A spectacular march by Rajasthan

Print edition : November 24, 2001

Census 2001 data show that in the last decade Rajasthan recorded the highest percentage increase in literacy among Indian States. The rate of improvement has been faster than the rest of India in the case of each of the 'Bimaru' States.

EDUCATION is one of the key inputs for economic growth and human development. Any economy, whether it is developing or developed, can flourish only when human resources have been developed to the fullest extent. An illiterate population faces many handicaps. During the 1990s the problem of illiteracy was particularly scute in the four States of the Hindi heartland - Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh - which have been given the derisive acronym of Bimaru. But, the latest statistics provided by the Census of India 2001 show that the rate of improvement has been faster in each of these States than in India as a whole.

Rajasthan's improvement in respect of literacy has been spectacular; in the last decade it has recorded the highest percentage increase in literacy rate among Indian States. Of particular interest are data concerning the inter-State and inter-district variations in the ratio of literates to the total population. A comparison of data with those of 1991 gives an insight into the variations, pace, emphasis and progress in this area.

The percentage increase in total literacy and male literacy in the 1981-91 decade in Rajasthan was similar to the all-India increase, but in the case of female literacy it was lower than the all-India increase. However, Census 2001 shows that in the last decade the percentage increase in total literacy in the State has far exceeded the all-India average.

The number of literates aged seven and above has risen by 22.45 percentage points in Rajasthan against an all-India increase of 13.17 percentage points. Its literacy rate in 2001 has jumped to 61.03 per cent in 2001 from 38.55 in 1991, though it is yet lower than the all-India average of 65.38.

But Rajasthan has improved its position among the States . In 1991, only Bihar had a lower literacy rate than Rajasthan but in 2001 Rajasthany is ahead of Uttar Pradesh (57.36 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (54.74), Jammu and Kashmir (54.46), Jharkhand (54.13) and Bihar (47.53). In the case of sex-wise literacy rates, Rajasthan presents a much brighter picture. Among males it is 76.46 per cent against the all-India average of 75.85. Rajasthan was above three States - Bihar, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh in male literacy percentage in 1991. Now, it is ahead of 12 States - Karnataka, Punjab, Orissa, Assam, Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar. Among females, it has a literacy rate of 44.34 against the all-India average of 54.16. It is, however, noteworthy that in 1991 Rajasthan was at the bottom among the States, but now it is ahead of Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar. More satisfying is the fact that the percentage point increase in female literacy is the highest in Rajasthan. The district-wise data for 1991 and 2001 show that every district has recorded an increase in the literacy rate among both males and females. The literacy gap between districts in the case of males has narrowed, but increased in the case of females. A similar position existed in 1991. A simple measure of this gap is the "range", defined as the difference between the maximum and the minimum values.

The increase in percentage points both for males and females is higher than the State average for Barmer, Baran, Churu, Dausa, Dholpur, Hanumangarh, Jhalawar, Karauli and Nagour districts. Of the remaining 23 districts, nine are below average in the matter of male as well as female literacy, four are below average only in male literacy and 10 are below average only in female literacy. All the districts which had recorded increases higher than the State average in 1991 show below average increases this time.

The literacy ratio has increased in every district, with the desert districts of Barmer and Churu recording the best performance. Barmer recorded a 37.08 per cent increase in literacy among males followed by Churu with 28.22 per cent. Sikar recorded the highest percentage increase - 36.82 per cent - among women, followed by Churu (36.55) and Barmer (36.23). In 1991, only in four of the 27 districts was the increase in the female literacy ratio higher than the increase in the male literacy ratio. In 2001, however, in as many as half of the 32 districts the increase in the female literacy ratio has been higher than the increase in male literacy. The lowest increase in male and female literacy was recorded in Ajmer (11.21) and Banswara (14.44), both of which had the top positions in 1991.

THE female literacy percentage in Rajasthan was the lowest among the States in 1981 and 1991. But in 2001 it ranks above Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and Bihar. The literacy rate has more than doubled during 1991-2001 - from 20.44 to 44.34. Likewise, male literacy has also risen from 54.99 per cent to 76.46 per cent .

At a literacy centre in Ajmer district. The female literacy percentage in Rajasthan has more than doubled during 1991-2001.-S. ARNEJA

In 1991, the gender gap increased in 24 of the 27 districts but in 2001 it increased only in 13 of the 32 districts. In 19 districts the gap decreased. While the increase is nominal, the decrease is substantial. The highest decrease was recorded in Jhunjhunu, followed by Sikar. Whereas the highest increase was in Jalore, followed by Bhilwara.

Interestingly, there is no positive correlation between high literacy and low gender gap. Although the situation that prevailed in 1991 has changed and some of the high-literacy districts now have a lower gender gap, the overall position is not positive. This may be a temporary phase. A stage has been reached where overall literacy cannot increase without a significant increase in female literacy. The emphasis therefore has to shift to women's education.

The gender gap is the lowest in Ganganagar (22.80 per cent) followed by Hanumangarh (24.70) and Kota (25) districts. It is the highest in Sawai Madhopur (41.31) followed by Tonk (38.95) and Dausa (37.22) districts.

In the decade 1991-2001, 145 lakh people were added to the literate population. The corresponding figure in the last decade (1981-91) was only 53.33 lakhs. The number of illiterate persons has also decreased substantially, from 212.03 lakhs in 1991 to 180 lakhs in 2001. These illiterates include all persons in the 7-plus age group. Therefore the number of illiterate persons in the age group 7-35 may be low. In 1961, 1971 and 1981, though the percentage of literacy increased, the number of illiterates too increased. The decreasing trend started from 1981-91 and it continues.

Although progress in the 1991-2001 period is encouraging, much remains to be done. In 1951, a year after Rajasthan came into being with the merger of some princely States, the status of education was very low. Literacy was only 8.02 per cent, which was less than half the national average.

Now, percentage-wise Rajasthan is still slightly behind the all-India average but effort-wise, the literacy rate has risen three to six times over the decades, much more than the all-India increase. Although the pace of progress during the first 40 years was rather slow, the progress during the 1991-2001 period has raised hopes.

EDUCATION for all or increase in literacy includes the spread of formal and non-formal primary education as well as adult literacy, including continuing education. Actually, the adult literacy programme is the outcome of the failure of primary education. Had the universal primary education programme been implemented fully, the literacy situation would have been totally different.

In 1951, only 17 per cent of the children in the 6-11 age group were enrolled in schools in Rajasthan. After more than 50 years of Independence, effectively the State could enrol only a little more than 70 per cent of this segment of the population, contrary to the official claim of close to 100 per cent enrolment. Had this claim been true, the State would not have taken up District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and the Shiksha Karmi and Lok Jumbish programmes for universal primary education with more than Rs.1,000 crores as loan or grant from foreign sources.

Nearly all villages in Rajasthan have been covered by primary schools. Now, Rajiv Gandhi Swaranjayanti Schools are being opened in thousands of hamlets under a system which ensures that no child has to walk more than a kilometre from home in order to reach his or her school. But the mere opening of schools does not guarantee cent per cent enrolment, retention and quality education. These aspects need special attention.

The experience in this respect has not been encouraging, though. Huge wastage is continuing in primary education. In the field of adult literacy, the mopping up programme is not being given as much attention as the first phase of the literacy campaign. Both the aspects - universal primary education and the mopping-up in adult literacy - must be addressed with vision and commitment for a bright future.

In fact, the literacy figures of Census 2001 have encouraged literacy workers at all levels in the State. If they keep up the good work, Rajasthan can come off the Bimaru status soon.

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