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Crippling Illiteracy

By Anwesha Bhattacharya

Edited by Anjini Chandra

One out of four young people in most developing countries are unable to read, states a UN report. The poor quality of education and an ineffective policy framework has left a “legacy of illiteracy”, which has rendered most developing countries paralyzed.

The problem in most cases is not the availability of education, but the quality of it. About 250 million children worldwide have not grasped basic reading and math skills, even though they have been enrolled in an educational institution for a number of years. Adult illiteracy is also a worrisome issue in developing countries like India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Congo; they account for three-quarters of the world’s illiterate population.

With education institutions being rendered useless in many countries, and the problem of a rising cost of education, the need of the hour is a system which addresses illiteracy and razes it from the roots. I believe that much of the issue can be resolved through MOOC’s. MOOC’s or Massive Open Online Courses are grabbing headlines and raising eyebrows at the same time.

As the name suggests, MOOC’s are massive. However, the current limiting factor of MOOC’s is not just the audience they target, but also the course matter. Most courses are technology, science, finance or specialization oriented, while what we need to fight illiteracy is basic level teaching. Also, MOOC’s attract university students and employees who want to enrich their knowledge base, and not the uneducated.

To remove illiteracy and to educate the masses, the functioning of MOOC’s has to be revised. UNESCO findings show that 53 million children will be deprived of basic level education in 2015, due to their inability to attend school. How can we reach these 53 million? How can we educate them without a physical facility? The answer lies in technology.

The infrastructure required to build schools, train professional teachers, and provide education to millions of children is far more than that required to set up MOOC’s for them. Online quizzes, assignments and videos will encourage children and motivate them to study. One teacher will be able to disseminate knowledge to an entire country, whereas hundreds of teachers would be required to physically teach the children. An initial investment will need to be made to train and develop teachers to effectively teach beginner level English, Mathematics and Science.

The investments involved with such a project, in terms of money and time, can be exceptionally high but the potential benefits transcend all costs. The levels of illiteracy will be considerably reduced, at minimum costs, saving manpower and empowering millions of people throughout the world. Developing countries will grow by leaps and bounds, as will the quality of their labour force.

Education has manifold advantages. Not only does it improve the employability of workers, it also indirectly leads to the growth of the nation. Education improves wages, which leads to increase in purchasing power, resulting in increased consumption and production. Education will also lead to increased research and development, resulting in new techniques and solutions to problems such as climate change, price fluctuations, inflation and the like. Literacy also improves healthcare services, leading to an improved productivity of workers. Thus, education leads to an improved economic scenario, and an exponential increase in the GDP.

We may be able to overcome the obstacles posed by illiteracy by fighting against it with less conventional methods. MOOC’s have a long way to go before they can effectively combat illiteracy, but they are a step towards the right direction. With an increasing difficulty in developing proper infrastructure and the rising cost of education, we may have to rely heavily on technology. It may not happen tomorrow, or even in the next year, but the fight against illiteracy will result in positive results in the near future. Instead of letting illiteracy cripple economies, we should cripple the monster that is illiteracy.

Anwesha is a first year Economics student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She has a passion for writing and traveling; it is her lifelong dream to go on a backpacking tour across Europe and start a travel blog simultaneously. She considers herself to be a foodie and loves German and Japanese cuisine. Her favourite pastime is escaping into the magical world of fiction. She is always ready to make new friends and explore new horizons. 

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