//Letters That Change Lives : Madhavi Tata

Letters That Change Lives : Madhavi Tata

A model evolved for adult literacy in Andhra Pradesh gets worldwide recognition
Akshara Mahila, a model first implemented in the tiny village of Kothapalli, West Godavari district, has pushed India’s literacy drive on to the world map. It has been selected by UNESCO as one of the top nine effective literacy models in the world. The idea of a literacy programme for women self-help groups (SHGS) originated in 2000 when Chelikani Krishna Mohan Rao, deputy director, Directorate of Adult Education, was posted in Eluru.

"Someone asked me a simple question pointing to the illiterate women in SHGS in Kothapalli, 8 km from Eluru: ‘How long will it take you to teach them to read and write?’ That got me started," recalls Rao.

He identified 15 non-literates and devised a three-month plan. "I asked these women SHGS to identify non-literate members and select educated members to work as literacy volunteers. In the absence of educated women, the services of literate women in the neighbourhood were requested. The volunteers were trained in teaching methods. Special primers and innovations like reducing the number of letters (Telugu) being taught from 56 to 29, separating reading and writing were introduced.

"When Rao made a trip to the village just 42 days later, he found all the women could write a few paragraphs. Soon after, the programme was implemented in the whole district and in 2001, across the state. Rao says the literacy and livelihood-enhancement programmes, when linked, reinforce each other. And therein lies the success of Akshara Mahila. Today, the Askhara Mahila has further evolved into Akshara Bharati and covers 11,98,000 illiterates in Andhra Pradesh SHGS at any given point. Of these, 7,63,000 are women.

Rao says the programme has tremendous impact on broader social indicators. Fifty per cent of participants say they earn more because of their training; the mean age of marriage has increased. There was also a four-fold increase in enrolment of kids in schools because literate parents wanted their wards to study. Many women who went through the programme felt their status within the family and the community had improved. Rao’s model came in for much praise from Laura Bush, honorary ambassador of the UN Literacy Decade, when he made a presentation at a global UNESCO conference in NY last month. It was selected from 110 models worldwide and can be implemented in other developing countries.

Madhavi Tata, Outlook India, 23 October 2006