dear Smt. Smriti Irani,
Honourable HRD Minister (Government of India),
I write this letter in response to the public announcement made by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD Ministry), requesting all the Members of Parliament (MPs) to work to achieve 100% literacy by March, 2016, in one chosen village from their constituency, under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). While the goal is worth striving for, I am sceptical of the time-line that has been set to achieve this goal, and puzzled by the ambiguity in the implementation plans.
The average literacy rate in rural India is pegged at 71% (NSSO, 2014). The HRD Ministry has given each Member of Parliament a frugal 6 months period to notch up the literacy rate to 100% in a village chosen by him/her. Important considerations about the process of reaching this target have remained unaddressed: Will the villages that have the lowest literacy rate be chosen under the SAGY scheme? What kind of support or training (if any) will be given to teachers, principals and block level education officials that they aren’t already being given, in pursuit of this target? Will pedagogy and classroom infrastructure be upgraded? Will community members be mobilised to speed literacy learning of the children? These, and other questions that remain unanswered, become particularly pertinent in the context of addressing literacy concerns in schools that are under-resourced, often overcrowded, and attended irregularly by first generation school learners. After school support in homework cannot be assumed for these children, who have neither the resources, and often, nor the means (time/ money) to receive academic support. Thus, the burden of this rushed target of 100% literacy seems to fall directly on the teachers, who may or may not be given the required support under this Scheme.
A similar programme called the ‘Reading Campaign’ was run by the Rajasthan state government in July, 2013, for students of grades 3-5, in order to ensure that students would be able to read at grade-appropriate levels. As per the data collected in January, 2014, (after a six month period of implementing the Reading Campaign), 61% of students tested were not reading at grade-appropriate levels. These disappointing data outcomes were found despite the 10 days of teacher training support given to 61,090 schools, and 6 days of training given to 256 Block Resource Persons in the state. Assuming that being able to read at grade-appropriate levels in elementary school is comparable to literacy, I am not hopeful about the results of SAGY’s target for 100% literacy by March, 2016.
I am wary of a scheme that leaves much to the public’s imagination about its implementation plans, and sceptical of data that may well be deceptive should the government fail in its pursuit.
I advise beneficiaries to be critical of schemes that may not have been well thought out because the lack of quality and rushed delivery of the schemes often lead to disappointment.
(Current Student of Ed.M at Harvard University, and alumnus of the Gandhi Fellowship)
Article by Vrinda Loiwal