n 1951, a year after India became a republic, only 18.33 per cent of its 35.11 crore citizens could read. According to the 2011 census, 74.04 per cent of its 121.02 crore people can read. In 60 years, 83.12 crore Indians learnt to read.
School enrolment is at an all-time high with several surveys putting primary enrolment at above 96 per cent. However, India is still below the world’s average literacy rate by around 10 per cent. India's state expenditure on education is only 3.17 per cent of its gross domestic product, below the world’s average of 4.3 per cent. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 2013 data shows that the average Indian household spends 6.9 per cent of their budget on education.
The Centre has steered several schemes that have contributed to the spread of education. One of the most prominent programmes has been the National Literacy Mission, which was started in 1988. The mission has three schemes of Total Literacy, Post Literacy and Continuing Education targeting the 15 to 35 age group. In 1997, it set a target to take literacy to 75 per cent by 2007 — which was missed.
The Mission focusses on adult literacy and vocational training by involving NGOs and local governments. Another important scheme is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), launched in 2001 for providing access to education to all children aged six to 14. This scheme allowed States to hire temporary or ‘para teachers’ who are paid an honorarium to teach children in their area. The campaign however, was criticised for creating two different categories of teachers — regular and honorary.
After the economic reforms of 1991, this was fiscally the biggest social sector spend with Rs. 17,000 crore being made available for the scheme from 2002 to 2007 through a two per cent cess on all taxes. This was later hiked to three per cent. Since the introduction of the scheme, the number of primary schools has increased from 6.4 lakh to 8.6 lakh. Primary school enrolment also increased from 11.38 crore to 13.24 crore since 2001.
Right to Education Act
The Right to Education Act, an enabling legislation for the 86th Constitutional Amendment, 2002, came into force in 2010. It made education a fundamental right and put the onus of educating children on the State.
However in 2011, 8.1 million children continued to remain out of school and there were country-wide vacancies of more than 5 lakh teachers under the SSA in 2013.