In matters of literacy, Kerala has been a front-runner – be it the high levels of literacy or the achievements in adult and continuing education. The top-rated human development indices (HDIs) of the state are linked to the superior level of awareness that comes with literacy.
Literacy, according to the UNESCO, is the 'ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.' It enables individuals to achieve their goals and participate in the development of their community and society. The National Literacy Mission, considers literacy as 'acquiring skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one's day to day life.'
The professed end-state of this is an individual who is self-reliant in the 3Rs, aware of the causes of deprivation, and participates in the process of development. In effect, literacy should compel citizens to contribute to the development and common good of society. Higher literacy must, therefore, lead to ever increasing individual contribution towards making society kind, considerate, just and progressive.
A fully literate Kerala then must resemble the Utopian 'Mahabali period.' Nothing can be as far from truth as this hypothesis.
Terrifying road traffic, a disrespectful new generation, inhuman crowds that make the best of selfie opportunities even during tragedies, wanton garbage throwing, frightening trade unionism, inefficient public offices and rising organised crime are just a few manifestations of the malice afflicting a society.
The literacy we boast of is different from the one defined by the UNESCO and the NLM.
Our literacy is merely an aggregate of academic qualifications of the populace with no connect to individual’s contributions to societal progress. Application of acquired knowledge, especially for the good of others, happens when an individual is educated and 'our literacy' is far removed from mere education. This is a serious issue which, if left unaddressed, can create a heartless fragmented and society, destined to self-destruct.
Unfortunately, our 'education system' divested literacy, of knowledge. As academic qualifications become the only criteria for jobs, acquisition of degrees by any means becomes acceptable. When parents and teachers collude with children to 'somehow' acquire marks, society actively subverts the 'means to ends' proposition. When bribery becomes an accepted means of acquisition, society legalises barbarism. The elders, oblivious to truth, selfishly interpret the law and weaken the foundations of a just society. Where moral studies are relegated to the fringes in the curriculum, the generations are deprived of moral referencing. A society that adopts a divisive approach for parochial dividends, becomes masochistic. Such a society is nothing but a captain-less, rudderless ship caught in a storm on a catastrophic journey.
Not everything is yet lost. We are at a critical point in the journey, where there is still ample scope for course correction. It is high time we focus on educating our citizens than making them just literate. Organisations of all hues - social, political, religious and others - must now actively pursue education rather than literacy as the goal.
(Jacob Tharakan Chacko is a retired major-general with 36 years of experience at various managerial and directional posts. He is a recipient of the Sena Medal. He may be reached at: email@example.com)
Read more: Columns