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Joshi locks literacy horns with Unesco

New Delhi, Nov. 7: A spat is brewing between the human resources development ministry and Unesco with Murli Manohar Joshi charging the organisation with using outdated information to project poor literacy rates in India.

Unesco, Joshi claimed, has used the 1991 census to compute figures that understate achievements in literacy in its Education For All report released yesterday.

“The Unesco did not take note of the 2001 census figures because we did not have an age-wise break up of literacy figures,” said the human resources development minister at a news conference here today. “We have made a lot of progress and are confident of achieving full literacy by 2015,” he said.

Unesco has projected a 57.2 literacy rate. India claims its literacy rate now stands at 65 per cent. The figures on gender parity on primary education placing Bangladesh several notches above India, however, hold good, according to primary education secretary S.C. Tripathi.

The ministry has been protesting the use of old data and has taken its complaint to Unesco director-general K. Matsuura.

“We are dismayed to see that the Unesco Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the monitoring team have not taken cognizance of the figures sent by us on the literacy rates. It has, instead, chosen to repeat the literacy estimates of 57.2 per cent projected by the UIS on the basis of (the) 1991 census,” the education secretary wrote in a letter last month.

In its reply, Unesco said: “There was no deliberate manipulation of data relating to India or any other country. We are very concerned about the implications otherwise.”

Unesco could have used the 2001 census figures, which show a 65 per cent literacy rate. “But they wanted disaggregated figures with an age-wise break up,” said Tripathi.

As the disaggregated figures were not available, the ministry sent the figures estimated by the National Family Health Survey which are accepted by all international agencies, including the IMF and the World Bank.

The survey pegs the literacy rate at 59 per cent in 2000 and 61.3 per cent in 2001. “We see no reason for the UIS discarding this figure and repeating the old figure,” Tripathi wrote in his letter.

But Unesco counters that the ministry sent the survey data too late. “It was too late for us to use the input for the 2003 EFA report. It is not a simple matter of reproducing the data. The data must be validated and fed into an computation process to produce projections,” claims the organisation.

Joshi is not convinced. “It is not that this is happening only to India. Many others have complained to the Unesco for not using the data supplied by them,” asserted the minister.

The education secretary shot off a second letter two days ago to John Daniel, Unesco’s assistant director general for education. “The UIS projections based on (the) 1991 census has understated India’s present position on literacy. It does not take cognizance of the efforts made by the government in improving literacy figures during the last few years,” he wrote.

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