It was a misty morning. I found two people sitting across each other, reportedly, engulfed in a heated discussion. One of them was a student and the other was an old man. The student boasted of erstwhile schooling and argued that he could read and write and was thus educated. While the other explained that the mere ability to read and write did not mean education. As the train reached its destination, both fathomed at the incompetence of each other. What they still didn’t understand was the real difference between literacy and education.
There is an established misconception in our society that education is synonymous with literacy. A large sector believes it to be one and the same, while some believe that literacy is a stepping stone to education. Although there lies a hint of truth in the former, it would be categorically wrong to imbibe literacy as the sole form of education. Then what is the difference between literacy and education?
Literacy is defined as acquiring the ability to read, write and understand. It is entirely concerned with the art of reading and writing. It provides information that can be used as a means to attain knowledge. Where information is the theoretical know-how of a subject, and knowledge is the awareness about the use of that information. It is a primary form of information transmission for this time and era.
“Literacy provides a person with the ability to acquire information to develop the know-how called education.”
Whereas education is defined as the systematic process of facilitating learning, receiving, experiencing and/or acquiring knowledge, skills, values and beliefs to impart instructions and provide an overall development. While an educated person can be literate, every literate person cannot be called educated. Education is a broader concept which takes into consideration the all-round development of a human personality. Whereas literacy is a narrower concept that tends to maintain the status quo. Education aims to make a person rational i.e. to think comprehensively and reason scientifically. It includes developing skills and learning to manoeuvre them in the right direction.
A common belief maintains that educated people are bereft of superstitions, biasedness, irrational sociological religious beliefs and customs.
Also, education brings a revolution in the way of thinking. It encourages a person to think out of the box (creatively). It inspires a person to be curious, innovative and develop rational behaviour. The relative behaviour is dependent upon people, where the form of education varies. A person’s education is dependent upon her/his field of work and may not necessarily liberate her/him from mental slavery.
The following pointers identify the primary differences between literacy and education:
- A person may be literate and also educated;
- A person may be literate but not educated;
- A person may be illiterate but still be educated;
- And a person may be illiterate and uneducated.
Another misconception nurtured by our society is that a person holding an educational degree or a diploma is educated. However, the same does not stand to be true. If that was the case then the founding fathers of our constitution would not have been addressed as learned. Remember, a literate person may need an education degree to prove his education, but a learned person does not require a degree to substantiate his experience. For example “the educational institutions in India are brimming with literates but are failing to produce educated beings”. A student cannot be considered educated with a mere ability to read and write. The student has to be changed as a whole, which includes teaching him to be sociologically and legally be responsible for society.
Further, literacy is not the sole form of education. An illiterate person can still be learned just like emperor Akbar and poet Kabira was. For example, a politician being illiterate may still be highly skilled in the art of being a politician; a painter in the skill of painting, a musician in the art of making music etc. Another prime example would be Matangini Hazra (late freedom fighter from Bengal, India). She was primarily illiterate but at the age of 71 led a procession of six thousand supporters to take over the Tamluk police stations. Despite being illiterate she was learned and educated in the art of politics and being a rebel.
As per the 2011 census, the country of India has a literacy rate of 74%, wherein 82% of men are literate and merely 65% of women can read and write. However, despite the said statistics, the country has seen a formidable rise in wrongdoing against the opposite gender. Therewith supporting the hypothesis that literacy does not denote education as whole. Also coining a social slang such as educated illiterate.
Reading book after book the whole world died, and none ever became learned!
— Kabir Granthavali, XXXIII.3
The main purpose of education is to direct a person’s behaviour, while literacy is one of the tools in that direction. Education is a combination of experience and practice which not necessarily includes literacy. An illiterate sailor with a lifetime worth of practice and experience in the sea might still be learned and educated. Historically many saints and philosophers, though illiterate guided the coming generations with their experienced teachings. Which in short means ‘knowing the knowable is education‘. As said, the sky is the limit for educated, but educated in what is to be determined.
There have been some famous illiterate people throughout the course of history:
- Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, a King of the Franks and Roman Empire beginning in 771 A.D. was believed to be illiterate during his youth.
- Isabella Baumfree, once an African-American slave in New York, made an escape in 1826, became a Christian, changed her name to Sojourner Truth and dedicated herself to spreading evangelism. Despite her illiteracy, she was an effective proponent of women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
- Genghis Khan was an illiterate Mongol leader. He created a code of laws for the Mongolian people and united them to conquer lands four times the size of those taken by Alexander the Great. He established the largest empire ever which stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, with over 700 tribes and cities under his rule.
- Abadi Bano Begum or Bi Amman was one of the first Muslim women to actively participate in India’s independence movement. Despite being illiterate she was a prominent voice and representative of millions of women in the early 20th century.
- Joseph Jefferson Jackson, nicknamed “Shoeless Joe”, was an American outfielder who played Major League Baseball in the early 20th century. He is remembered for his performance on the field. He was illiterate and often had his wife sign his signature.
The greatest issue with our society is that it denotes literacy on par with education. It strives to make a country full of literates but not educated. It is an undeniable fact that illiteracy is a root cause of many problems but illiteracy in itself does not denote a lack of education. A literate can read, write and understand but may not turn out to be a responsible person. Education may not necessarily construe people to be visionary but can make them rational and responsible citizens.
It is high time that we understand the difference between literacy and education because the mere ability to read and write is not enough.