Adult Education aims at extending educational options to those adults, who have lost the opportunity and have crossed the age of formal education, but now feel a need for learning of any type, including literacy, basic education, skill development (Vocational Education) and equivalency. With the objective of promoting adult education, a series of programmes have been introduced since the First Five Year Plan, the most prominent being the National Literacy Mission (NLM), that was launched in 1988 to impart functional literacy to non-literates in the age group of 15-35 years in a time bound manner. By the end of the 10th Plan period, NLM had made 127.45 million persons literate, of which, 60% were females, 23% belonged to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 12% to Scheduled Tribes (STs). 597 districts were covered under Total Literacy Campaigns of which 502 reached Post Literacy stage and 328 reached Continuing Education stage.

2001 Census recorded male literacy at 75.26%, while female literacy remained at an unacceptable level of 53.67%, which revealed that gender and regional disparities in literacy continued to persist. Therefore, to bolster Adult Education, and Skill Development, with special focus on females, Government of India introduced two schemes, namely Saakshar Bharat and Scheme for Support to Voluntary Agencies for Adult Education and Skill Development, during the 11th Plan.

Saakshar Bharat , the new variant of earlier NLM, a centrally sponsored scheme of Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL), Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India (GOI), was launched on the International Literacy Day, 8th September, 2009 with the following goals: to raise literacy rate to 80%, to reduce gender gap to 10% and minimize regional and social disparities, with focus on Women, SCs, STs, Minorities, other disadvantaged groups. All those districts that had female literacy rate below 50% (as per census 2001) including Left Wing Extremism affected districts (irrespective of literacy level) are being covered under the programme.

Government expects increase in female literacy to become a force multiplier for all other social development programmes. However, this is only the instrumental value of female literacy. Its intrinsic value is in emancipating the Indian woman through the creation of critical consciousness to take charge of her environment where she faces multiple deprivations and disabilities on the basis of class, caste and gender.

Literacy scenario of India : Census 2011 revealed that Literacy in India has made remarkable strides. Literacy rate of India stands at 72.99%. Overall Literacy rate has grown by 8.15 percent points in the last decade (64.84% in 2001 & 72.99% in 2011). The male literacy rate has grown by 5.63 percent points (75.26% in 2001 & 80.89% in 2011) whereas female literacy rate 10.97 percent points (53.67% in 2001 & 64.64% in 2011). Number of illiterates (7+ age group) decreased from 304.10 million in 2001 to 282.59 million in 2011.

Gender disparity in literacy rates declined by 5.34 percent points from 21.59 percent points in 2001 to 16.25 percent points in 2011.There has been a continuous decrease in gender gap in literacy since 1991 (24.84 percent point).

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