In a renewed effort to make 70 million people functionally literate by 2012

National Mission for Female Literacy, a renewed effort to make 70 million people – 60 million of them women — functionally literate by 2012 and plug the gender gap that has persisted despite the two-decade old literacy drive in mission mode, was launched here on Tuesday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mark International Literacy Day.

Within minutes of Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal putting a billion dollar bill on the recast National Literacy Mission (NLM), the Prime Minister assured the nation that resources would not be a constraint in this endeavour. According to him, infrastructure development in the economic sector and female literacy in the social sector were the two critical factors that impede India’s steady climb to a higher and sustainable level of growth.

Continuous effort

Stating that persistent efforts of the Government had made elementary education accessible to all children, increased enrolment and reduced drop-outs – thereby checking further accretion to the population of illiterates – the Prime Minister stressed the need to renew the efforts of the 1980s and 1990s to address illiteracy among adults.

Further, Dr. Singh voiced the hope that Saakshar Bharat Mission – as the National Mission for Female Literacy has been christened – would fully involve the community in its implementation and utilise the “potential and promise” of Panchayati Raj Institutions and women’s Self Help Groups.

‘Unacceptable’

In his address, Mr. Sibal – describing the high illiteracy levels in the country as “unacceptable” — stressed the need to recognise the adult’s right to literacy and the “rights perspective” of literacy. Recasting the NLM with special focus on female literacy was a commitment made by the government through the President’s address to Parliament in June this year.

Through this mission, the Minister said the government hoped to raise literacy levels to 80 per cent from the existing 64 per cent and reduce the gender gap from 21 per to 10 per cent. “Gender will not be seen in isolation but in conjunction with other social categories like caste, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc. as female literacy rates are particularly low among Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. Therefore, nearly 50 per cent of the mission’s clientele will be from these disadvantaged groups.”

‘National enterprise’

The mission, according to the Minister, will not be a government programme. It will be a “national enterprise”, he said, in which Central and State governments, civil society, the private sector, besides individuals and their collectives will forge a grand alliance to accomplish the mission.

And, in a bid to underline the mammoth task ahead, Mr. Sibal reeled out bare facts: 70 million learners, nearly 10 million voluntary teachers and trainers, three million literacy managers and administrators, 70 lakh literacy centres, 1.70 lakh continuing education centres, 210 million books and 70 million learners’ kits. “No mean task,? but India has no other option except Saakshar Bharat.”