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DATA STORY: This International Literacy Day, let's recap India's literacy growth

Taking a look at the overall education level in India, the literacy rate has risen from 40.76 percent to 71.96 percent. However, this does not meet the world standards.

September 28, 2017 / 01:27 PM IST

With the world celebrating International Literacy Day on September 8, let's look back and remember how India's education has progressed over the years.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes this day for the world to remember and pace towards eradicating illiteracy.

Over the years, India has seen an improvement in their education sector. But is it enough?

India's Literacy Rate

Literacy rate is the benchmark indicator used to track the development in the education sector.


There are many sub-sections of the literacy rate - adult literacy rate, child literacy rate, female literacy rate, etc.

Here, we will take a look at the adult literacy rate. The adult literacy rate captures the adults who are between 15 and 24 years. The literacy rate procedure is via a survey, where the person is asked if he or she is studying and how he or she has studied. With the information provided, the statisticians will derive the literacy rate.

In the data below, India showed a major gap in the male to female education ratio in 1980s. Slowly, it progressed and in 2015, the female literacy rate stood at 62.98 percent from the earlier 25.68 percent.

Statistic: India: Literacy rate from 1981 to 2015 | Statista


Earlier, and even today in most areas, the belief of women educating and fending for their families is discouraged. Many parts of the region also believed in female infanticide and/or female foeticide. Government initiatives such as the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign aim to protect and educate the girl child to bring an overall, not a lop-sided, growth in India's education.

India vs World

Taking a look at the overall education level in India, the literacy rate has risen from 40.76 percent in 1981 to 71.96 percent in 2015. However, this does not meet the world standards.

According to the World Bank, India falls in the 66.54- 81.05 percent range. However, the countries with the highest literacy rate, above 80 percent, are more than the countries with low or average education growth.

Overall development and government's expenditure on education

India still has a lot of bucking up to do. In the 2016 Human Development Index, India ranked 131 out of 188 countries. India still comes under the "medium human development" category.

The Human Development Index looks into three categories of the country's development - education, income and health, aiming to show the overall development of the country.

The three categories use years of schooling (which can be derived from the literacy rate information), gross national income (GNI) per capita and life expectancy at birth as indicators.

HUman Development Index HDI India ranking 2016

(Source: UNDP)

The ranking shows India's lop-sided growth. The data shows that India shows a higher income growth rather than an overall growth.

Also read: Income Inequality in India at highest level since 1922: Economists Piketty and Chancel

Experts told Moneycontrol that in Budget 2017, the expenditure on education can fall short. The education sector in India is yet to cope with the world averages. Among the BRICS nations, India was the least to spend on education in 2012.

According to World Bank, India's government expenditure on education has just risen from 13.7 percent in 1997 to 14.1 percent in 2013.

According to 2014 UNESCO report, India was quoted having the highest adult illiteracy rate which stood at 37 percent. With initiatives driven to eradicate illiteracy, India can easily climb up in HDI rankings.
first published: Sep 8, 2017 12:11 pm

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