Infographic: Literacy in India

Upon tasking himself with creating an infographic on primary education in India, Akshan Ish found that while India’s literacy rate is steadily growing, and the country boasts of having one of the largest workforces in the world by 2020, the education system fails to equip students with fundamental skills at the elmentary level – leaving a huge chunk incompetent to contribute to the fast growing economy. 

In this post, InPEC has also included Akshan’s background notes, which gives the reader a look into the process of infographic design.


By Akshan Ish, 19th December, 2012

[Click on the infographic to see a larger version]

By Akshan Ish


The designer’s background notes:

Education is one of the most complex systems to deal with. I say this with conviction because I’m working on a project related to student evaluation in schools. Documentation in progress, here. India is one of the fastest developing countries, part of the G20, and is poised at a very crucial stage. We enjoy the benefit of what is called a ‘demographic dividend’–where most of our population is young and able to join the workforce. But due to a shaky education system, a major portion of India’s population is found incompetent even with fundamental skills. Literacy rates are increasing across India, currently at 74%; but as I found out after digging out the data, that literacy doesn’t necessarily mean that one can read or write.

I started off with the OECD report on Improving Access and Quality in the Indian Education System, which provided an overview of the scenario. It gave country comparisons  and I was quite disappointed to see that India comes under the category of Low Education Development Index (EDI), ranked 102 in the world. Further probing into the reports from various sources, mainly the Annual Status of Education Report (2011), showed me why. India’s Educational Deficit stems from the fact that primary schooling is very weak. I found that although enrollment rates were high at the primary level, only about 40% of those students make it secondary school, and only 12% go on to college. Class absenteeism, high pupil-teacher ratio, low involvement of parents, multi-grade classes and gender disparities are a few of the reasons why.

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What intrigued me the most was that 75% of the students who moved from one grade to another could not read their previous grade’s textbooks. And another 75% of these who moved on to the next grade, would not be able to do so in another year of schooling. This means that one in three students finishes primary schooling without being able to read a grade 2 textbook; but is termed literate since she is being schooled. And to make matters worse, these learning rates have been declining in most states across India, even after the Right to Education Act was passed in 2009. The objectives of which are to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of six and fourteen. It might seem that the focus shifted from quality to quantity after the act was implemented; but that is only a thought.

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There was just so much going on in the data, and so many factors like caste, gender, mother’s education, region, religion and economic burden that came into play that I could not possibly visualize the entire thing. I had to narrow down to something. I wanted to explore a form of storytelling with this infographic, so I thought it would be interesting if I could portray the story of India through a six year old girl’s journey. What are the odds that she will finish schooling? Where is she most likely to study? What are the different factors affecting her learning?

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The infograhic itself is in a web-scroll format (heavily influenced by the New York Times visualizations). I have tried to keep it as simple as possible–enabling the reader to move from one section to another like in a book or a story, so as to give the reader an overview of the current Indian Education scenario, moving on to quality of learning and then the factors affecting learning.

[I have learned] to strip down the issue at hand to its core and then build on it from there. I have also become much more careful with the visuals I use now. People do not question a visual like they would question a piece of written text. The visual is like automatic truth that is assimilated subconsciously.


Akshan Ish is a computer science engineer and currently a graphic design student at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India.

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4 comments
  1. Hello Akshan. I work for the UK Open University and am researching the use of open educational resources in India’s teacher education system and specifically the TESS-India project. I am doing a conference presentation in Utah next week and would love to use your infographic (attributing you as the creator, of course). Would this be OK with you?
    Best wishes,
    Leigh-Anne

    • Akshan said:

      Hello Leigh-Anne,

      I’m glad to know that you would like to use the infographic in your presentation. You can definitely use and share it, with attribution.

      Let me know how your presentation goes, and if there’s any way I could contribute to the project.

      Best, Akshan On Oct 31, 2013 5:26 PM, “InPEC – International Politics, Energy &

  2. Hello Akshan,

    Thank you very much for letting me use the infographic. I’ll let you know how the presentation goes and yes, it would be good to talk some time soon about the project and how you might contribute.

    Best wishes,

    Leigh-Anne

  3. Reblogged this on The art of OER research and commented:
    This blog post is valuable in two ways. First, it contains an informative and impactful infographic giving some statistics about primary education in India. I’ve found this personally valuable as contextual information for use in conference presentations focused on my research with the TESS-India project. (Thanks again Akshan for giving me permission to use your info graphic.) The second value of this post is the discussion of the infographic development process. Having studied an infographics MOOC myself, during which I produced some cluttered, inaccessible and dull infographics as a result, I am really interested in the decisions Akshan has made when putting together this overview of Indian primary education.

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