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Literacy in India

To raise awareness about the importance of adult education in India, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable groups.

by Kate Andréo

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To raise awareness about the importance of adult education in India, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Preparation and materials

  • The primary source for this assembly is More information can be found on their website.
  • Music suggestion: Destiny’s Child, ‘Stand Up For Love’.
  • Three readers to read the case studies.


  1. India is the most populous democracy and second most populous country in the world. It has recently emerged as a major power. India has a robust parliamentary tradition, an independent judiciary, professional and apolitical armed forces, a vibrant civil society and free and outspoken media.

    There has been progress in the quality of life in a number of areas but implementation varies from state to state. The awareness of human rights issues is inconsistent. As a result, women, children and minorities often suffer. The socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society are particularly vulnerable. The vast majority of the rural population remain illiterate and impoverished. Their lives continue to be dominated by the ancient Hindu caste system, which assigns each person a fixed place in the social hierarchy.
  2. Education plays a pivotal role in the process of development. Without education people lack the skills to assess their needs and access solutions. Although the government in India has accelerated its efforts in education programming, many poor and marginalized people are still without access to learning, and so levels of education are very low for certain groups.

    Women especially are marginalized in accessing education services. In spite of playing a major role in the family, community and the economy, the level of literacy among women in some areas is only 51%, in rural areas only 19%. This is hampering the growth and development of these women and their families by denying them opportunities and access to information. 
  3. The International Gospel and Social Work Mission (IGSWM) is an independent organization working in 15 villages in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Its project, ‘Literacy Skills for Women’s Development’, supports 500 women from poor and marginalized families. Most of these women attended school during their childhood for two or three years, but usually dropped out to take responsibility in their household. They do not have even a primary level of education and literacy. 

    IGSWM aims to revive the literacy skills of these women. The project also provides information on various issues, services, schemes and opportunities. Women gain the opportunity to meet together, share information and ideas among themselves, and receive information about government schemes and services, as well as methods for accessing them. They also gain in confidence, so are more assertive and able to make sure that they receive services provided by the government to which they are entitled, for example ration cards to get rice for a fair price, and health cards to receive free health care for treatments they could otherwise not afford.
  4. Case study 1

    ‘I work in a village called Chejerla, teaching literacy. Teaching women of my age group and a few older than me is an unforgettable experience in my life. I had the opportunity to attend school and completed my education. I got married at 18 years, then settled as a housewife. When IGSWM was looking for women teachers for its women literacy centre, I applied for the position of teacher and got selected. The orientation workshop I attended taught me how to teach adults and I learned different communication skills.

    ‘My whole attitude is changed. Previously I used to think that education and learning is possible only at a young age. Now through this project I myself am involved in helping them learn; it is possible. I feel that access to education and information is one of the important aspects through which people can change their life. Working in this centre has paved the way for me towards a great opportunity. I am very much excited and very happy because I get respect in my village. I thank the IGSWM Director, the resource person of the training and the project for the opportunity provided.’
  5. Case study 2

    Mariyamma, a resident of Kunkalakunta Village, aged 23 years, is more confident now that she is literate. She thanks her teacher at the centre and especially her husband. She says that she never thought that she would become literate. But now she says she is confident because she is honoured. It had been shameful to her to ask people around her at the bus stop which bus to take to go to her relative’s village, as she could not read the name on the bus. 

    In the beginning when she enrolled herself at the centre she thought that it would be difficult to learn at her age, but the encouragement given by her teacher and her husband made it possible. As Mariyamma learns and understands, with her good memory and her regular attendance to the centre, and with practice at home, so her life is changing. She is happy to agree that age is not a hurdle to learning; in fact it is easy to learn at this age. Another thing that contributed to her learning is the approach of the project, the treatment given by the teacher and the fellow learners.

    The facilitator says that she is an effective and confident lady, who tries many times if she does not understand at the first attempt. She has been a model to others. She joined the women’s savings group initiated and supported by government. She also says that she will ensure her children get a good education for a better future, and overcome exploitation. She is excited as she will learn more things in the future and her first step that she took at the literacy centre has been successful.

Time for reflection

Imagine what it would feel like to be rejected by other people in your community, to be marginalized and even despised, for not having an education.

What opportunities would going to school give you? How would you begin to feel in yourself?

Listen to the lyrics from this song. (Play Destiny’s Child, ‘Stand Up For Love’.)

Think of how one organization, standing up for ‘all the forgotten, for all the unloved’, can make a huge difference in people’s lives and create lasting change. Mother Teresa once said, ‘My work is just one drop in the ocean – but many drops together can form a tidal wave.’

Lord, help us to stand up for the forgotten, the unloved, the oppressed.
Let our actions show your love.
Help us to find ways to do this,
and let us not walk on the other side of the road and ignore the problem.


‘The wise may bring their learning’ (Come and Praise, 64)

Publication date: May 2010   (Vol.12 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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