Light and darkness are used to represent various concepts such as good and evil, hope and despair, or knowledge and ignorance. In this article, we explore how this duality manifests in the Indian state of Kerala, known for its high literacy rate but also faces several associated challenges. By examining both the positive and negative aspects of Kerala’s high literacy rate, insights can be gained into how the state can navigate this volatile balance and move towards a brighter future.


1. The Light

The day symbolises an extension of light. Throughout literature, light has always been associated with renewal, knowledge, truth, and understanding. Day, along with light, builds upon this initial concept and is regarded as a harbinger of clarity, hope, and a new cycle of events.

Therefore, perhaps mirroring one of the many fiery sunrises Kovalam Beach has had the pleasure to witness, Kerala can be regarded as one of the very few Indian states that capture the essence that dazzling light portrays. Its literacy rate, currently at about 94 percent, could only have been achieved with several decades of hard work and dedication by the state government and its people.

The high literacy rate in Kerala is attributed to various factors, such as its historical emphasis on education, progressive political leadership prioritising education, and many well-equipped educational institutions. A slew of social reform movements that emphasised education as a means of employing individuals from various walks of society and breaking down traditional social hierarchies was implemented. To boost the overall number of people that emerged educated from its land, the Kerala Literacy Movement, a government-led initiative from the 1980s, sought to make the state 100% literate. The socio-economic development of lower castes was spurred on by The Sree Narayana Movement from the early 20th century. The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, a scheme that provides residential schools for girls from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds was kickstarted in the early 2000s. These are all examples of the very concrete steps Kerala has successfully taken to ensure the development of its education sector.

Kerala has also, not very surprisingly, had a long history of education, with roots in traditional education systems, such as the pathshalas and gurukuls.  A relatively high standard of living was attempted to be maintained in the present too. Good healthcare and social welfare programs were introduced, which helped create a supportive environment for education and literacy. 

As a result, an improvement was seen in various socio-economic indicators, including health, employment, and income levels, and the measures taken by the state have been hailed as a model for other states to follow. Many of their diasporas are educated and able to participate fully in society. 

One would then wonder why, despite all the highly skilled population, there seems to be the ghost of a shadow lurking over the spirit of Kerala, something holding it back from tapping into its true potential.


2. The Dark

Light can be perceived only when there exists a contrast. Representative of regression, doubt, fear and despair, just like the pitch black shroud of velvet that peeks from behind a generous peppering of stars at Kasargod, darkness, and by extension, night, always hits the deepest where the light shines brightest. 

Both of these facets must be delved into with equal vigour.

While Kerala’s high literacy rate is often touted as a significant achievement, it is essential to acknowledge the potential drawbacks associated with such a high literacy rate. 

One of the most pressing concerns is the intense competition for employment opportunities. Kerala, while known for its literacy rate, is also very well known for its unemployment rate, with the current tally at an alarming 6.7%. With a heavy influx of educated individuals within the state, securing gainful employment has become increasingly challenging. This is particularly true for those without specialised skills or advanced degrees, which has driven many well-educated individuals in Kerala to accept low-paying jobs that do not align with their qualifications.

Another issue arising from Kerala’s high literacy rate is the scarcity of opportunities for higher education. Despite the state’s commendable literacy rate, the number of colleges and universities in Kerala is relatively limited. Consequently, many students are compelled to seek higher education outside of the state, which can be financially burdensome for those from lower-income families.

This has contributed to a rise in the number of unemployed or underemployed graduates and the proliferation of criminal activities and substance abuse among educated youth, with limited employment prospects and a lack of opportunity, many young, freshly cynical individuals in Kerala resort to illegal routes to survive.

The education system is heavily centralised, with the state government controlling a majority of the educational institutions. This has resulted in a need for more innovation and creativity within the education system. Kerala schools and colleges often adhere to a rigid curriculum that does not foster independent or critical thinking. Furthermore, the education system is heavily exam-oriented, with students dedicating a significant amount of time to exam preparation rather than skill development.

There also exists a need for more diversity within the population. With a considerable number of individuals pursuing higher education and professional careers, there is a need for more workforce in manual labour and other low-skilled jobs, specifically in specific industries such as agriculture and construction.

Like knots unravelling, like the centre of a rope fraying ever so slowly, fuelled by social and political unrest, will Kerala eventually undo its legacy? Will the all-pervading darkness engulf every last morsel of light that dared to shine?


3. Twilight

What happens when light and darkness coexist, like a pair of archaic rivals caught in a never-ending ball dance? Twilight, the hazy gradient that eases the sky from day to night, is used as imagery for when a pair of harsh contrasts coexist temporarily with uncertainty, no different to an emulsion.

This is where Kerala is caught in a delicate limbo between enlightenment and destruction.

The high literacy rate presents both opportunities and challenges for the state. Kerala can implement several strategies to fully utilise its educated workforce and overcome any issues. Encouraging entrepreneurship with incentives and attracting investment would greatly help in fostering innovation. Promoting skill development by providing training in areas of high demand might finally fill certain demand-supply voids in the industry. In addition, addressing infrastructure gaps and promoting tourism while also improving the social welfare programs they currently offer would generally uplift the general standard of living in the state and harbour an environment more suitable for gaining knowledge.

Implementing these steps requires a sustained effort by the government, businesses, and the community. But one has to wonder, what else but Kerala? We’re talking about a state that has emerged, standing proud and robust despite numerous natural calamities, conflicts and riots, still holding the highest Human Development Index in the country as of 2021. If not Kerala, then what?

Only time can tell whether twilight holds enough tenacity to break into dawn.

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