Literacy changes lives for children in India

India (MNN) – Americans spend a huge amount of money on Christmas. In 2015, the average American spent almost $900. On that scale, $22 won’t get you very far. But in the right place, it makes a life-size difference over and over again.

In the next few weeks as we gear up for Christmas, we’ll be looking at how we can bring hope to the people of India through India Partner’s gift catalog. Today, we’re talking about literacy. Current numbers estimate that about 70 percent of India is literate.

While that is the overwhelming majority of the nation, we have to take India’s size into consideration. This percentage means that nearly 400 million people still cannot read or write in India.

(Photo courtesy of India Partners)

There’s also a difference in literacy rates between genders and locations. Women have a significantly lower rate of literacy, as do people from rural areas.

India’s constitution guarantees the free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and 14. Education is viewed as a basic right. However, in some rural areas or in tribal villages, schools don’t exist. We know the lack of education can arrest communities in cycles of poverty. The lack of the most basic education, not being able to read or write, can make things difficult for people trying to run a business or ensure they are getting paid fairly for their work.

Donna Glass of India Partners says they work in many remote tribal areas to provide literacy classes.

“A teacher goes in and offers these classes and … almost everything is done on chalk and slate.” She says. This means the costs for teaching supplies are kept low because the boards can be used over and over again.

“A lot of times in these remote villages, they don’t even know how to read or write in their [mother tongue]. There are so many different languages in India.”

But because there isn’t a school around, many parents never even think about the importance of education for their children. Glass says they will engage their children in household work, instead.

(Photo courtesy of India Partners)

For those who work as day laborers, work is unreliable and inconsistent. Making ends meet is difficult. But without education, their children likely have the same struggles to look forward to. Part of what India Partners does is share with the parents why education is so important.

But the classes they offer don’t just impact the children, but entire families as well.

“A lot of times what happens is the child will come to these literacy classes and then they take this information home to their parents. So their parents, then, learn. And this often times does help them in being able to better communicate and to be able to make sure that when they are doing whatever work they do… that they can make change properly, and they are paid fairly.”

For the children, being able to read, write, and do simple math can open doors of opportunity.

“It brings hope to the child because it’s like, ‘I’m not going to have to spend my life, you know, watching the cattle, or collecting the firewood, or being a day laborer, doing heavy work that I’ve seen my parents do.'”

The classes have proven to be very effective. Children with no previous education have gone through the literacy class, and are able to continue their education at government schools. Being able to read and write bridges the gap so that they can learn English at the government schools, and maybe even continue to higher education. Glass says classes at the University level are all taught in English.

(Photo courtesy of India Partners)

One boy, named Montu, came from a forest village so remote that the teachers had to take motorcycles for part of the way and travel the rest of the way on foot. This boy attended the literacy class. What he learned allowed him to join a government school at the 5th-grade level. These schools, while away from family, provide housing for the students who come from afar.

“So he learned all his basic skills—his reading and writing and math… He learned in his mother tongue, the language that the village speaks, and he learned in English, and he was able to enter into the government hostel so he could continue his education.  And the hope is that he will be able to graduate, and perhaps even go on to University,” Glass says.

So this Christmas, would you consider giving the gift of literacy? The cost for these classes might surprise you. For only $22, you can sponsor four children. That cost covers the materials and the teaching.

Alternatively, you can sponsor a teacher in a village for four months for $45. This means the whole village will have the opportunity to learn how to read and write. To learn more, click here.