Saakshar Bharat Mission, India

  • Date published:
    31 October 2016

Programme Overview

Programme Title Saakshar Bharat Mission
Implementing Organization Department of School Education & Literacy Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India
Date of Inception 2009



Saakshar Bharat is the centrally sponsored nation-wide literacy scheme of the Indian Department for School Education and Literacy (DSEL) focusing on increasing women´s literacy in India. It was launched by the prime minister on International Literacy Day in September 2009. Its aim is to significantly reduce the number of non-literate adults in India and foster an environment within communities that encourages lifelong learning.

Whilst the 2011 census showed that India´s literacy has reached 74.04%, an increase of 9.2% from the 2001 census, the literacy rate of women continues to be significantly lower at 65.46%, compared to men’s rate of 82.14%. The programme´s focus is on reducing this gender disparity and thereby achieving the government´s target of 80% national literacy. This will be achieved through the provision of basic literacy to 70 million more people, of which 60 million are women.

Saakshar Bharat Mission

The mission aims to promote and strengthen adult learning, reaching out to those who missed the opportunity to access or complete formal education. As well as basic literacy/basic education, it covers vocational education and skill development, applied science and sports. Due to its approach Saakshar Bharat is described as a ‘people’s programme’, with the government acting as facilitator and resource provider, but working closely with local communities to tailor the programme to their needs.

There has been a nation-wide drive to publicise and highlight the value of this programme, most notably in the recent promotional video which features national celebrities performing a song about the Mission with a Bollywood theme.


The mission´s focus is on women and adolescents, but this is not exclusive - gender is seen in conjunction with caste, ethnicity, religion, and disability. The programme has a particular focus on people in rural areas where illiteracy can be highest. For each focus group and area, there is a specific target, approach and strategy, due to its community-centred approach.


The Mission consists of four objectives:

1. Provide basic literacy and numeracy to non-literate and non-numerate adults. This represents the accomplishment of basic skills in reading, writing and numeracy. It also aims to help the individual understand how to achieve personal and community development, tackling causes of poverty.

2. Provide qualification equivalent to formal educational system and establish learning for neo-literates beyond basic literacy. This provides further educational opportunities to neo-literate adults, who can achieve a qualification which gives them access to further studies. From the lifelong learning perspective, this aspect is one of the most crucial factors.

3. Provide Vocational education. Imparting learners with relevant skill development programmes is crucial to improving their working and living conditions. This is achieved through the Vocational Education phase which provides skill development training to non-literate and neo-literate adults based on their local context and the personal requirements of the learning group.

4. Promote a learning society by providing opportunities to neo-literate adults for continuing education. The Continuing Education aspect of the programme creates a sustainable learning environment for neo-literates to continue using and improving their skills. This is done through the provision of libraries and reading rooms, based in the Adult Education Centres. Such facilities also host short term thematic courses on issues such as health, nutrition and environment, according to the requirements of the local population. It uses a range of printed materials sourced locally and relevant to the community.

Adult Education Centres (AEC): Lok Shiksha Kendra

The Adult Education Centres are the operational arm of Saakshar Bharat, responsible for the organization and delivery of classes. Adult Education Centres are established in Gram Panchayats (Local Self Government at Village level) on the basis of one per a population of 5,000.

One AEC is set up in every village and is manned by two paid Preraks (coordinators), of which at least one is a woman. This reflects the drive to encourage and reinforce gender equality throughout the programme, including its core implementation, planning and management structures. The centre offers various services; registration, a venue for teaching, a library and reading rooms. It is also used as a centre for promoting and practicing sports, adventure and cultural activities.

To impart functional literacy to non-literate adults a mass campaign approach is adopted. A literacy educator (volunteer) who is a local resident acts as a mobiliser, trainer and teacher and is responsible for imparting literacy on average to 8-10 learners. In a Gram Panchayat as many adult education centres are organised as are required to cover the non-literate adults in different areas. Literacy educators receive training – before and during their tuition.

Continuing Education Programmes

Ensuring the overall aim to create a learning society is fulfilled, a wide range of Continuing Education Programmes are also organised at the Adult Education Centres, providing the opportunity to sustain literacy through the use of books, media and ICTs.

The programme seeks to build a permanent and institutionalized adult education system, parallel to the formal education system. The AEC are important in this aim of adult education in the lifelong learning perspective and creating a literate society.

Programme Implementation

ICTs such as radio and TV have been utilised to help spread knowledge of the programme among relevant populations.

The curriculum includes Core Content (CC) based on the broad National Curricular Framework for Adult Education, and Locally Relevant Content (LRC), which are produced in the locally dominant language.

Learning material is developed from identifying the needs and interest of learners to ensure material is relevant. Based on these topics materials are developed by adult educators and subject experts. These are scrutinized at national level review meetings by the Quality Assurance Committee. After finalisation the material is field-tested and revised for improvement before eventually becoming standardised teaching material.

Alongside literacy, the core content encourages awareness of values such as democracy and gender equality. Furthermore the locally relevant content is linked to the learner’s livelihood and socio-cultural realities, involving issues such as health and hygiene, agriculture, animal husbandry and local self-government. Learners typically undergo 300 hours of tuition to reach basic literacy.

The programme is implemented by volunteers situated in their adult literacy centres.

Professional development of personnel

Saakshar Bharat must utilise a large number of Volunteer Literacy Educators to help reach the overall target of 70 million literates.

The programme places emphasis on development of its human resources through on-going training of its teachers, literacy facilitators and supervisors. Key resource personnel at the district level are provided with managerial training, and volunteer teachers are given in-service training in local languages, methodology and practice of teaching adults.

In the eventuality of qualified volunteers not being a resident within a particular village, as an alternative approach, instructors may be engaged outside the village or community to live with the community and provide instructional teaching. On average one resident instructor will be required to teach 30 learners over a year. Through this approach the centre functions for 7-8 hours every day and groups of learners attend classes for a couple of hours or more depending on their available free time.

Assessment and evaluation

Assessing and certifying the competency levels of neo-literates is a crucial feature of the Saakshar Bharat Mission. Over a period of 3 years, the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) has assessed and certified 14,438,004 adults for their proficiencies in reading, writing and numeracy. The learners can take part in assessment tests twice a year in March and August and are tested in reading, writing and arithmetic skills through external tests lasting 3 hours. The tests are based on guidelines framed by the National Institute for Open Schooling (NIOS). Assessments are also designed to gauge the learners’ awareness of social issues and the work-life environment. Certificates are issued within 60 days and all results made available on the NIOS website. The assessment aims to recognise their achievements and enable learners to take part in further education opportunities.

Organisation and funding

Accountability, transparency and decentralisation have been essential features of the planning and management process.

The total budget for the programme between 2009 and 2012 has been US$1.2bn, with the national government providing 75% of the costs, and district governments covering the remaining 25%. The allocation of these funds for basic literacy is based on number of non-literate adults in each district. All districts with an adult literacy rate of 50% or lower (Census 2001) have been covered under this programme.

The mission devised a comprehensive, transparent financial management system that enhanced accountability, ensured uninterrupted availability of funds, facilitated regulation and monitoring of the flow of resources. This is especially important in terms of accountability for public expenditure. To meet this requirement a customised Funds and Accounts Management System was constructed. This features a Fund Flow System, Customised Banking System, Online Accounting System, and MIS. The Fund Flow System removes the requirement of submission of manual reports as the funds expenditure details are available online. It ensures real time monitoring and availability of adequate funds to every implementing agency. The system also allows identification of good performers and laggards in terms of expenditure. The Online Accounting System ensures the Mission´s implementing agencies always receive grants when required, that funds are not left unused, and that the executing agencies maintain regular, trustworthy accounts.

Whilst funding is coordinated with a predominantly centralised model, implementation of the programme is decentralised. Each district is responsible for regional planning and for each local body (Gram Panchayat). The Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs), are the main implementing agency at the district, block and Gram Panchayat levels. They are responsible for the establishment and provision of facilities for the Lok Shiksha Kendras (Adult Education Centres). However, all stakeholders, especially at the community level, have a say in the planning and implementation of the programme. The village bodies are responsible for preparation of literacy financial planning at the village level.

The plan entails conducting a household survey in every village, data collection, mass mobilisation, training schedules, procurement and distribution of learning materials, evaluation of learning outcomes, budgetary requirements. Aggregation of village plans lead to preparation of State and ultimately the national plan.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The efficient management of the Mission is dependent on robust real-time monitoring. Each level of governance is responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of all units beneath it.

There is great complexity in the managing of Saakshar Bharat due to its magnitude, involving nearly 200,000 implementing agencies. To cover such a large learning base, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) has developed WePMIS, Web Based Planning & Monitoring Information System, a customised web-based system for planning, monitoring and impact analysis. This system allows Adult Education Centres to update information about the progress of each of the courses, tutors and learners online, improving efficiency in evaluations of the programme’s impact. From 2011 all of the online data has been accessible to the public, encouraging engagement and an understanding of progress within a given area. It facilitates citizen feedback through providing information about the enrolled learners, including assessment and certification. Using the online feedback system, the ground situation can be appropriately evaluated and corrective interventions made by the program managers at respective levels. Training has been provided to WePMIS to users at all levels. E-infrastructure such as computer and broadband connectivity up to the block level has been provided. These facilities now need to be extended to the village level.


From 2009-2012 the programme expanded to 372 districts. The majority of the country’s states have successfully implemented Saakshar Bharat, as per the framework detailed in the Organisational structure section of this report. 170,000 facilities such as libraries and reading areas have been established as part of the Continuing Education phase of the programme. In a period of 3 years, the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) has assessed and certified 14,438,004 adults for their proficiencies in reading, writing and numeracy.

Furthermore, literacy in India is improving. The 2011 census showed literacy in India has increased from 64.84% in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011 and the male-female literacy gap has reduced from 21.59% in 2001 to 16.68% in 2011. All areas of India have almost without exception reported a rise in literacy rates from 2001-11. The total number of illiterates has decreased from 304.15 million to 272.95 million. Prior to Saakshar Bharat was the National Literacy Mission, from which it developed. As a key implementer for literacy we can say the Saakshar Bharat has been successful.

Challenges and solutions

The Planning Commission in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) has recommended that the existing programme structures, as well as the resource support bodies, be remodelled, strengthened and further aligned to the goals of lifelong learning and literacy. The programme needs to transform from a literacy ‘mission’ to a regular and permanent system of education for adults. The active involvement of public authorities at all administrative levels would make this more effective. The states play the key role in establishing the necessary network of institutions for this to occur.

Volunteers could be given more incentives as they give their time up for long periods to improve adult literacy.

There could also be greater active engagement with universities to develop scientific criteria to assess the learning outcomes of adults at the various stages of their development. A consortium of reputed universities and research institutions must be identified and engaged in research for this to take place.


Provision for adult literacy is made in the national budget under education. Ministries such as the Ministry of Health and Women & Child Development also provide funding. US$1.2 billion was allocated for the Saakshar Bharat programme for its first three years. Actual utilisation of funds, due to a long gestation period of making necessary preparations for implementing the programme, was low. The programme is to be continued during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) in its original programme framework. A provision of US$0.6 billion for Saakshar Bharat has been made in the 12th Five Year Plan.



Jagmohan Singh Raju
Joint Secretary (Adult Education) and Director General (NLMA)
Department of School Education & Literacy
Ministry of Human Resource Development
C Wing, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi-110115 (India)
Phone: +91-11-23383451; Fax: 91-11-23782052

Last update: 20 May 2013

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.).. Last update: 25 July 2017. Saakshar Bharat Mission, India. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 4 June 2023, 10:40 CEST)

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