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November 22, 1999


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Mizoram imparts a lesson in literacy to the country

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Nitin Gogoi in Aizawl and Guwahati

It is something for which the entire North-East should be proud of. Mizoram has overtaken Kerala as India's most literate state. Moreover, four other states of the North-East - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland - have recorded highest percentage of growth in literacy in the years between 1991-97.

The figures, released by the National Sample Survey, are revealing. Mizoram's literacy in 1997 stood at 95 per cent, two percentage points higher than Kerala's 93. In fact, according to officials of the Directorate of Adult Education in Mizoram, the 1998-99 figures show that 96 per cent of Mizoram's seven lakh odd population is literate. Mizoram of course was always known to be among the top two-three states for the last two decades.

Meghalaya, with 27.9 per cent, led the country's literacy improvement in the years between 1991 and 1997 closely followed by Nagaland (22.4), Assam (22.1), Sikkim (22.1) and Arunachal Pradesh (18.4). Of these four states, Nagaland and Assam have had serious insurgency and fiscal problems during the period under review and yet, literacy has accelerated in these states.

Says a senior official in Assam: "To jump from 52.5 per cent in 1991 to nearly 75 per cent in 1997, Assam has done very well given the turmoil that the state has been witness to during this phase." Indeed, insurgency and the subsequent counter-insurgency operations in the state were at its peak during 1991-97.

But, as saner elements in the state never tire of pointing out, the uncertainties brought about by serious law and order problems have not really affected the common people. As a deputy commissioner of a district involved in Total Literacy Campaign says: "We have been fortunate to keep the Total Literacy Campaign away from the all-pervading influence of insurgency unlike other sectors of development."

In Nagaland too, serious insurgency has not been able to slow down literacy. But the spectacular success indeed belongs to Mizoram. Till the late 1980s, Mizoram was making a reasonably good progress in literacy improvement. It is, however, in the post-1990 period that the state witnessed rapid progress. As Lalrawna, joint director, adult education, Mizoram, says: "It was after we changed over to the "each one, teach one," method in 1989-90 that we made excellent progress."

Explaining the methodology, Lalrawna said a systematic effort was made to identify illiterates in far-flung villages. Once these villages were spotted, a number of volunteers, labeled as animators were appointed and simultaneously village adult education committees were formed to oversee the entire project.

"This method, which ensured the involvement of a broad spectrum of people and organisations such as village councils, church bodies, teachers and social workers, yielded superb results," Lalrawna revealed.

The Mizoram government drew up a detailed plan primed towards achieving total literacy. Each animator was given the task of teaching five persons at a time. "As an incentive, we gave the animators prescribed teaching-learning material free of cost, a hurricane lantern and kerosene oil so as to carry on teaching even after sundown."

Evidently, the method has paid off. Today, Mizoram is nearly cent per cent literate but for the fact that a large percentage of Chakma and Reang population, who form a minority in the state, are not as keen as their Mizo counterparts to attain literacy. As a senior government official who does not want to be named, says: "Among the Mizo, cent per cent literacy has already been achieved. It is only because of Chakmas and Brus (the Reangs) that the overall percentage shows around 95."

In addition to the reluctance on part of the Chakmas and Reangs, the fact that since 1994-95 autonomous district councils have taken over the total literacy campaign in their respective areas, may have slowed down the progress.

Even at 95 per cent the figures are impressive. But how good is the situation on ground? According to Adult Education Department officials, all neo-literates in the state can do the following:

Read aloud, in Mizo, at a speed of 30 words per minute, a simple passage. Silent reading at 35 words a minute, of small paragraphs in simple language. Reading with understanding of road signs, posters and simple instructions. Copying with understanding at seven words a minute. Writing with proper spacing and alignment. Writing independently, short letters and applications and filling in forms of day-to-day use to the learners. Reading and writing numerals 1-100.

Significantly, Mizoram has not stopped at producing simple neo-literates. Over the past couple of years, the authorities have turned their attention to Continuing Education Programme. This programme is aimed at making neo-literates and school dropouts acquire knowledge beyond the preliminary stages.

Even the Centre has laid stress on this programme, sanctioning Rs 45.67 lakh to establish 360 Continuing Education Centres and 40 more nodal centres spread across the state. Despite the spread of literacy, Mizoram has a high rate of school dropouts. According to Lalrawna, in 1997, the school dropout rates were as high as 60 per cent in Class X, 54 per cent in Class VIII and 35 in Class V. Therefore, Continuing Education is the new mantra.

One such centre is located in Aizawl's Central jail where both under trial prisoners and convicts are imparted continuing education.

As Lalthanpuia, a commerce graduate, lodged in the jail for the past two months, said: "Working as an instructor here has given me new insights. Many of the prisoners are interested in learning more through maps, text books and demonstrations." Lalthanpuia teaches about 36 inmates twice a day, totalling three hours daily. "The learners are a very curious lot. They ask a lot of questions," Lalthanpuia says.

Concurs Skliania, a 30-year old Class III drop out: "The chance to renew our education even when in jail has given us a new hope for life after imprisonment."

In Mizoram, education and a desire to succeed in life has acquired a new meaning which is well reflected in the literacy figures. In a couple of years time may be, the tiny state, which prides itself in being progressive, may become the first Indian state to be fully literate in the true sense of the term. Given the present scenario, it is not an impossible dream.

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