Outside of emergency situations, basic literacy is possibly the biggest responsibility a state government has. It’s also something that has a straight-forward causal mechanism to achieve the end unlike say growth rates or jobs created. In a country where basic literacy is still an issue, it should possibly be a threshold to cross before any state touts its “model”. Literacy rates of the population also has a high correlation with the casual daily labor wage and so it is likely to have an impact growth rates as well.
There are some complexities in measuring literacy and ranking states. For example, a state that was historically mediocre and had a poor literacy among adults will show a slower growth in improving the absolute numbers given illiterate adults can’t vanish regardless of a state educating every single child born from that point forward. A very useful metric to measure the “performance” of a state then becomes ‘how many teenaged children are illiterate?’ After all, these children must have been in school in the past 10 years which is therefore a good measure of the most recent state administration’s commitment to education. Another complicating factor in education is that it has a sticky effect — illiterate people are more likely to have their children remain illiterate than literate people. Therefore, along with absolute teen illiteracy, the distance from the overall population’s illiteracy to teen illiteracy appears to be an even better measure of the “effort” that state government undertook. Another minor matter of shameful detail is that there are gender disparities. So, all measurements are made within each gender. Here are two charts that attempt to measure the effort expended by each state in the last decade to educate its children.
The data clearly shows some states having had a bad start and continuing to do poorly. For example, Bihar’s general female population and teen female population are both shockingly illiterate. Kerala as a highly literate state had very little extra to do. The real success stories are Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh in terms of absolute numbers. However, other states that have done quite well relative to where they were include Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Jammu & Kashmir however has a horrible gender disparity problem in its achievement.
The two states that had a relatively good platform and still did not do as well as one would have expected them to do, happen to be Maharashtra and Gujarat. For example, Gujarat’s overall population has a better literacy rate compared to Tamil Nadu among men. But Tamil Nadu has done such a spectacular job educating its children that there are 6 times more illiterate male teens in Gujarat compared to Tamil Nadu. The picture is similar though significantly less severe in Maharashtra. Maharashtra probably did just enough to not appear as bad as Gujarat in terms of not squandering a head start. If comparing these states with Tamil Nadu is unfair, they don’t seem to do better even when compared with Haryana — both in absolute terms and in terms of gender disparity in literacy. The one state that has done reasonably well but has puzzlingly poor absolute numbers is Andhra Pradesh. With relatively good indicators in Health, the state has pathetic ones in education.
 — Data was obtained the same way as it was in the previous exercise.