Annual Status Report of Education (ASER) surveys as well as the IHDS show that illiteracy in India has barely budged with half the Indian children not being able to read. In this piece, I focus on a glass half full rather than a glass half empty.
Many surveys suggest that a large proportion of graduates in India is not employable and one of the reasons for this is inadequate analytical skills and English proficiency, and not just technical skills. In today’s globalised and competitive world, the knowledge of computer and English is increasingly viewed as one of the prerequisites by employers. A recent round of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) provides some heartening pictures on these fronts.
The IHDS asked a question on basic computer usage “does anybody in your household know how to use computers?” and if yes – “who uses computer and where”. The recent round of the survey (2011-12) shows that about 14 per cent of males (age group 15-49) and 8 per cent of females have some computer skills. The good news is that this proportion is quite high among teenagers and has increased rapidly in the last seven years. Now many individuals use internet or e-mail. Among the households in which any member knows how to use computers, more than three-fourths of the young individuals (aged 15-29) use internet or e-mails. A lot of people also use internet or e-mail on mobile phones. Among the households in which any member has a mobile phone, about 19 per cent in the same age group use internet or e-mails on mobile phones.
Most Indian schools have always taught English as an additional language and English as a medium of instruction generates considerable passion. In the IHDS survey, English skills were evaluated by a simple question assessing whether individuals speak no English, speak some English, or converse fluently. Two rounds of the survey reveal a considerable rise in English skills in the last seven years irrespective of place of residence (rural or urban areas), though they remain low in rural areas. Among men (age group 15-49), 61 per cent do not speak English, 39 per cent speak at least some English, and 8 per cent are fluent. Among women, the corresponding proportions are 72 per cent, 28 per cent, and 6 per cent. In fact, the same figures for the young generation are really encouraging.
Figure 1: Computer and English Skills among Young Cohort (age 15-29)
[Based on Preliminary Data from IHDS-II. Views are personal.]