by Brij Kothari, Founder, PlanetRead
There are an estimated 650 million literate people in India. In reality, half the so-called 'literates,' more than 300 million people, can best be called 'early-literate.' They cannot read, for example, newspaper headlines.
On the other hand, today in India, 700 million people have access to television and 600 million, access to mobile phones. Yet, there is a reality that has shocked me repeatedly in several villages. When asked to produce a children's book (not a text book) the entire village could not come up with any.
So we asked ourselves a simple question. With the enormous access to TV and mobile telephony, can children's "books," or a reading experience, travel on media that are already in people's lives? If so, we have the opportunity to deliver reading to a billion people.
The DELL YouthConnect program selected PlanetRead as one of their Seed Funding Partners in 2009 to further the cause of reading and literacy, especially among children and youth.
PlanetRead is a not for profit organization with the simple vision of a reading planet - a planet where everyone can read and has access to interesting and affordable reading opportunities in native and other language(s). We contribute to literacy worldwide by innovating and implementing simple, scalable, and cost-effective solutions, especially using mass media and information technologies.
PlanetRead along with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, pioneered the concept of "Same-Language Subtitling" (SLS) for mass literacy, by suggesting its implementation on the immensely popular Bollywood film songs on TV in India. SLS is already on several song-based TV programs on Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster. Our main target group is the early-literates, people who are officially "literate" but who cannot read, for example, the headlines of a newspaper.
Same Language Subtitling (SLS) is a simple yet powerful idea by which lyrics are added as subtitles to film songs on TV programs. Words are highlighted in perfect timing, as they are sung. This association of the spoken and written word is a proven method to improve reading skills. View sample here.
Reach of SLS through Dell programmes in India
SLS in Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu and Bengali. Total 70 million people -- 12 million children (6-14 years, primary school age group) and 58 million (above 14 years).
Since 2006, SLS is being implemented on one weekly TV programme in Hindi (national), Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada - all on Doordarshan. SLS continues to survive in project mode but is yet to break through in policy. Even though SLS is primarily an initiative for mass literacy, ironically, we have experienced a better response from top policy makers in Prasar Bharati, Doordarshan and the Information & Broadcasting Ministry than their counterparts in education.
Ever since former President Bill Clinton spoke about SLS at the Clinton Global Initiative, 2009 (see video below) there has been growing global interest in this solution for mass literacy. SLS is a social innovation born and nurtured at IIM Ahmedabad, India's premier business school, since 1996. It has the necessary academic and global credibility. My question is, will India be the first to implement this social innovation nationally or will another country?
Brij Kothari, Founder PlanetRead and Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad can be reached at email@example.com