Literacy for a billion with Bollywood songs

 
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Sep 9, 2014

Study of Media Access for Literacy Development

Government School, rural Tamil Nadu, India
Government School, rural Tamil Nadu, India

The PlanetRead Team from Pondicherry, India recently went on a field visit to understand the level of access of various kinds of media and how they could possibilt improve the reading skills of children. Please find below the highlights of the trip: 

Ambika, a 4th grade girl, was all smiles! She could not understand how a weird looking gadget (iPad) suddenly started playing a cartoon. She watched the animated story for about 2 minutes. Then we asked her about the story. She had understood most of it – the animals, the conversations between the characters etc... She was ecstatic and explained how much she liked the AniBook and thanked us for showing her this story. 

Now the interesting part is that we showed this simple story in English: http://youtu.be/XpqFAX6vRlM. Ambika explained to us what she understood in Tamil, her mother tongue. She was able to easily guess what was going on with the visuals. But unfortunately, though in the 4th grade, she could not read or follow most of the conversations in the story. The Headmaster of the school then told us their children have never seen such content and admitted quite frankly that Ambika wouldn’t have been able to read or follow the dialogues. 

Ambika joins the ranks of 234 million primary school children in India in the 6-14 age group. This was the highlight of our one day field visit to a government primary school in India in a village called Mangalam that is situated approximately 15 kilometers away from Tiruvannamalai, a district in South India. This school has been functioning for over 20 years and this was the first time anyone had visited them or inquired about children’s content, their facilities and their reading levels. 

Though Tamil Nadu is thought of as a high literacy state but it may come as a surprise that, according to ASER (2013), only 29% rural children in Grade 3 are able to read a Grade 1 level text. This figure has remained in the 27.2% to 30.6% range from ASER (2009) to ASER (2013). The national average in ASER (2013) was 40.2%. In this case, we are talking about their own mother tongue. 

The main conclusion of our trip was that we could use the help of local cable TV operators to telecast programs with SLS and thereby help improve the literacy/reading levels of the entire district. 

Same Language Subtitling (SLS) provides automatic and inescapable reading engagement among weak-reading viewers. This engagement then leads to measurable reading skill improvement. Originally conceived by our project leader in 1996, SLS is on its way to become national policy in India on film song-based programming on TV.  

Ambika, Little girl from Govt. School
Ambika, Little girl from Govt. School
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India

Links:

Jun 10, 2014

PlanetRead in the Wall Street Journal

We are pleased to announce that PlanetRead's and IIM-A's Same Language Subtitling (SLS) was featured on The Wall Street Journal, May 17-18, 2014, here is an excerpt from the article: 

Literacy, the Subtitle Way, By HANNAH BLOCH
In 1996, a Cornell University graduate student from India took a VCR break from working on his dissertation to watch Pedro Almodóvar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Struggling with the comedy's rapid-fire Spanish, the student, Brij Kothari, wished for subtitles in the same language: If he could read along in Spanish, he felt sure his proficiency would improve. This prompted another thought: If viewers back home in India could watch Bollywood musicals with Hindi subtitles, would it help them learn to read their own language?

To read the rest of the article, please visit: http://goo.gl/IAOknb

Same Language Subtitling (SLS) was also featured on Australian channel, SBS Dateline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOsWToI2PIw (10 minutes)

Please spread the word and thank you for your continued support. 

Mar 11, 2014

PlanetRead featured in The Guardian

Our friend Ken Banks posted an article about PlanetRead's work in "The Guardian". Here is an excerpt from the post: 

Digital technology means development is now happening outside the system. The spread of the internet and rise of mobile phone ownership means more social entrepreneurs are succeeding outside the traditional development system.

I recently spent an evening at the University of Sussex talking to students interested in a career in the international development and non-profit sectors. That might not sound particularly interesting at first, except that I've never had a job in either.

Please click on the link below to read more. 

Links:

Dec 23, 2013

PlanetRead featured on Times of India

After we won the "International Prize" for literacy from Library of Congress, there have been quite a few articles about our work. We would like to share one of our favorites with this update. Here is an article that was recently featured on the Times of India:

US salutes use of Bollywood songs as literacy tool

WASHINGTON: Badmouthed for promoting tawdry kitsch and tell moves, Bollywood's song-and-dance routines — most recently endorsed by first lady Michelle Obama during the White House Diwali celebrations this week - has been recognized as a tool for learning by the US Library of Congress.

PlanetRead, an Indian non-profit born from IIM Ahmedabad, has been named winner of the Library of Congress' first international literacy award announced this week for its pioneering work in teaching millions to of semi-literate people to read using same language subtitling (SLS) for Indian movie songs. The award, which carries prize money of $ 50,000, supports organizations working to alleviate problems of illiteracy and aliteracy (a lack of interest in reading) both in the United States and worldwide.

The storied Library of Congress, repository of arguably world's largest knowledge base, described PlanetRead's SLS work in India is an innovative program that reinforces literacy skills, primarily through subtitles for popular musical television programming, based on solid research. "It is simple to implement and easy to replicate, reaching 200 million low-literacy TV viewers in India. SLS is notable as a highly motivational approach for getting low-literacy adults to read, particularly where access to books is difficult," the citation read.

To read te remaining article, please visit: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-08/us/43821833_1_sls-literacy-brij-kothari 


Links:

Sep 24, 2013

PlanetRead wins "The International Prize" a literacy award from Library of Congress, USA

PlanetRead’s Same Language Subtitling (SLS) was announced as the winner of “The International Prize” on Sunday, September 22, 2013.  Librarian of Congress James H. Billington chose the winners of the 2013 Library of Congress Literacy Awards, a new program originated and sponsored by philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

The Library of Congress Literacy Awards were announced in January 2013 as a program to help support organizations working to alleviate the problems of illiteracy and ‘aliteracy' (a lack of interest in reading) both in the United States and worldwide. The awards seek to reward those organizations that have been doing exemplary, innovative and easily replicable work over a sustained period of time and to encourage new groups, organizations and individuals to become involved.

"The generosity of David Rubenstein in instituting this literacy awards program will have a profound impact not just on the winners and their programs, but also on literacy programs everywhere that can benefit by replicating some of the best practices of those who applied for an award," said Billington. He noted that the Library is producing a publication that highlights the best practices in a number of categories as exemplified by the top applicants.

PlanetRead and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, are championing the SLS innovation that uses TV to solve the problem of mass weak reading skills across India by implementing SLS on every Bollywood film song on TV, in 22 official languages.  They will further explore the possibility of implementing SLS in other countries in Africa and South Asia, or wherever reading skills are weak and music-videos are popular.

SLS is simply the idea of subtitling the lyrics of existing Bollywood film songs on TV, in the same language as they are sung in.  Essentially, it is Karaoke on popular film songs and music videos.  Reading skills are practiced, automatically, subconsciously, and inescapably, as an integral part of staple entertainment already consumed by 650 million TV viewers nationally. SLS is also known to improve program ratings by 10-15%.

PlanetRead and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, have already implemented SLS nationwide, on 10 weekly TV programs of Doordarshan, India’s public service broadcaster.  One weekly program is broadcast in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Punjabi. A Hindi song is shown with the lyrics subtitled in Hindi, Tamil songs with Tamil subtitles, and so on. What you hear is what you read. The subtitles are designed to change the color of every word in perfect timing with the song, thus, providing automatic & subconscious reading practice.  SLS is also tremendously cost-effective.  On a Hindi program one US dollar gives reading practice to 5,000 people for one year.

Independently collected data by Nielsen’s ORG Center for Social Research, found that regular SLS exposure more than doubles the number of functional readers among primary school children. SLS has also become a major contributor to the growth of newspaper circulation.

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Organization

Project Leader

Brij Kothari

Founder and President
Piedmont, CA United States

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