Some of you may already know that 8th September is celebrated as International Literacy Day. Our hectic lives may not leave us much time to ponder, but it’s true that illiteracy still remains a problem in our country. So, on the occasion of this International Literacy Day, we got in touch with Sonal Kapoor, the founder of Protsahan India Foundation. Protsahan is a non-profit organisation established in 2010 working with at-risk slum & underprivileged girls to rescue them, educate them and find them meaningful employment. She took out some time from her super busy schedule to answer some pressing questions about literacy in India. Read on!
Hi Sonal. You’ve been working in this field for years. What are your views on the current literacy situation in India?
I stand by the thought it’s not just about literacy. It has to be so much more than somebody just signing in their name on a piece of paper to be called a literate. Its also about being socially aware or how to use your education to be a better citizen or a better individual. Literacy as a definition is a very very flawed concept which does not say anything about the person’s calibre. So we need to start thinking of literacy as holistic education with a very strong focus on educating adolescent girls.
Apart from poverty, what would you say are the major hindrances which are holding back people from becoming literate?
One of the major hindrances that are holding people back from becoming literate is patriarchy. Patriarchy is a major factor that’s holding back the girls in our country from getting the education they deserve. Why don’t we allow our girls to be educated? Because no one is going to marry a girl who is more educated than the prospective groom. Also, the mindset is such that people believe rather than spending money on a girl’s education they should save it for dowry instead. And I’m not just talking in terms of people in the rural areas but also among the urban population.
How do you think we can reach the goal of 100 % literacy in our country?
Given the fact that we live in a country like India where there is no dearth of human resources so we need to understand how to utilise that to further education. Another thing that could come to use to reach the goal is technology. Of course, there are tons of apps which have been launched by the government. While all these tech solutions are great but they need to be taken to the last mile for actual work to be done!
That’s some food for thought. So, what changes do you think can be brought to teacher’s education so that it can reflect on children’s education as well?
There is a massive need for bettering the learning outcomes in schools. Just because of the fact that the kids are getting one free mid-day meal in school so they will show up which takes care of the enrollment and the attendance. But is this enough to ensure that the child is learning in school?
So the first and foremost thing that needs to be done is the capacity building of teachers. There is no shying away from the fact that the teachers need to be trained better. If a teacher is not empathetic, creative or entrepreneurial enough to lead a classroom it will affect the quality of education the children receive.
When it comes to rural areas and female children especially, how can the situation be made better?
Like I said, a lot of our problems stem from patriarchy. Why don’t we let our girls get educated? Because it becomes a threat to the boys and all the money that is to be saved for dowry will be used up for their education. So I think a lot of solution will emerge when we admit this is wrong. And again, not just in the rural areas but even in the richest pockets of the country. So, of course, I believe patriarchy is a problem point in our country.
How do you think the govt & society can help make the situation better when it comes to literacy in India?
It’s the government’s intent to do something which needs to be stronger because if the government intends something the scale of the solution gets better. While a number of NGOs like Protsahan are trying to do their best, but at the end of the day, one policy change from the government or a day’s work on these issues by the government equals to our 10 years work. Because we are trying to work on a number of things like POCSO, child sexual abuse and also trying to look at the intersectionality of things.
So what the government can do is way more than what any of us can do. As young people, reporters, bloggers, influencers and media people etc. we need to hold the government responsible for it. We need to use social media as a tool, as a weapon to bring about this change!
Do you agree with Sonal and her thoughts? If so, now is the time you can do your bit to improve the literacy situation in India.