Two IIM Ahmadabad Professors say -- 'One in Five Indian literates cannot READ'

During the past fortnight, much debate pursued, regarding the way “India defines poverty”. For many, “if the daily wage criterion is fixed to an amount shamelessly low” then poverty will indeed appear to have declined in the country.

Similarly, the recent Census-2011 revelation that the effective literacy rate in India has risen to 74.04%, which is 9.2% higher than the level during the previous census, ten years ago; have some very well read critics too.

A paper by two professors of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) says that the Census figure about litracy is as unreliable and hence as debatable as the Government data on poverty.

A sample survey, conducted by the IIM professors, in four Hindi-speaking states had revealed that the Census-11 figures for literacy rate may be exaggerated by up to 16.1%. The main reason for this again is the methodology used; which the two professors claimed was flawed.

For Census-2011, citizens were tagged as literates if they ‘said’ they could read but no practical tests were conducted to test their claims to literacy.

To point out this anomaly, the professors Prof Brij Kothari and Prof Tathagata Bandhopadhyay from IIM-A, studied the literacy level among 17,782 people in around 20 villages of 4 districts (in Rajasthan, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Umariya in Madhya Pradesh and Muzaffarpur in Bihar) in four Hindi-speaking states. And they simply checked for one thing – “Can those declared literate at least read an elementary textbook?”.

For comparison sake, and for not getting to restricted; the survey was done by adopting two methods - census method (by just asking head of the family or person if they are literate) and reading method (by practically make people read a paragraph).

Below are the findings of the survey which are published in the research paper titled “Can India’s ‘literates’ Read?".

Contrary to the Census-2011 method which indicated a literacy rate of 68.7% (Women 55.7% and men 80.4%); the results of the survey when the respondents were asked to read a Grade 2 text book (Class 2), were found to be considerably disappointing. When tested for basic reading ability, the overall literacy rate was found, at best to be 52.6%.

Thus the survey found the Census 2011 figure about 21 percentage points inflated.

The research paper further said that if the definition of literacy is restricted to persons who can demonstrate a minimum reading ability of Grade 2 (Class 2) level, the reading literacy rate drops further to 25.8%. In that case, the Census method could be said to overestimate the literacy rate by an astounding 42.9%.

Other insights of the survey include, that an average education of Grade 9 is necessary to become a good reader in school. But to become a lifelong good reader a Grade 10 education is required, The study attributes the present quality of education in rural schools, the reason behind the finding. Adding further the paper says that, class 4 to 7 education is more likely to result in weak reading skills in school and later in life; with those who do not complete primary education to Grade 5, are very likely to be non-readers later in life. --------

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