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The Rediff Special/ A Ganesh Nadar
In dire straits: National Literacy Mission
February 14, 2006
Yesakiammal is 34. The double graduate must weigh less than 34 kilograms. She looks lean, hungry and prematurely grey. Yet, she manages a nervous smile when you ask her how she is. She works in Purayur village in the Tuticorin district of southern Tamil Nadu, where she is in charge of the village centre for the National Literacy Mission. Her salary of Rs 700 a month has not been paid since August 2004. Yes, 16 months ago.
Vijaya, from Angamangalam village, is also a double graduate. She is the nodal officer in charge of 12 village centres, and is to receive a monthly salary of Rs 1,200. She too has not received any wages after being promoted from her earlier post as the officer in charge of the village centre.
Munialakshmi and Tamil Selvi are 22 year olds who manage the National Literacy Mission centre in Alagappapuram village in Tuticorin district. They have both studied up to class 12, and are among many poor children who have been waiting for their pay for 18 months.
Annam is lucky. She worked for six months at the National Literacy Mission centre in Purayur village and was paid for four months. She is an assistant at the centre, and receives Rs 500 as a salary. Munialakshmi and Tamil Selvi still keep the centre open for children to study or play.
They have games too, and football was a favourite until the ball was punctured. It can be repaired only in Tuticorin, which is 30 kilometres away. There are no funds for this, so the ball has been abandoned on a shelf. The books are clean and well kept though. Some children browse through, although no one seems to actually read them.
The girls say that, apart from teaching, they also help in starting self-help groups, telling people to build toilets in their homes, discuss family planning, and get dropouts back to school. Says Dhanam, the accounts officer at the National Literacy Mission in the Tuticorin Collectorate, "For the self-help groups, we have appointed one coordinator for 40 groups. We pay the girls Rs 40 for every toilet they build. They have not brought a single patient for the family planning operation though."
The National Literacy Mission also teaches vocations to villagers. The trainers and trainees get paid to attend. In the Alwarthirunagari Union, girls who have attended 7 such training classes have not received their stipend. Collectorate officials say they have paid for all but the last two classes. The girls allege the trainer has not given them the money. Dhanam promises to take the trainer to task if the man is proven guilty.The eradication of illiteracy in a nation set to become the most populous in the world is by no means easy. This was realised in the 1980s, which is when the National Literacy Mission came into being to impart a new sense of urgency and seriousness to education in India.
The Union government has now decided to follow an integrated approach to literacy. This means the Total Literacy Campaign and Post-Literacy Programme will operate under one Literacy Project, tackling the problem in a holistic manner. By treating the imparting of functional literacy as a continuing process rather than a one-off benefit for the illiterate, progress will be made goal-oriented.
Literacy campaigns will continue to run in areas where there are large pools of residual illiteracy. At the same time, for those who have crossed the basic learning phase, programmes of consolidation, vocational skills, integration with life skills and such other aspects will be considered the basic unit.
The National Literacy Mission was started to achieve 100 per cent literacy. In the first phase, three books were taught. In the second phase of continuing education, they made sure that those who were left out were taught. Then, libraries were started in every village to encourage reading. They were also taught vocations to make them independent. The people who worked in this mission were paid Rs 1,200, Rs 700 and Rs 500.
The current phase was planned for 5 years. They would get a grant every six months. The first grant for Tuticorin district arrived two-and-a-half years ago. They are expecting a second grant at the end of this month -- at a time when the fifth ought to have arrived.
The reason for this sorry state of affairs is the Usage Certificate. The districts have to tell the powers that be in Delhi how the funds have been used. The first instalment was not used wholly for promoting literacy, so Delhi asked for a refund of the money -– a little over Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million). This was not possible as the money had already been spent. So, after memos and more memos were exchanged, an understanding was finally reached this month. The central government will send the second instalment now, but after deducting the amount they say was not correctly used.
If you think the problems for these poor girls will be over at the end of the month, you are wrong. The accounts officer argues that this money is meant for only six months. How can salaries for 18 months be paid with it? Also, if salaries alone are paid, will be no money for further work. How will the administration survive? How will books and other material be bought?
So, when the money finally comes in, the district collector will convene a committee meeting and decide what to do. State government officials involved in this scheme get their monthly salary from the state. It is the contract teachers appointed to actually do the teaching that suffer and will continue to do so.
Says Munialakshmi's mother, "We would have closed the centre long ago, but the Block Development Officer told us to keep it open and continue the work, saying we would definitely get paid sooner or later." For Munialakshmi, and many other like her, the wait continues.
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