K. Sivadasan Pillai

Dr K. Sivadasan Pillai looks back and gives a full account of the history and activities of KANFED (the Kerala Association for Nonformal Education and Development), set up at the initiative of P.N. Panicker (see p. 139 of this edition, where we print an article by him). The author mentions partners, and past and present colleagues. The results of KANFED activities are obvious in that the rate of illiteracy has fallen markedly. KANFED was supported by the IIZ/DVV for ten years. The author who took a doctorate in non-formal education in the UK, has been involved in KANFED operations, working in its Secretariat from 1977 to 1995, and acting as its General Secretary since 1995. He is retired professor from the University of Kerala.

KANFED and the Adult Education Scene in Kerala

Grandhasala Sanghom

Prior to Independence, in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, 47 rural libraries united in 1945 to form Tranvancore Grandhasala Sanghom, which developed into Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom, with nearly 5000 libraries affiliated to it. “Read and grow” was the slogan of the Sanghom. Mr P.N. Panicker was the founder and driving force of this movement for 32 years (until 1977, when the Sanghom was taken over by the State Government). Now it is called the Kerala State Library Council, with an in-built democratic structure and funding from the State Government.

The rural libraries organised night schools to combat illiteracy and spread the habit of reading. In every panchayat ward there was a library with its own building, a good collection of books, radio, television, sports club, arts club, women’s wing, children’s section, nursery section, etc. The library movement in Kerala was unique and won acclaim all over India and even abroad.

In 1970, when Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom celebrated its 25th anniversary, a reading survey was carried out. This proved an eye-opener as it revealed that even in the capital city of Trivandrum there were wards with more than 80% illiteracy. The slogan “read and grow”, which had become very popular, was changed to “acquire literacy and get strengthened”. An ambitious project of running two six-month courses in centres attached to each of the 3500 libraries was submitted to the Government of India as the Farmers” Functional Literacy Project. Only 20 centres were approved on an experimental basis. However, this marked the beginning of the organised fight against illiteracy in the state. The evaluation conducted by Asher Deleon (UNESCO), Dr T.A. Koshy (Government of India Directorate of Adult Education) and Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom representatives came to the conclusion that concrete steps needed to be taken to prepare primers, select and train teachers, arrange monitoring, etc., if the desired results were to be achieved. It was also found that six months was not long enough for the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. In subsequent courses, these deficiencies were overcome and results were far better. In 1975, Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom was selected for the Krupskaya Award (Honorable Mention) of US $5000 for its outstanding contribution in the field of literacy and adult education. It continued its work until 1977, when Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom was taken over by the Government. Thereafter, the emphasis shifted, but Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom is now regaining its lost prestige under the name Kerala State Library Council, funded and approved by the State Government. Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom had to its credit nearly ten primers, five handbooks/guidebooks, 110 books for neoliterates, a weekly for neoliterates, “Sakshara Keralam”, and a series of pamphlets and posters.

Kerala State Literacy Council

In 1974, a Kerala State Literacy Council was established with a view to combating illiteracy even if Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom were to abandon its action plan. This had initial problems as the Chief Minister and other Ministers sat on the Executive Committee. This organisation managed to produce one book, “Saksharatha” (Literacy), a collection of articles and treatises by eminent educationists and practitioners published by the State Institute of Languages. The work of Kerala State Literacy Council faded away and ceased to make much impact.


In June 1977, KANFED (Kerala Association for Non-Formal Education and Development) was registered under the Travancore-Cochin Charitable Societies Act No 12 of 1955 as an offshoot of Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom and Kerala State Library Council, comprising the members of the Literacy Expert Committee of the Sanghom. KANFED had before it certain specific objectives:

  1. to eradicate illiteracy from the state

  2. to provide opportunities for continuing education for all people in need

  3. to strengthen the non-formal mode of education

  4. to link development activities with non-formal education

Liberation of the masses, especially the downtrodden scheduled castes and tribes, and women, was its motivation. Courses were launched at district, block and panchayat level, and literacy centres established. In many places, “KANFED Bhavans” were set up, and welfare programmes were launched. State and Central Government approved KANFED and provided grants.

The establishment of a State Resource Centre in July 1978 was entrusted to KANFED by the Central Government on the recommendation of the State Government. There was a time when the work of KANFED and the State Resource Centre were so closely integrated that it was impossible to define the boundaries. Later, an administrative committee was formed to oversee the functioning of the State Resource Centre, with Government and KANFED representatives. This system continued until 1993, when the State Resource Centre was registered as a separate entity, with the Government Secretary for General Education as Chairman of the Board of Management. The Government grant also rose from between two and five hundred thousand rupees in 1978 to 2,500,000 in the 1990s. The State Resource Centre had its own publications, primers, guidebooks, reference books, neoliterate books, slides, charts, pamphlets, posters, etc., for non-formal education, mostly prepared in workshops staffed largely by KANFED-trained personnel.

The German Adult Education Association (DVV) offered financial support to KANFED for about ten years for the organisation of literacy and continuing education centres, training of personnel, preparation and publication of neoliterate materials including books and periodicals, and awards made to committed social workers at KANFED’s annual celebration. The DVV’s collaboration with KANFED was adjudged the best of its 19 projects during that period. Unicef also supported KANFED’s non-formal education centres for drop-outs in the age range 15 to 45 years. Under this programme, 25 centres were organised in six northern districts of Kerala for three years. A short film, “Lead kindly light”, was brought out by KANFED and shown in every corner of Kerala to motivate and conscientize the masses. The Ford Foundation offered support for the BJVJ Programme and the Neethi Vedi Programme in the state. “Souhrida Gramas” (Villages of Friendship) were established, in which many disputes were settled without going to court. “We are one” was a slogan proposed by KANFED along the lines of “Harambee” in Kenya. In short, KANFED became the synonym for adult continuing education in Kerala.

In the emergence of Kerala as the first totally literate state in India, the role played by KANFED was unique. Its first attempt at total coverage was in Vediappanchal Harijan Colony of Ezhome Village in Kannur District. KANFED took up the challenge with the help of the local priest, Fr Sukhol, and an activist, V.R.V. Ezhome, a KANFED-trained volunteer. This was in 1981-82. A KANFED Bhavan at Ezhome stands as a lasting monument to KANFED’s work there.

The total literacy campaign in the Kottayam Municipal Area was the next attempt. Here, the National Service Scheme of Mahatma Gandhi University and Kottayam Municipality worked hard with KANFED in organising a one-day survey and the campaign that followed, making 2208 adults literate over a period of ten months. The project was known as the People’s Education and Literacy Campaign, Kottayam (PELCK), and was the forerunner of the Ernakulam Total Literacy Project.

In Ernakulam District, 161,000 people were identified as illiterate. Huge efforts were made to involve more than 2000 educated young people as volunteers, and two state-level bodies, KANFED and Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), set out to create the appropriate climate through folk art, corner meetings, etc., KSSP playing the major role. Although District Collector K.R. Rajan was the initiator of the project, it was a new district-level voluntary agency headed by Retd. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer which organised the programme. After hard and dedicated work, Ernakulam District was declared to be the first totally literate district in India by the then Prime Minister, V.P. Singh. This campaign was awarded the UNESCO Prize.

KANFED developed an experimental project, “Literacy within 90 days”, which was found to be successful. Separate primers were prepared, and personnel were trained by KANFED. It was felt difficult to provide longer courses for illiterates, and evaluation showed that three months was adequate to make an illiterate adult literate, but it was recommended that attempts should be made to maintain and improve the literacy level. KANFED organised training camps lasting 100 days each for three groups of 30 each. A good number of those trained in these camps emerged as promising community workers at different levels. It was KANFED which began recognising social workers and honouring them at its annual meetings.

The Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) was set up at the behest of the National Literacy Mission to launch the state-wide Total Literacy Campaign in 1990. KSLMA is headed by the Chief Minister, and the Education Minister heads its Executive Committee. A State Director was appointed, with subordinate staff and consultants. District-level Literacy Mission Authorities were established in all the 14 Districts, and these now oversee the implementation of continuing education programmes through various local government and voluntary agencies, although KANFED-trained volunteers are found at all levels.

The Total Literacy Campaign culminated in the declaration of total literacy with a figure of 93.58%, at Kozhikode on 18 April 1991.

Since 1978, KANFED has published 20-25 primers, nearly 20 guidebooks, handbooks and workbooks, etc., around 50 reference books for workers, nearly 210 books for neoliterates, besides a number of pamphlets. Its weekly for neoliterates, “KANFED News”, its fortnightly for functionaries “Anoupacharika Vidyabhyasam” and its monthly wall paper “Nattuvelicham” have provided constant support to local government field staff and organisers alike.

Mr P.N. Panicker, the architect of the library movement in Kerala was also the driving force behind KANFED during his lifetime, 1977-95. Mr P.T. Bhaskara Panicker, a popular scientist and one-time President of the Sanghom, gave ample support and vision to KANFED programmes. It was he who coined the name KANFED, after which many “FEDs” emerged in Kerala (Coirfed, Consumerfed, Marketfed, Nafed, etc.). Dr K. Sivadasan Pillai, who took a doctorate in non-for- mal education in the UK, has also been deeply involved in KANFED operations, working in its Secretariat from 1977 to 1995, and acting as its General Secretary since 1995. Other veterans behind KANFED include literary stalwart Dr N.V. Krishna Warrier, UNESCO expert Dr N.P. Pillai, former Central Government Minister Lakshmi N. Menon, social activist Dr Pushpita John, a walking encyclopedia and lexicon editor Dr Sooranad Kunjan Pillai, the Rev. Dr Benedict Mar Gregorious, Archbishop of Trivandrum, Dr M. Haridas, NCERT Field Adviser, Dr K. Madhavankutty, Retd. Principal of the Medical College, and K. Ravindranathan Nair, a business magnate from Kollam, to mention but a few. KANFED currently has 320 life members, two permanent institutional members, and around 300 associate members. It has a unique management structure: a three-member Presidium, a five-member Secretariat, a 31-member Executive Committee and a 100-member Governing Council, elected every three years.

Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP)

KSSP is mainly engaged in popularising science among the masses. It began as a voluntary movement, and has emerged as a formidable organisation consisting of college and university professors, schoolteachers, scientists in various fields, students and even field workers. It was founded by visionaries such as P.T. Bhaskara Panicker, Dr Madhavankutty, Dr K.K. Rahulan, A.G.G. Menon, etc. In the beginning it depended on sales of publications. It has nearly 200 scientific titles at varying levels. It publishes four scientific periodicals catering for the general public, school and college students, primary school students and others. Science fairs and science quizzes are regular features. KSSP has introduced a P.T. Bhaskara Panicker Memorial state-wide science competition for school students.

KSSP played a key role in the Ernakulam Total Literacy Campaign, and subsequently in the state-wide Total Literacy Campaign. The materials produced and widely circulated by KSSP do a good job of promoting scientific thinking among the public. They are also good reading materials for neoliterates. In 1998, KSSP won the UNESCO Prize for its work in the voluntary sector. “Science talent search” schemes are also run by KSSP. The organisation has played a major role in decentralised planning in Kerala, has established a research wing to study development problems scientifically, and provides leadership in the BJVJ programmes.


Mitraniketan is situated in Vellanad, 32 kms from Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. Mr K. Viswanathan, trained in Shantiniketan and Denmark and a disciple of Morgan, heads this rural experimental institution. Using the modest beginnings of the family property, Mr Viswanathan and his wife have built up an institution which has both formal and non-formal elements. A People’s College, along the lines of Denmark’s folk high school movement, has been established on the Mitraniketan campus. A Krishi Vignan Kendra (KVK) also acts as a model training centre for voluntary agencies in the state. AVARD (Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development) is located on the campus. A dedicated community worker, Mr Viswanathan is the “big brother” of all local people. Two series of adult education courses have been organised by this voluntary organisation. The national Open School system of India has started one of its units there, and a job-oriented programme also runs. The entire community is involved in the developmental programmes organised by the Mitraniketan.

Laubach Literacy Trust

Laubach’s method is famous in adult education. A disciple of Laubach, Dr A.K. John, was inspired by the method to launch a Laubach Literacy Trust at Karthigappally in Alappuzha District. The Trust is affiliated to IAEA. The LLT has trained personnel in the methodology and has developed separate primers and follow-up books. A number of adult education centres have been opened in the coastal areas of Alappuzha and run for many years. A training centre and library are housed in the main building. Dr John, who was the driving force of this movement, was an active member of the Kerala branch of IAEA until his death last year at the hands of an antisocial element. Mr Laubach Jr. used to visit the institution.

Quilon Social Service Society (QSSS)

QSSS is active in the coastal areas of Kollam District. Adult education is one of its activities: nearly 50 adult education courses have been organised by QSSS over the last 10-20 years. The diocese of Quilon plays the leading role in QSSS, as it does in TSSS, PSSS and so on, but QSSS is more involved in adult education. It is also an affiliate of IAEA. Mr M. Pathrose is the person behind this movement.

University Departments and Centres

Unlike the situation in many other Indian states, the universities” involvement in adult education has been extensive in Kerala. Even in the 1921-23 report on the formation of a university in Kerala, it was suggested that it should include an emphasis on adult education. Kerala therefore took the lead well before the general acceptance of extension as a third dimension equal to teaching and research. The most prominent has been Kerala University, which has helped around 62,000 illiterates to become literate, followed by Calicut and Mahatma Gandhi Universities.

A Centre for Adult Education and Extension (CAEE) was established at the University of Kerala in 1980 with University Grants Commission (UGC) financial support. It was inaugurated by the then President of India, Shri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. The Centre was later renamed the Centre for Adult Continuing Education and Extension (CACEE). Population education programmes form a major allied activity, and a Population Education Resource Centre (PERC) has been attached to CACEE. Legal literacy and environmental education are also part of its activities.

CAEE organised centres with the cooperation of affiliated colleges. At one time these numbered 780. The average in each centre was 25-30, and women accounted for the majority of the participants. A separate primer, “Jana Bodhana Sahayi”, was prepared along with a teacher’s handbook. A collection of motivational songs was also published.

The Comprehensive Monitoring Register (CMR) developed by CAEE was adopted by many other universities, and the primer developed by the Centre was taken up by state-run centres and many voluntary agencies. A series of 24 neoliterate books was prepared in two workshops sponsored by the Directorate of Adult Education (DAE). The Government entrusted the Centre with the evaluation of the adult education programmes in the seven southern districts of the state. This work was completed on time, and the report was published. The Centre also undertook other research studies on behalf of the UGC, DAE, Unicef and others. A postgraduate Diploma in Adult and Continuing Education was launched in 1988-89 with UGC funding, for an annual intake of 20 students. This was later renamed the Diploma in Non-formal Education and converted to a full-time course. The Department of Education of Kerala University also offers opportunities to specialise in adult continuing and non-formal education at MEd level and through PhD research. So far, 17 people have taken PhDs on topics related to adult non-formal education.

Many innovative approaches were followed by CAEE, especially in the training, materials production, monitoring and evaluation aspects of adult education. A mobile awards ceremony was introduced, and a neoliterate book kit was presented to each neoliterate passing an external examination. The Government authorised CAEE to certificate those suitable for class IV public service posts, on the basis of their literacy, numeracy and general knowledge. After the change of name, CACEE was made one of ten “nodal agencies” in India by the UGC.

Dr K. Sivadasan Pillai, the founder of CAEE and its head for 15 years until he left in March 1995, also headed the evaluation team identifying the best district coordinators and project officers on completion of the Total Literacy Campaign in the state. He received the Nehru Literacy Award in 1994 for his work.

When the University of Calicut was split off from Kerala University, it opened a Faculty of Adult Education, but this was merged with the Faculty of Education within the first five years, and the Deanship was taken away. In 1983, a Coordinator and Project Officer were appointed in accordance with UGC guidelines, and the University began to provide leadership for its affiliated colleges in organising adult education and population education programmes. What became the University Department of Education has produced 15 neoliterate books. It has arranged adult education classes in nearby villages and is currently organising training courses for income-generating self-employment. The University also has provision for doctoral research within the Faculty of Education; so far, five individuals have taken doctorates in this field.

Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, was an active partner in the Total Literacy Campaign of Kottayam Municipal Area, through its involvement in the National Service Scheme (NSS). However, a Centre for Adult Education and Extension has since been established, headed by Dr Thomas Abraham, the then NSS Coordinator. There were programmes in some of the affiliated colleges when they were part of the University of Kerala.

The National Service Scheme at all the universities in the state was involved in the Mass Programme for Functional Literacy (MPFL), which used the “each one teach one” method. NSS volunteers were expected to help between one and five illiterates to become literate. However, although kits were supplied free by the State Resource Centre, the programme largely failed for want of monitoring. NSS volunteers have nonetheless played a major part in the adult education programme in Kerala, not just in “each one teach one”, but also in centre-based and small-group classes.

Shramik Vidya Peeths (SVPs)

SVPs were started to provide “polyvalent adult education” programmes for workers and their families in selected areas. One SVP was established in the University of Kerala in 1985, providing literacy as well as vocational training courses. The Trivandrum SVP emerged as one of the leading SVPs on account of its commitment and meth ods. In line with the pattern throughout India, it has now been renamed a Jana Shikshan Sansthan (JSS), and the emphasis has shifted to “education for all and for ever”, mainly through vocational and in- come-generating programmes. In the course of time, SVPs were also established at Calicut and Kodungallur, and a fourth is to be opened at Kottayam, all under different voluntary agencies.

Literacy Forum

The Literacy Forum was founded in 1981 under the Presidency of Dr K. Sivadasan Pillai as an extension wing of CAEE, Kerala University, to provide a forum for all those interested and involved in adult literacy and allied areas. This too is affiliated to IAEA. It has opened an experimental centre in a remote village and attempted many innovative techniques. It has produced data-based studies and run workshops on educational journalism and the production of teaching aids, including puppets, and regular discussions and seminars are arranged. It is actively involved in running continuing education centres, training functionaries, evaluation, etc. In order to increase popular involvement, it has disassociated itself from CAEE, and has a group of academics who are able to provide technical input and advice.

Kerala State Chapter of IAEA

The Kerala State Chapter of IAEA was formally inaugurated on 11 July 1998, with Dr K. Sivadasan Pillai as President and Dr V. Reghu as Secretary. This body organises seminars and conferences on topics of current importance, such as a one-day seminar on disaster management and follow-up and events held jointly with other agencies in the state to mark World Literacy Day. The state branch has 75 individual life members and six institutional members.


The National Sample Survey has indicated that Mizoram has the highest literacy percentage, and that Kerala has come down to third or fourth place, although this is yet to be confirmed by the 2001 census. According to the 1991 census, Kerala had 89.1% literacy, although when total literacy was declared in the state in April 1991, the estimate was 93.58%. A further increase of 2% is claimed by the authorities. However, it is a fact that many have relapsed into illiteracy (from among the 1,220,000 made literate in the Total Literacy Campaign). School drop-out, although the lowest among the Indian states, adds to the problem. A realistic estimate would therefore be that of the 30 million people in Kerala, at least 2.5 million are unable to decipher the alphabet. This does not of course mean that they are ignorant; they are knowledgeable in many respects and politically and socially conscious. They are simply devoid of literacy (and numeracy) skills. They too have to be made literate and liberated at the earliest opportunity. Maybe in the course of the next five years, before any other Indian state can achieve this target!

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