Making India Literate


Valiant attempts have been made to make India more literate, but with the rise in population, the number of uneducated people in the country is still enormous. Officially, only one-third of India is illiterate, well over 300 million people. Recent surveys have shown that the illiteracy rate is probably far higher than this, possibly as high as half of the population.

A population that is illiterate will not be able to move out of the borderline agricultural existence in which it currently strives to survive. A population that can at least read and write can be trained on vocational skills and has a chance to create a viable economic system, where hunger, malnutrition, outrageous child mortality rates and dismal absence of primary health care and education can be addressed.
Behind the statistics are two realities – the adults (mostly rural, mostly women) who have never learnt to read and never will, and the kids who drop out of school. Half of all Indian school kids still drop out of primary schools. And, of course, most of them have not learnt to read. If they had, there’s a much better chance they would have stayed on at school!

So, we have to teach millions of adults, and we also have to teach millions of kids who are dropping out, and we have to ensure that the kids at school right now are taught better so that they do not drop out.

Currently, in India, it takes between 6 months to 2 years to teach people to read. Multiply that by hundreds of millions. It represents a staggering amount of effort, persistence, patience and labour to make even the smallest dent.

Over one-third of Indians above the age of 7 are illiterate (World Bank Development Policy Review 2003). Tara Akshar is an innovative literacy programme, which teaches illiterate people to read and write Hindi in just four weeks.

The Solution

If we could cut the time and effort it takes to teach reading to adult illiterates (and kids) to a fraction of the current time, we can then begin to anticipate the sort of literacy levels that most other countries have. Conventional wisdom is that it takes a long time and the dropout rates will always be high.

Development Alternatives found a way to slash conventional reading times. We went back to the first principles, and constructed a hypothesis, like any good scientist, and tested the hypothesis. It worked!

The result is a programme called TARA Akshar that teaches adults to read in less than a month and does not need a qualified teacher. All it needs is a computer and a willing instructor, who has had a week’s training.

TARA Akshar: The Road to Progress

Tara Akshar is an innovative literacy programme, which teaches illiterate people to read and write. It works on adults as well as on kids. An instructor, with the help of computer software, some special playing cards, reading and writing books and charts, teaches people to read and write in hindi.

TARA Akshar works on the concept of memory techniques that were used in ancient memory systems by the Greeks and Romans. During the experimentation phase, it was found that with the judicious use of memory techniques, a person could remember up to 50 new words. The same concept was incorporated in the reading part of TARA Akshar. These techniques were converted into a multi-media computer software program. This was first tested on a batch of adult illiterates in and around Delhi. The early results were very encouraging. After a lot of experimenting and re-versioning and consultations with expert educators and psychologists round the world, TARA Akshar, its product manual and a protocol, and a training course were finally developed.

Initial Stages of TARA Akshar

After initial trials, a pilot study on a community outside Delhi with a large illiterate population was done. Three local volunteers, trained as instructors, enrolled 48 completely illiterate adult female students in the first batch.

The batch of 24 was tested after 18 days and it was found that 75% of them could manage simple reading without any assistance. The students then joined a Reading Club, which was held every day, where they came to practice reading out aloud together to improve their reading speeds. Another batch of 24 students was tested in the second phase.

The results were extremely encouraging, with almost 75% of the students managing to read and write. The dropout rate was only 20%, an astonishingly low figure, as anyone who has tried running similar schemes in Indian rural areas will tell you.

Progress of TARA Akshar

TARA Akshar has come a long way from its inception. Till date, over 45,000 women, including 100 physically handicapped women, have been made literate. In the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, 62 centres are still operational, where NGOs who were running this continuing using their own resources. In fact, this is a very encouraging step towards literacy awareness. Initially, TARA Akshar was rolled out under the PACS programme, where 280 centres were made operational from April 2007 to February 2008 (Closure of PACS programme), i.e., during this period, 41,000 women were made literate. The overall results were 98% and dropout rate was a mere 1%.

Status of the Programme

From August 1, 2008, 41 centres will become operational in Madhya Pradesh, covering the districts of Ratlam, Barwani, Dewas and Shajapur. The programme is fully sponsored by the SUZLON Foundation where TARA Akshar plans to literate over 5000 women from August 2008 to April 2009. The OXFAM Trust has also shown great interest in this programme, where some 100 women were made literate in Tikamgarh district in March – April 2008 and another 100 women will join the ranks of the literate in August- September 2008 in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. CCF has also shown interest in this programme. Currently, a proposal is under way to make about 400 women in Faizabad become literate in the months of August-September.
Effectiveness of the Programme

TARA Akshar programme has been designed to fit into the specific needs and requirements of the people, especially women. It takes less than 2 hours each day for 30 days for an individual to learn how to read and write.

The Implementation Structure of TARA Akshar

As TARA Akshar is committed to reach more people in the year 2008, a new implementation structure has been designed. This new structure ensures maximum results. A chain has been created which helps inflow of information both ways.

TARA Akshar Team: This team is based at the head office. The main responsibility of the team is to plan, monitor, and evaluate the programme, as well as the building capacity vis-à-vis knowledge, information, skills, etc.

Delivery Model

The delivery model of computer literacy software involves local instructors /trainers delivering the course to groups of six students over a period of 30 course days. Master trainers, in turn, train the instructors during a one-week programme. Supervisors oversee them for quality assurance, testing and certification. Other management and support mechanisms back the programme.

During delivery, the major emphasis is to ensure maximum participation of women from the disadvantaged sections of the community. Fortunately, this can be ensured by identifying locations where women SHG/CIG members themselves have a predominant need to become functionally literate.
Instructors and master trainers are identified from within the SHGs and the NGO staff members within the PACS programme network. These instructors are then trained and certified to deliver the TARA Akshar course. Initially, they were provided online and on-site handholding and guidance by master trainers. An MIS-based monitoring and feedback system was used to track the quality of product delivery and learner success rate.

The TARA Akshar Flip Chart Version

The TARA Akshar Flip chart version was run on a trial basis in remote areas where there was no electricity. After the success of its computer-based literacy programme, a trial run of FLIP chart-based version of the programme is in progress in Nalanda and west Champaran district of Bihar and Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. This flip chart version is an effort to take the literacy programme to the remote areas that have either erratic or no electricity. The course content of the literacy programme will remain essentially the same. It will simply use flip charts and flash cards to teach women to read and write basic Hindi (Devanagri script) instead of with the help of a computer software. The only difference between the computer-based programme and the FLIP chart version that the course will now take 50 days to complete instead of the earlier period of 30 days.

Success Stories

Seetho is a single woman in her late twenties. She was completely illiterate as also polio afflicted. She cannot even stand.  She had a wheelchair but it broke a few years ago. That, along with her lack of self-confidence, made her shut herself away in her house for years. Then, she heard about the TARA Akshar course in her village in Bhatti Mines. She requested her sister-in-law to take her, ‘piggy-back’ to the community hall where she enrolled for the course. She became our best student. She always arrived on time, on her sister-in-law’s back. She always smiled. She learned quicker than everyone else and was an inspiration to the instructors and the students. Now she can read. She comes regularly to our Reading Club for TARA Akshar graduates. But now she arrives unaided in her new wheelchair!

Asha is married and in her twenties. Until a few months ago, she was completely illiterate. She enrolled for the TARA Akshar course and always brought her son along. At the end of her three-week course, she told us, ‘My husband used to consider me good for nothing because I was illiterate. He would never include me in taking decisions. But now that I can read, our whole relationship has changed. My husband treats me with respect. I am now, for the first time, a part of the decision-making in our house.’ She then said to us, ‘I bless you. Let every good thing happen to you for giving me literacy.’ 

Col. M.S.Ahluwalia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Back to Contents





Contact Us

About Us