The National Literacy Mission has selected five districts for awards to recognise their efforts to promote literacy in the country. The districts of Chang-Lang in Arunachal Pradesh and Hanumangarh in Rajashthan were chosen for their total literacy drive.
Tuticorin district in Tamil Nadu, Cuddappah in Andhra Pradesh and Kollam in Kerala have been selected for the Satyen Maitre National Literary Award for their promotion of continuing education in the country.
The awards will be presented in New Delhi on September 8, which is National Literacy Day. Tuticorin district Collector R. Palaniyandi and district Literary Mission co-ordinator J.Gunasekharan are going to Delhi to collect the award.
How did Tuticorin achieve this distinction?
Tuticorin district has an area of 4621 sq kms with a population of 9,07,500 people. There are 4,39,254 males and 4,68,246 females. According to the 2001 census, the literacy rate at that time was 81.52 percent. The literacy rate for males was 88.32 percent and females 75.13 percent.
Under the continuing education scheme, 57 nodal centers were set up. Continuing education is meant for those who have been taught earlier and had forgotten those lessons. It also includes those who have never studied before.
There is one nodal center for 10 panchayats. All the 57 nodal centers have their own buildings, built with funds from the District Rural Development Agency. All nodal centers are computerised.
Furthermore there are 50 information centers in the district.
There are 560 continuing education centers, which means there is one in every panchayat in the district. For 2005-2006, the identified target in this district was 66,178 people - 24, 455 males and 41,723 females.
In this targeted group they managed to enroll 41,404 people which includes 10,936 males and 30,468 females.
The continuing education centers serve as libraries, reading rooms, learning and training centers. They also serve as a hub for development, cultural and sports activities. For the panchayat they serve both as information centers and computer centers.
Apart from reading and writing people are taught bank procedures so that they learnt to save. Some of them have learnt the basics of computers with Tamil software. Tata Consultancy Services has donated 20 computers to this district and also sponsored computer courses.
They were taught how to petition the government when they had problems. Family planning and health awareness was also taught to the students.
For their economic development, they were encouraged to form Self Help Groups. Each SHG has 15 members. In all, 2754 SHGs were formed - 1872 for women and 882 for men.
Each SHG was given a revolving fund of Rs 10,000 by the government. They were also given a loan of Rs 30,000 from local banks.
Entrepreneur Development programs were conducted to teach them a skill so that they could use the funds for business.
Some of the courses conducted for them include sea weed cultivation, electronic choke production, grocery shop, palm products, candle production, vadagam making, murrukku making, mat weaving, toy making, jute bag production, production of washing powder, tooth powder and Phenyl.
The Fisheries College in Tuticorin conducted a five-day course for 310 students. They were taught eco-friendly shrimp farming technology, water quality management in aqua-culture system, ornamental fish culture and catfish culture.
After identifying a business activity for them, the literacy mission staff also monitor and evaluate the business regularly.
District co-ordinator J.Gunasekharan said, "Our next step is to start our own banks in the 12 blocks and two municipal corporations in the district.'
They also work with other government departments for the benefit of their target group. They help co-ordinate other department schemes as they have a staff of 1500 people and the Self Help Groups to reach out to the people.
For the National Child Labour Eradication Project they conducted awareness camps and also helped enroll the children in schools.
The Sarva Shiksha Abiyan is meant for school drop-outs. For this, they set up 30 day centers and two residential centers. The students were given alternative and innovative education. After 6 months they were admitted in regular schools.
For the Tamil Nadu Aids Control Society they conducted awareness camps for children in the age group 6 to 24 in every center. These camps were conducted once a week for six weeks.
During the tsunami tragedy they conducted 100 free medical camps through the Madurai Meenakshi Mission hospital.
Under the Total Sanitation Campaign they helped build 25,484 toilets for individual houses in the district.
They have trained Panchayat Presidents in education, health and social awareness.
As the literacy rate for women is lower than the men in this district, a women's literacy program is taking place now. This is sponsored by the Tamil Nadu government. Under this scheme 40 women in every center in the age group of 15-45 are being trained.
What they have done in Tuticorin is not only making the target group literate, but also improving their life style and enhancing their economic status.