Can India’s “literate” read?

Abstract

This paper takes a close look at India’s literacy rate by exploring whether the officially “literate” can read and at what level. In a large sample, aged 7+, drawn from four Hindi-speaking states, two methods were used to measure literacy. One was the standard Census Method (CM) which relies on self-reporting and the other was a Reading Method (RM) which required the same individuals to actually read a simple text at grade 2 level. The findings revealed a substantial difference between the reading literacy rates obtained by CM and RM. CM over-reported RM by 16%. The overestimation was higher for males. Decoding skills were found to erode in most cases after completion of primary schooling, assuming no further education. A minimum grade 8–9 education was required for decoding skills to not deteriorate after schooling.

Résumé

Les « lettrés » de l'Inde savent-ils lire ? – Les auteurs ont analysé les taux d’alphabétisation de l’Inde, en vérifiant si les personnes officiellement « lettrées » savent réellement lire, et dans l’affirmative à quel niveau. Ils ont utilisé deux méthodes pour mesurer la littératie auprès d’un vaste échantillon de personnes âgées de plus de sept ans, sélectionnées dans les États de langue hindi. L’une est la méthode standard de recensement qui repose sur l’auto-évaluation, la seconde une méthode de lecture qui requiert les mêmes participants de lire effectivement un texte simple du niveau de deuxième année de l’enseignement primaire. Les résultats révèlent une différence importante entre les taux de compétence de lecture obtenus par les deux méthodes. La première dépasse en effet de 16 pour cent les résultats de la seconde. La surestimation est plus élevée chez les hommes. Les auteurs constatent que les compétences de décodage disparaissent dans la majorité des cas après l’achèvement de l’enseignement primaire, à moins que les apprenants poursuivent leur apprentissage. Un enseignement minimum jusqu’à la huitième ou neuvième année serait nécessaire pour que les compétences de décodage ne se dégradent pas après la scolarisation.

Zusammenfassung

Können die „Lesekundigen" Indiens lesen? – In dieser Arbeit unterziehen wir die indische Alphabetisierungsrate einem kritischen Blick und untersuchen, ob Menschen, die offiziell als „alphabetisiert“ gelten, lesen können, und wenn ja, auf welchem Niveau. Anhand einer großen Stichprobe – Altersgruppe ab 7 Jahre aufwärts – aus vier Bundesstaaten, in denen Hindi gesprochen wird, haben wir die Alphabetisierungsrate mithilfe zweier Methoden gemessen. Die erste war die übliche Erhebung (Census Method = CM) auf der Basis von Selbstauskünften. Bei der anderen wurden dieselben Personen gebeten, einen einfachen Text auf dem Schwierigkeitsniveau der zweiten Klasse zu lesen (Reading Method = RM). Es stellte sich heraus, dass sich die Raten für Lesefertigkeiten erheblich unterschieden, je nachdem, ob diese nach der CM oder der RM erhoben wurden. Die CM-Rate lag um 16% höher als die RM-Rate. Männliche Befragte wurden stärker überschätzt als weibliche. Wenn der Bildungsweg nicht fortgesetzt wurde, verlor sich die Fertigkeit, Schrift zu entziffern (Dekodierung), in den meisten Fällen nach Beendigung der Primarschule wieder. Erst nach mindestens 8 bis 9 Schuljahren blieb die Dekodierungsfertigkeit nach Beendigung der Schule erhalten.

Resumen

¿Saben leer las "personas alfabetizadas" de la India? – Con este trabajo, los autores estudian muy de cerca la cuota de alfabetización de la India, explorando si las personas oficialmente denominadas “alfabetizadas” saben leer, y a qué nivel. En una amplia muestra tomada con personas de 7 años y mayores, en cuatro estados de habla hindi, se utilizaron dos métodos para medir la alfabetización: el CM (Census Method), o sea el método de censo estándar basado en la autoevaluación, y el RM (Reading Method), el método de lectura que requería de las mismas personas que efectivamente leyeran un texto simple del nivel de 2.do grado. Los resultados revelaron una diferencia sustancial entre CM y RM en cuanto a las cuotas de alfabetización obtenidas, puesto que el informe basado en CM presentaba un excedente del 16%. La sobreestimación era mayor en cuanto a los varones. Se comprobó que las competencias de decodificación se iban perdiendo en la mayoría de los casos una vez completada la enseñanza primaria, partiendo de la base de que no había educación subsiguiente. Se necesita como mínimo una educación de 8.° o 9.° grado para que las competencias de decodificación no se deterioren después del aprendizaje escolar.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For more on the SLS work, see Kothari et al. (2004).

  2. 2.

    Administratively, a state is divided into districts, blocks, panchayats (village councils) and finally villages.

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Correspondence to Brij Kothari.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Reading exercise: text in Hindi at grade 2 level

Appendix 2

See Table 8.

Table 8 Reading ability by formal education

Appendix 3

See Table 9.

Table 9 Percentage change of good, weak and non-readers beyond school

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Kothari, B., Bandyopadhyay, T. Can India’s “literate” read?. Int Rev Educ 56, 705–728 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-010-9177-5

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Keywords

  • India
  • Literacy
  • Reading
  • Decoding
  • Skill
  • Census
  • Measurement
  • Method