Saakshar Bharat is “the world’s largest adult education program” and it aims to make 70 million adults literate by 2017.
Only 62.8 percent of India’s population over age 15 can read and write, according to the CIA World Factbook. With a total population in India of more than 1.2 billion people, that translates to more than 446 million Indians who cannot read and write, and does not factor in age-appropriate reading levels or numerical literacy.
To combat this, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched Saakshar Bharat in 2009 as an initiative of the Indian Department for School Education and Literacy (DSEL). Saakshar Bharat places special emphasis on female literacy in India.
Anu Priya, a representative of a village from Villupram in Tamil Nadu said 2,000 villagers were being taught. They had held six exams so far. The next batch of 114 adult students was well prepared for the next exams, she said. "The people have learnt a lot of things. Now they are willing to go to the bank, and have the power to sign. They are happy," she said.
The adult literacy program has helped people of Panavada gram panchayat in Thanam in Andhra Pradesh to participate in self help groups and microfinance. They can understand numbers much better, said the representative in Telugu.
While this has been one of India’s largest formal initiatives to combat illiteracy to date, one of ProLiteracy’s founders, Frank Laubach also helped pioneer an adult literacy campaign in India during the 1950s which lead to the establishment of the Laubach Literacy Educational Trust (LLET), ProLiteracy’s oldest continuing international program partner. LLET began targeting non-literacy in the state of Kerala. A.K. John, program founder and director, attended Syracuse University, where he was inspired by Laubach’s ideas about literacy and development. Since the program’s inception, an estimated 60,000 learners have graduated, and 328,000 individuals have directly benefited from the resulting economic and social changes in their families and communities. LLET programs serve populations that are not typically offered formal education; in regions where class and religion are sources of public conflict, the program transcends traditional social boundaries. In addition to LLET, ProLitracy supports literacy and women’s empowerment efforts through our other partner program in India, Yuvaparivartan (Youth for Change). Yuvaparivartan supports women’s development groups in impoverished communities in seven Indian states. Participants in these groups take part in literacy education, income generation projects, and healthcare improvement campaigns. As these women pool their efforts and resources, they generate solutions to difficult social problems.