Print Edition - 2014-09-09  |  Development

Unhealthy race to literacy

  • Competition to attain early literate status has taken precedence over the real objective of teaching people to read and write
Unhealthy race to literacy

Sep 8, 2014-

The websites of Lalitpur and Sindhupalchok district education offices (DEO) both claim to be the first ever district in the country to achieve total literacy (with more than 95 percent literacy rate). In fact, the two DEOs had made official announcements of becoming total literate districts two days apart. Laltipur DEO had made the announcement on June 23 at a function with Education Minister Chitra Lekha Yadav as the chief guest. However, Sindhupalchok DEO claims that the status of first total literate district should go to Sindhupalchok since it was the first district to  achieve total literacy on June 16.

Geha Nath Gautam, the chief of Sindhupalchok DEO, claims that the officials at Laltipur DEO knew that Sindhupalchok was on its way of being recognised as the country’s first total literate district and declared itself the first total literate district two days ahead. The issue has apparently become very personal for Gautam, who has accused Lalitpur DEO and the senior officials at the Ministry of Education (MoE) of conspiring against him.

The above case clearly depicts the unhealthy race that is underway among the district education authorities to attain total literacy rate. MoE officials have warned that the competition among the DEOs could undermine the actual objective of Literate Nepal Mission (LNM). They say that district education officers want to prove themselves as competent bureaucrats to boost their chances for promotion. Meanwhile, experts from the education sector say the fault is in the very practice of declaring an area free of illiterate people and celebrating the occasion. They claim that it is not justifiable to declare a region total literate when a large group of people (those above 60 years) cannot still read and write.

The National Census 2011 shows that over 7 percent of the total population is above 60 years of age. And the declaration based on the literacy achievement in age group 15-60 cannot be taken as an authentic one. It  even contradicts what the government had claimed when the Literate Nepal Mission was first unveiled. The then education minister, Dina Nath Sharma, had claimed that the LNM was to bring down illiteracy to zero in all age group. Sharma had even declared that the government would award those who finds an illiterate person after 2015.

Basu Dev Kafle, an education expert, says the LNM compromised on its real agenda and settled for achieving the total literacy rate only in the 15-60 years age bracket. “The announcement would have been logical if 95 percent of all the population above 15 years were made literate. If not, at least the upper limit had to be 67 years, equal to the life expectancy of the country,” says Kafle.

It seems that the government and the authorities involved in the LNM are more focused on announcing the country total literate without looking at the long-term implications. Another fault is within the process itself. Currently, the government body (district or VDC) which is conducting the literacy classes has the right to announce if the district or VDC has become total literate.

According to the Non Formal Education Centre (NFEC), a government agency that conducts literacy programme across the country, besides Sindhupalchok and Lalitpur districts, Dhading, Palpa and Mustang have declared themselves as total literate districts. Chitwan and Syangja districts are likely to make the announcement shortly. Similarly, 529 VDCs, five municipalities, and 10 wards have also announced that they are illiterate-free. The declarations were made based on the assessment of the same government bodies responsible for running literacy classes in these districts, VDCs and municipalities. There is no independent body monitoring the activities and progress of LNM.

“There is no second verification. There are high chances of data fluctuations if the body which is entitled to conduct the classes is given the right to declare itself total literate,” says Kafle. He has warned that the international community may not recognise the literacy claim if there is no proper verification.

Following the controversy over the authenticity of the claim, the NFEC is working to invite the Unesco office in Nepal to monitor the areas that have so far been declared total literate. Baburam Poudel, executive director at the NFEC, says the monitoring process is likely to start by the beginning of next year. “We will decide on our future course based on the report after the monitoring.”


Published: 09-09-2014 08:51

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