Friday, September 08, 2006

God’s own children are literate, unemployed

Fifteen years after Kerala was declared a “totally literate state”, its literacy mission has turned into a bureaucratic exercise revolving around a government agency.

Many of the neo-literates have been left to their daily chores after the euphoric years. Fresh strides in continuing education intend to take literacy beyond familiarisation to alphabets.

But has the state failed to transform its enviable achievements in social sectors to economic development? How do academics explain the irony of a state that leads others in education and healthcare and lags behind in economic growth and employment generation?

“Kerala’s excellence in education is reflected in other sectors too. Look at our healthcare. Our socially organised pattern that’s responsible for the present quality of life. Even the economic betterment brought about by massive migration was made possible by education,” said KK Krishnakumar, who had worked with the team that spearheaded the literacy movement in Kerala in the early 1990s.

“It’s true that Kerala has not fared well as far as economic development is concerned though we have made great strides in literacy. There are several reasons for it like worsened Centre-state relations, regional imbalances and lack of entrepreneurial initiatives. There have been enterprising communities in Kerala, but the society as a whole looked for salaried jobs preferably with the government,” he added.

The sentiment is echoed in government circles. “We are lagging behind in agricultural productivity and industrial performance mainly due to the strain and stress of globalisation. Then we are unable to find land for industries in this densely populated state. Still, we could overcome all these with the investment we made in our education sector,” education minister MA Baby said.

“Kerala is often called a money order economy since a major chunk of its revenue came from expatriates within and outside the country. They were able to go out seeking work because they had good education. We managed to overcome our deficiencies in other sectors with our literate population,” he added.

The state’s Continuing Education Project, run by the National Literacy Mission, had found that the movement failed to maintain the people’s participation in the later stages. Krishnakumar, who doesn’t see a direct correlation between achievements in literacy
and economic performance, concurs.


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