Literate Nepal: A noblE concept with lax preparation
Sep 8, 2014-The government is preparing to declare Nepal a total literate country by 2015. For that, the government has launched Literate Nepal Mission in which non-formal education programmes are being run in different parts of the country. As a part of the programme, total literate status is given to those places that have achieved 95 percent literacy rate among the 15-60 years age group., Manish Gautam of the Post caught up with Prof Mana Prasad Wagle, an expert in the field of education, to explore the various facets of literacy and the programme run by the government to declare Nepal a total literate country. Excerpts:
What is your take on the literacy campaign run by government for the past five years?
The concept of literacy campaign is noble but there are ample of lapses when it comes to execution. Many districts have started announcing themselves “literate” with a parameter that at least 95 percent of the people in the area are literate. The Non Formal Education Centre (NFEC) has been claiming that 84 percent of the people in country are literate while the 2011 census data puts it at around 66 percent. It is hard to believe that in past three years the literacy rate has increased by around 18 percent. Now let’s look back at the history. In two decades, from 48 percent literacy we have reached to 66 percent. This would mean the rate increased by less than one percent a year. Supposing that rate of increase, we cannot expect the rise in literacy rate with more than one percent a year, even if we are to believe that people are more aware now. There are enough rooms for doubt the NFEC’s claim of 84 percent literacy rate. The other point is that the people whom the government call literate, in my definition have turned out to be illiterate in the lack of post-literacy programme. There are three parts of literacy: general literacy, post literacy and continuous education. The government runs literacy programme to population between 15 to 60 years through adult literacy programme. How many people are enrolled we don’t know despite the fact that they maintain a regular attendance register. Even if we trust the register, we don’t know the dropout number. Also the lack of proper monitoring system has affected the programme.
How does government come forth with literacy data? Is it that the number of people who initially enrolled and later skipped the class are also counted as literate?
There are three points: entry point, literacy point and exit point. Now since the literacy point is too weak, those who enter in the class get the exit certificate. What we demand is the quality in the process of literacy.
What are the prerequisites before we call a person literate?
The definitions vary among countries. In Nepal literacy is based on 3R: Reading, writing and arithmetic. So this would mean that people who can read, write and do general maths are literate. On the other side, we have functional literacy which means that people can make money and make their living after being literate. After 1990s life skills literacy, including writing cheques, disaster preparedness, learning to read doctor’s prescription, were taught. Now if we look at the curriculum here, it has focused only on general literacy. If we look at developed nations, they focus more on functional literacy and life skills. For instance, China came up with plans to make the country literate in 1960s. By 1980, China said a majority of their people are literate. With literate people in hand, China made a great economic progress. When people are literate they become critical minded, they ask for their rights and development. Literate people start searching for ways of economic benefit. Now if we look from this perspective, where does our literacy situation stand? I think the Unesco definition of literacy must be pertinent here. This UN-agency states that “literacy skills developed from a basic to advanced level throughout life are part of broader competencies required for critical thinking, the sense of responsibility, participatory governance, sustainable consumption and lifestyles, ecological behaviours, biodiversity protection, poverty reduction, and disaster risk reduction.”
The government plans to make all people literate by 2015. Can government achieve its target?
First of all, let us calculate the cost that the government has allocated for the campaign. It has earmarked Rs 1.5 billion. In terms of national budget this amount is 1.1 percent. This budget is a mockery to the campaign. It is a sheer joke if government claims that they can make the 1.750 million illiterate people literate with Rs 1.5 billion in one year. The amount is Rs 600 per head. This amount does not even bear the cost of the facilitator. So we can clearly say that this plan is politically motivated and nothing more than a political ambition of leaders. Although literacy is a political agenda worldwide, there is an interesting fact that this government-run programme is not a campaign. They have named it incorrectly. Campaign means that the government should allocate almost all the resources for this programme. They should have the guts to shut down universities and take all the students to the ground to teach illiterate people. Now in this situation, there may be little success in the programme. I am sure that people who were literate have once again become illiterate as they lack post-literacy and continuous education programme.
The government is planning to bar people from accessing basic services if they do not enrol their child to school. Does our state has the right to execute such plans?
This government plan contradicts with all the existing laws. However, the state has the right to say that each of their people have to be literate. They need to convince their people, show them the opportunity doors. And even if they fail to show their interest, it has the right to punish them. But it is not done in the way our government has planned.
Published: 09-09-2014 08:52