India has made large strides in educating its population of more than a billion people, yet a lot remains to be done. It is commonplace now that education is both intrinsically valuable and also instrumental for economic well-being, and this is true for individuals and entire nations. No country in the world has been able to develop without the spread of mass education. An educated population is a prerequisite for take-off into high economic growth.
Table 1 in the appendix shows literacy rates for India as a whole and by sex. It also shows the decadal rates of change from 1901 to the present.2 Literacy rates have
increased for both males and females, and though the latter continues to lag behind the former, there has been a narrowing of the male-female gap in literacy: from 24.8% in 1991 to 21.7% in 2001. In 2001, the absolute number of illiterates declined historically for the first time by nearly 32 million. In terms of state-wise performance, Kerala continues to occupy first rank as it has done historically; on the other hand, densely populated states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are yet to overcome their educational inertia.3
The average figures for India as a whole hide a great deal of variation among states. Table 2 in the appendix provides literacy rates for states for the years 1991 and 2001, for the population as a whole, by sex and also provides the decadal rate of change. In 2001, Kerala, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh had more than 75% of their population of 7+ years literate. On the other hand, even in 2001, less than half of Bihar’s population of seven years and above was literate with female literacy rate only 33.6%. In terms of zones, states in the South and West outperform states in the North and East. 2. Primary Education
Primary education refers to the education of children between the ages 6-11 years (grades 1-5). Universalization of Primary Education (UPE) is a constitutional provision in India and there has been a steady expansion in the spread of primary education since Indian independence in 1947. The Indian educational system is the second largest in the world after China. In 2001-02, there were nearly 0.66 million primary schools in India 1
This study has been undertaken as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Project. 2
Before the 1991 census, only those belonging to the age-group 0-4 years were excluded from the population in order to compute literacy rates and the basis of the computation was the entire population. From the 1991 census onward, literacy rates were computed based on the population aged 7+ years and above.
In Bihar, Nagaland and Manipur as well as Delhi and Chandigarh, the absolute number of illiterates has increased in the 1990s. 4
providing access to 84% of habitations with a primary school located within a distance of one kilometer.
Between 1997 and 2002, the gross primary school enrolment rate4 for India was 111
for males and 92 for females. The net primary school enrolment rate5 on the other hand
was only 78 for males and 64 for females. The net primary school attendance rate between 1999 and 2002 was 79 for males and 73 for females. However, of the children who entered primary school, only 68% reached grade 5 between 1995 and 1999 (UNICEF, 2004).
Table 3 provides data on gross primary school enrolments by sex between 1950-51 and 2001-2002. As can be seen from the table there has been a steady increase in the numbers of boys and girls attending primary school over time. In Table 4, state-wise enrolment of boys and girls as a percentage of their age-group is provided for 1997-1998. Girls’ enrolment has been steadily increasing over time and in 2001-02, nearly 45% of girls in the age-group 6-11 were enrolled in school. These statistics are heartening because at least until the 1990s, one of the most dismal aspects of India’s education system was the large percentage of the...
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