India's literacy rate is 65% as per Census, whereas the truth is that only 26% of people can read and write properly. Even if we use a relaxed definition of literacy and include budding readers in the literate category, there's still a difference of 16% between the census results and the survey results.
90% children, who completed first grade, were immediately reported as literate by their families even though most could not read functionally
- % age of students of class 3–5 who can do subtraction or more: 46.6% in Gujarat and 79.2% in Kerala.
- % age of students of class 3–5 who can read class 1 level text: 63% in Gujarat and 87% in Kerala.
This brings us to the point that was raised earlier - what if people learn the ability to read and write in later years of life, after ASER testing, which is done in primary school? In this context, one must note an important difference between literacy rate and ASER. Both measure the basic competency of ability to read and write but there's one significant difference. Literacy rate reflects the cumulative effect of education till a particular point since it considers all individuals who have gone through the system till that point in time. ASER captures the snapshot of education at a particular point in time, in primary school. The cumulative effects (literacy rate) measured in terms of bare minimum competency make sense as a measure of education if the system teaches them much more than that. However, if the system teaches children only reading and writing after spending 10 years in school, literacy rate isn't probably a good measure of education.
ASER sheds light on this important trend. It finds that the % age of grade 3 students who can read grade 2 text is 23.6. It increases with grade; the percentage of grade 8 students who can read grade 2 text is 74.6, i.e. at the end of 10th grade, majority can be expected to read and write a class 2 level text. It confirms the intuition that ability to read and write is not the least that students learn at the end of 10 years of school. It's probably the only thing that they learn. They learn nothing more than that!
In effect, it means that when someone is considering literacy rate as a measure of education, they are implicitly judging the productivity of 10 years of schooling based only on ability to read and write. It isn't probably a wise thing to do so.