An Indian government official charged with improving the nation’s literacy is confident the country’s current goal of achieving a 75 percent literacy rate by 2005 is within reach.

Jagan Mathews, who heads the National Literacy Mission, an affiliate of the Indian Education Ministry, said the country’s literacy rate has improved to more than 60 percent following nationwide campaigns that commenced more than a decade ago.

“Once the literacy rate goes up to 75 percent, it will create momentum and keep going,” said Mathews, who is visiting Japan to attend an international conference on promoting literacy in Asia.

Representatives from 19 countries are attending the meeting, sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Asia/Pacific Cultural Center and Asia-Pacific Program of Education for All. Participants were meeting in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward from Tuesday until today to evaluate each country’s literacy programs as part of global efforts to increase the worldwide literacy rate to 50 percent by 2015.

Mathews believes achieving the global target is important as the first step because once the 50 percent rate is achieved, it will work as a driving force to further increase literacy.

India’s NLM launched its nationwide Total Literacy Campaign soon after it was founded in 1988. Its mission is to provide reading and writing opportunities to those aged between 15 and 35 who have had no access to school education.

The group initially conducted a survey to assess the literacy rate before raising public awareness of the campaign through advertising and street marches.

NLM then tapped the literate portion of the population to serve as volunteer teachers.

Despite India’s population of around 1 billion, NLM succeeded in improving the literacy rate from 52 percent in 1991 to 62 percent in 1997, he said.

“The mood (for improved literacy) was created through the campaigns,” he said, adding that the 75 percent goal can be achieved without difficulty. Mathews said the goal has now changed and its focus has shifted from basic literacy to disseminating knowledge about topics such as health and hygiene.

Mathews said the current rapid progress in information technology in India has produced a “digital divide” that is further widening the gap between rich and poor and between those with knowledge of information technology and those without.

To prevent the gap from widening, he said, basic literacy is essential.

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