New Delhi: Over 300 million Indians are still illiterate and about half of India's women cannot read or write but that would change in five years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while launching the Rs.65 billion literacy mission 'Saakshar Bharat' on International Literacy Day on Tuesday.
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Emphasing that the country could not be 'satisfied with status quo', the prime minister said: 'The president of India, in her address to parliament earlier this year, had announced that the government will recast the National Literacy Mission to make every woman literate in the next five years. Today we take the first step towards fulfilling that promise to our people.'
'One-third of India's population still continues to be illiterate. About half of our women cannot still read or write. The number of illiterates in India is probably the highest among all nations of the world. We cannot therefore be satisfied with the status quo.'
He said persistent illiteracy, particularly among women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, was a 'challenge that we must face and meet head on'.
'We must make our nation fully literate if we want to empower the average citizen and make rapid progress,' the prime minister added.
The estimated cost of the mission is Rs.65.02 billion. Of this, nearly Rs.50 billion would be funded by the central government and the rest by the states. The prime minister reiterated his government's commitment to providing good quality education to all and said funds were no 'constraint'.
'Our government is committed to providing good quality education to each and every child in our country. Resources will not be a constraint in the quest of achieving this goal.
'Today, as a result of our efforts in the last five years, elementary education is now within the reach of all children in our country. We have increased enrolment and significantly reduced drop-out rate. This has helped us check further accretion to the population of illiterates,' he added, referring to the recent Right to Education Act.
'But we need to do much more to reduce and ultimately eliminate illiteracy among the adult population. We need to renew the efforts of the 1980s and the 1990s when we were able to make a significant dent in the problem of illiteracy.'