The Prime Minister launched Saakshar Bharat, a centrally sponsored scheme of Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL), Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India (GOI), on the International Literacy Day, 8th September, 2009. It aims to further promote and strengthen Adult Education, specially of women, by extending educational options to those adults who having lost the opportunity of access to formal education and crossed the standard age for receiving such education, now feel a need for learning of any type, including, literacy, basic education (equivalency to formal education), vocational education (skill development), physical and emotional development, practical arts, applied science, sports, and recreation.

To impart functional literacy to non-literates in the age group of 15-35 years in a time bound manner, the National Literacy Mission (NLM) was launched in 1988 and it continued through Ninth and Tenth Five Year Plans. By the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan (March 2007), NLM had covered 597 districts under Total Literacy Campaign (TLC), 485 districts under Post Literacy Programme (PLP) and 328 districts under Continuing Education Programme (CEP). As a cumulative outcome of these efforts, 127.45 million persons became literate, of which, 60% learners were females, while 23% learners belonged to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 12% to Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Despite significant accomplishments of the Mission, illiteracy continues to be an area of national concern. Though precise number of non- literates at this stage is not available and will be known only after 2011 census, 2001 census had revealed that there were still 259.52 million illiterate adults (in the age group of 15 +) in the country. While further accretion into the pool of adult illiterate persons is expected to recede significantly on account of enhanced investments in elementary education and a reverse demographic trend, addition to this pool cannot be ruled out altogether on account of relatively high school drop out ratio. Wide gender, social and regional disparities in literacy also continue to persist. Adult education is therefore indispensable as it supplements the efforts to enhance and sustain literacy levels through formal education.

It was, therefore, considered necessary to continue the NLM during the XI Plan period. While acknowledging, in principle, the need for continuing and strengthening further the efforts to promote Adult Education, the Planning Commission agreed to the continuance of NLM during the XIth Plan provided it was appraised de novo and modified suitably to meet the contemporary challenges. The programme was accordingly subjected to extensive in-house and external review and evaluation.

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