How does elementary literacy impact Adivasi livelihoods? SAL 2021 report sheds light

Family heads had no school education in 53% of Adivasi households in Jharkhand and 58.6% in Odisha

By Dibyendu Chaudhuri
Published: Thursday 30 March 2023
Photo: iStock

There are different views on how literacy impacts livelihoods. On one hand, there is the opinion that formal school-based literacy using set textbooks is irrelevant to the actual practice of livelihoods. 

Some may have a command of literacy skills but may not feel the need to use them for their livelihoods. Even, on occasion, they may see literacy practices as a hindrance to their livelihoods.

On the other hand, a section of scholars and social activists consider literacy a powerful tool to eradicate poverty. If all students in low-income countries left school with elementary reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, according to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report. 

The report on the Status of Adivasi Livelihoods 2021 (SAL 2021) published by PRADAN covering Jharkhand and Odisha considered literacy one of the key attributes influencing livelihoods. 

In 53 per cent of Adivasi households in Jharkhand and 58.6 per cent in Odisha, the head of the household had no school education, the SAL 2021 data on literacy showed. Data on female members of the Adivasi households also shows that 43.7 per cent in Jharkhand and 50.3 per cent in Odisha had no school education. 

A functional literacy test to evaluate the ability to read and write simple texts and do basic arithmetic was conducted with the respondents and their spouses, wherever available, from the sampled households. 

Around 45 per cent of males and 63 per cent of females from Adivasi households in Jharkhand couldn’t read or write at all, the test results showed. In Odisha, 55 per cent of males and 75 per cent of females from Adivasi households couldn’t read or write at all.

The SAL 2021 report is based on a sample of 4,135 Adivasi households from 53 Integrated Tribal Development Project blocks of Jharkhand and Odisha. 

The Census 2011 report showed 72.98 per cent overall literacy rate for the country, with female and male literacy rates of 64.63 per cent and 80.9 per cent respectively. 

The SAL data cannot be compared with the national-level literacy rate as it considers all individuals with age seven or above, whereas the SAL report showed the literacy status of the head of the households and their spouse.

But even in that case, one may infer that the Adivasi regions in Jharkhand and Odisha are far behind the national average with respect to education. 

Though it doesn’t show any clear pattern in the correlation between formal school education and annual household income, the SAL 2021 data showed a clear positive correlation between annual household income and functional literacy.   

To understand the relationship between income and functional literacy, the households were divided into five income groups. The income group comprising the bottom 20 per cent of households secured the lowest average score in the functional literacy test, whereas the top 20 per cent secured the highest average score among the income groups. 

Though the average score by males is higher than the average score by females in the respective income groups, scores for males and females show similar patterns in terms of the relationship with average household income. 

How average scores on functional literacy vary for five income groups



To understand if the same holds true for per capita income, the households were again divided into five groups based on the percentile score of their per capita income. It shows that with the increase in per capita income, functional literacy score also increases.


From the SAL 2021 data, it is quite evident that functional literacy has impacted livelihoods in the Adivasi region. As basic reading, writing and numeracy skills are important factors contributing to livelihoods, any development initiative to improve livelihoods may be coupled with basic literacy training.  Further, the literacy tasks may be contextualised within people’s daily lives and aspirations.

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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