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Literacy - An Entry Point to Empowerment

About 750 million adults - two-thirds of whom are women - remain illiterate, according to UNESCO report 2017. India literacy rate went up from 12% to 73% from 1947 to 2011 but we still have over 287 million illiterate adults who are unequipped to participate in its emerging knowledge-based society. Literacy is crucial for overcoming poverty and contributing to upward social and economic advancement.  Yet, despite years of investments, illiteracy continues to exist as a core impediment in communities participating in and contributing to the national economy.

On Sept 07, 2021, we heard from experts who examined questions around the role of literacy in disrupting intergenerational cycles of poverty, the role of digital technologies to expanding access to literacy and livelihoods, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on literacy outcomes and how national literacy policies and strategies can be enhanced to address these critical areas.

Over 250 people from TCS and other organizations from around the world joined an engaging discussion with speakers; M.C. Worthing, Director (Adult Education), Ministry of Education, Govt of India; Abha Mishra, Head of Office, United Nations Development Programme, Odisha; Dwijadas Basak, Chief - Commercial & Social Innovation Group, Tata Power-DDL; Dr. D.V. Ramana, Professor, Xavier Institute of Management, XIM University and Snorre Westgaard, CEO, Humana People to People India. The session was moderated by Joseph Sunil Nallapalli, Head, Corporate Social Responsibility, TCS India.

Key takeaways from the discussion include:

  • Literacy offers people from marginalized communities, especially women, a voice. Women’s literacy is key to development and the entry point to a range of development interventions.
  • Literacy for adults plays a critical role in expanding options for livelihood as well as livelihood skills training, subsequently enhancing participation in economic growth. Literacy growth also enhances access to banking and government policies. Importantly, adult literacy has a transgenerational impact, with literate mothers using their skills to support their own children's learning.
  • In India, the eradication of illiteracy has been one of the major national concerns of the Government of India since independence.  Apart from Foundational Literacy & Numeracy, namely, Reading Writing and Numeracy skills, under the New Education Policy (NEP), Government of India has introduced new components of literacy like Digital Literacy, Financial, Legal, and Electoral Literacy, Disaster Management and Environmental Literacy. These skills are essential to empower citizens.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted digital literacy gaps, especially for marginalized communities. Illiterate people have not been able to access their entitlements.  Yet empowering people with digital skills is the path to self-reliant India and can be leveraged to bridge social gaps and impart skills, especially in case of people who are working full-time.
  • The private sector can play an essential role as the accelerator literacy and for the development of new technology and skills by offering need-based employment. Linking education with immediate practical application will help move more illiterate people, especially women, towards literacy. Literacy programs need to be designed to achieve the goals of larger community initiatives and meet specific needs.

To learn more about the Digital Empowers program, read our Global Insights Report, Digital Empowers: Technology as a Catalyst for Empowering Communities