Andhra Pradesh (AP) is one of India's promising states. It has made large strides in many areas, notably in the information technology sector. However, the literacy rate in AP has been one of the lowest over six decades, and the gap seems to have worsened between 2001 and 2011 as per literacy data released in the Census 2011 report.
Compared with the southern and central states, AP recorded the poorest improvement in literacy levels over the decade 2001-2011.
AP's overall literacy rate at 67.7 per cent is much lower than the national average of 74.1 per cent. This trend is reflected in both male and female literacy rates. AP's male literacy rate at 75.6 per cent is lower than the 80 per cent plus in all other states, and lower than the national average of 82.1 per cent.
The female literacy rate at 59.7 per cent is also lower than 60 per cent plus in other states, and is significantly lower than the national average of 65.5 per cent.
The literacy status in AP is not in keeping with certain other related indicators. The annual average growth in state domestic product between 1999-2000 and 2008-09 was 7.72 per cent compared with the all-states average of only 7.2 per cent. The growth rate was much higher than states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The rural poverty ratio in 2004-05 as per Planning Commission data was remarkably low at 11.2 per cent and significantly lower than the other states, though urban poverty was not as low. Does the proportion of scheduled castes and tribes population at 22.8 per cent explain the low literacy status? It is observed that some of the other states with significantly higher SC/ST population — Madhya Pradesh (35.3 per cent), Chhattisgarh (43.4 per cent), Orissa (38.6 per cent) — fared much better in literacy compared with AP.
In AP, the percentage of child population had significantly declined from 13.4 per cent in 2001 to 10.2 per cent in 2011. The trend in effective literacy rate in AP would seem worse if this is factored in.
In terms of Education Development index computed in 2009-10, AP ranked 17 in the primary level and 12 in the upper primary level, which had markedly declined from the respective rankings of 12 and 11 in 2007-08.
This implies a fast deterioration in primary education relative to other states. The National Sample Survey Organisation's education survey of 2007-08 shows that children not enrolled in schools at 498 per thousand in AP was much higher than 465 at the national level. The number attending primary school at 213 per thousand was also lower than 250 at the national level.
OTHER SOCIAL PRIORITIES
Two major factors seem to offer an explanation for the malady. The first is the legacy of initial conditions while carving out the linguistic state of AP in 1956.
Mr B. P. R. Vithal in his monograph A State in Periodic Crises- Andhra Pradesh indicates that the reorganisation of states in 1956 brought into the new state less developed areas of the states of Madras and Hyderabad and this that shows up in all inter-state comparisons of AP since then.
Second, despite educational development being low, the state chose to accord greater priority to the irrigation and power sectors. While in 1982, Vithal adds that while the need for social sector expenditure was recognised, priority was given to social welfare schemes over education and health.
While these strategies helped in reducing poverty in rural areas, the literacy rate took a hit. This is amply supported by a detailed study on primary education in AP by Ratna Reddy and Nageswara Rao ( Economic and Political Weekly , March 22- 29, 2003).
The state's neglect of education is borne out by the low ratio of expenditure on education in AP compared with all other states and to the all-India level over the last decade. While at the all-India level, the ratio of state expenditure on education came down from 17.4 per cent to 15.4 per cent between 2000-01 and 2009-10, in AP the ratio, after touching a low of 9.0 per cent in 2008-09 from 13.3 per cent in 2000-01, improved only marginally to 10.4 per cent in 2009-10.
In the compared states, the expenditure on education was significantly higher.
The country has been rightly spearheading the implementation of right to education, particularly at the primary level. The Economic Survey 2010-11 has covered in depth the status of human development, equity and environment as part of analysing the inclusive growth process.
The case of AP should particularly be singled out for much deeper examination, since any neglect of education at this stage, may result in the state's retrogression.
This is also crucial in the context of resolving grievances arising out of inter-regional disparities within the State.
(The author is Director, EPW Research Foundation. These are his personal views.)