Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Young Student, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 17, 2009

The notes on this roll of film tell me that this is the second exposure on roll number 18.

This time around, instead of working only under the beautiful sun, we decide to take advantage of the less popular times of the day. In this way, we are able to visit all of the schools.

We arrive at this village in the middle of the day with the sun above us. We find a wall with some shade, have the girls sit to our right and ask for a small stool. Two 'volunteers' stand behind me with a reflector.

The girl in this portrait attends a Humana school, one that is designed to provide a bridge between illiteracy and a government education. Perhaps thirty girls in each village are provided an opportunity to learn for three years, at which point the idea is for them to join the mainstream educational system.

The State of Rajasthan, while seeing a tremendous increase in female literacy, is still perhaps 20% lower than the international average according to many estimates. With respect to female literacy, the case for improvement is even greater, often seeing girls at a 15% disadvantage.

At the end of colonial rule, the State of Rajasthan had the lowest literacy rate among Indian States, with a rate near 18%. While the British tripled literacy rates during their rule of this nation, when India won its independence, its literacy rate was little more than 12%. In sixty years, this state has more than tripled its literacy rate.

In contrast, the State of Kerala, at times termed socialist, has the highest literacy rate, with one district named Ernakulum reaching a perfect literacy rate for the first time in India.

The above is written to highlight a few variables that seem to correlate well in many studies with the level of education achieved. In comparison to the less literate States, life expectancy for females in the State of Kerala is ten years greater than for those living in the States with the lowest literacy rates. In addition, the State of Kerala has an infant mortality rate of 1o per 1,000 in comparision to over 60 per 1,000 in the least literate State of Bihar. Furthermore, the birth rate per 1,ooo people in Kerala is about 17, while the birth rate per 1,000 in the least literate States nears 30.

According to many sources including Wikepedia, over one third of the world's illiterate population is Indian. According to these same sources, based on population growth patterns and historical advances in literacy, the majority of the world's illiterates may call India their home in less than 10 years.

While many might look down on nations like China and Iran and Burma, one point that is rarely spoken is that these three nations have youth literacy rates that are 10% to 15% higher than the same in India; all three have rates above 95%.

As a side note, a nation like Cuba has a youth literacy rate of 99.8% in comparison to a rate of 96.6% in the United States as of 2004 according to estimates. Even more dramatic is the same comparison in 1980, with Cuba boasting a rate of 98.3% and the United States standing by its system of producing a rate of 91.9%.

While these numbers may shed uneven light on these regions, they have given me immense insight into the needs of these parts of the world, often times correlating in an accurate manner with my experiences.

This young student smiles, even laughs out loud; she is learning, she is joining children like her from around the world to end the cycle of illiteracy.