Literacy rates

Which state has a higher literacy rate: Andhra Pradesh or Bihar, Telangana or Assam, Karnataka or Uttarakhand? If you picked the southern state each time, you were wrong and by a considerable margin.

AP’s rate of 66.4% is the lowest among states and UTs and lower than Bihar’s 70.9%. Telangana’s 72.8% is well below the national average of 77.7% while Assam is well above it at 85.9% and Karnataka’s 77.2% pales in comparison to Uttarakhand’s 87.6%, which is bettered only by Kerala and Delhi. Maharashtra is sixth with 84.8%.

Data from a 2017-18 National Statistical Office report on education reveals these counter-intuitive truths and shows that, at least when it comes to literacy, notions of “developed states” can be misleading.

Not all preconceptions are wrong though. Kerala remains by some distance the best among the major states with a literacy rate of 96.2%. More impressively, the gap between male and female literacy is the smallest in Kerala at just 2.2 percentage points. To put that in context, the gap at the all-India level is 14.4 percentage points with male literacy at 84.7% and female literacy at 70.3%.

Typically, states with relatively low literacy rates also tend to have the highest gender skews, but that is not always true. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, has a gap between male and female literacy rates of only 13.9 percentage points, while Rajasthan (23.2), Bihar (19.2) and UP (18.4) have pronounced gaps despite better overall literacy rates.

The gap between urban and rural literacy rates is of the same order of magnitude as that between males and females. Once again, Kerala has the lowest gap of a mere 1.9 percentage points. At the other end of the spectrum on this count are Telangana, where urban literacy is 23.4 percentage points higher than rural literacy, and Andhra Pradesh, where the difference is 19.2 percentage points.

Combined effect of gender and urban-rural skews means the difference between urban male literacy and rural female literacy is an alarming 27.2 percentage points at national level. In individual states it can be much worse.

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