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Author's profile photo Erica LAILHACAR

Will building more schools solve India’s literacy problem?

Over the last decade, India has made good progress in terms of increasing literacy rates. According to published figures from the Census of 2011, 74.04% of the total population above the age of 7 years is able to read and write compared to 64.8% in 2001. The number of schools across the country has also increased many-fold, and not only in southern states like Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu which are at the forefront of human development. Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s largest and poorest states, has more than 132,000 Primary schools which is about 0.663 schools per 1000 people (not a bad ratio if you ask me).

Despite growing investment in education, literacy is still not where the country wants it to be and well behind most of the highly developed nations.  The aim of having all children in school by 2015 (United Nations Millennium Development Goals) seems like an unrealistic goal to achieve within the next three years. This prompted me to ask the question, how can India close this gap? Would it be just a matter of the government allocating a higher budget to building more schools?

During the month of October, my colleague Jody LeBlanc and I worked with the Sattva Media and Consulting team to help them analyze and make sense of the wealth of public data that the Indian Government is now making available to everyone as part of the open-data initiative launched this year. The correlation of Literacy Rate versus Number of Schools per Capita is just one of the examples of socio and demographics statistics that Sattva is wanting to analyze and share with the readers of their online publication The Alternative. The goal is to raise awareness about common issues and draw insights that will help citizens and social enterprises better understand and improve the situation.

While I was crunching all these numbers it occurred me that having more schools per capita will not be enough to bring literacy rate up to the same levels of the most developed countries. One of the major influencers of illiteracy in India are financial factors that prevent children from going to school, even when there are institutions largely available and free near where they live.

People that struggle to put food on their table every day, will send their kids to work at a very early age. Unfortunately, a large percentage of India’s population falls into this category and for them, having their basic needs covered (food, clothes, clean water) occupies their first priority and education becomes secondary. Clearly, we cannot expect that “If we build the schools, children will come”; there are other socio-economic changes that need to take place for getting parents to send their kids to school.

By untapping the enormous potential of open-data we hope to spark the generation of new ideas for improving the livelihood options of million children. It felt great to put my Analytics skills to work in a context that was not about generating revenue or reducing cost but improving people’s lives!

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