Friday, 3 December, 2021

Achieving Literacy Goal

Uttam Maharjan


Kathmandu was declared a literate city on September 6. The literacy rate in the capital city has reached 96.6 per cent among the people in the 15-60 age group. As per the Central Bureau of Statistics, the literacy rate was 88.52 per cent in Kathmandu a decade ago. As per the criteria developed by the Ministry of Education, a district should have at least 95 per cent literacy to be eligible for being declared a literate district. There was a plan to declare the capital city as such in February 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a postponement of the declaration.

With Kathmandu becoming a literate district, there re main 23 districts to be declared literate districts. Before the capital city, as many as 53 districts had already been declared literate districts. Why did it take so long for the capital city to reach the required literacy rate? It could be a matter of curiosity and discussion.

Literacy census
As per the data released by the Centre for Education and Human Resources Development (CEHRD), the literacy rate among the people in the 15-60 age group stands at 82 per cent now. Likewise, as per the data of the UNESCO released in 2018, the literacy rate was 67.9 per cent (among the people aged 15 and above), with the male population accounting for 78.6 per cent, and the female population 59.71 per cent. However, among the people in the 15-24 age group, the literacy rate was as high as 92.4 per cent. The literacy rate among the male population was 94 per cent vis-à-vis 90.9 per cent among the female population. As per the data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the literacy rate was 65.9 per cent in 2011. The bureau is planning to conduct the next literacy census soon.
Since the fiscal year 2008/2009, successive governments have embarked upon several literacy campaigns. They have spent over Rs. 12 billion. Still, the results are not nearly satisfactory. When the literacy campaign was launched in the fiscal year 2008/2009, the then government set an ambitious target of attaining 100 per cent literacy in just two years. It has been 13 years since the first literacy campaign was launched; still, there is much to be desired.

The government planned to celebrate the year 2076 as the year of Literate Nepal. But the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 in that year made it difficult, nay, impossible, to conduct literacy classes throughout the country, forcing the government to put off the plan. The government also planned to declare the Bagmati state a literate state in April 2021 but the plan also conked out. However, the government has vowed to fulfil the goal of declaring the country Literate Nepal by the end of this fiscal year (2021/2022).

The literacy campaign is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal No. 4 has provision for ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning opportunities. The deadline for fulfilling all the goals enshrined in the SDGs is 2030 but the sooner the goals are attained, the better.

There are still 23 districts and 218 local levels that remained to be declared literate districts and local levels. This means close to 30 per cent of the districts are yet to be declared literate. In this context, the role of local governments is all the more pronounced. As per the Local Government Operation Act 2074, local governments are entrusted with responsibilities for managing early child development and education, basic education, non-formal education, lifelong education, community learning and the like. So it is imperative to enlist active involvement of local governments in the nationwide literacy campaign.
It would be germane to note that community learning centres have been playing a pivotal role in the literacy campaign. There are community learning centres scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country. The government has also decided to establish additional community learning centres to give more momentum to the literacy campaign.

As in other sectors, the literacy campaign has taken a hit owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Literacy classes have not smoothly run across the country. As the effects of the pandemic are wearing off, it is high time literacy classes were resumed to make up for lost time. It is feared that as there is a long hiatus in learning activities, those who have learnt under the literacy campaign may have forgotten how to read or write. Although online classes are going on for regular students, it is not possible to operate online classes for those learning under the literacy campaign. As a result, the campaign has taken a knock.

Safety protocols
Anyway, in-person classes are resuming in various districts in view of the dwindling rate of COVID-19 infection. The District Administration Office in Kathmandu and local governments have decided to resume in-person classes from September 17. However, health safety protocols should be strictly followed while operating classes, be it regular classes or literacy classes. Any lapse may aggravate the situation, which is gradually coming back to normal.

Education is an important sector. Although 100 per cent literacy cannot be attained, the percentage of literacy can, for sure, be increased. Nepal is planning to become a middle-income country by 2030, the year when the MDGs should be fulfilled. The role of education in accelerating development can hardly be exaggerated. So adequate investments need to be made in the education sector. The government has missed the target of declaring the country Literate Nepal several times for one reason or the other. Let’s hope that the government’s vow of attaining the cherished goal by the end of this fiscal year will not go down the plug-hole.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.