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Learning unlocks all doors

Newsletter Issue 32 : April 2011

newsletter learning never stops learn to learn sing & learn unemployable


read a song ,  learn along

by Ridhi Shah: India Today June 2006

A deceptively simple idea integrates literacy with popular lyrics achieving remarkable results

Dr. Brij  Kothari was only trying to learn Spanish  with the help of a Spanish film when he accidentally stumbled upon an idea that is revolutionizing the way rural India reads. The film was subtitled in English.

"It struck me that had it been subtitled in Spanish, we would have learned the language quicker,” says the social entrepreneur a fellow of the internationally renowned Ashoka foundation & adjunct IIM professor.

From that brainwave was born SLS (same language subtitling), a system that subtitled often heard film songs in the same language to boost mass literacy.

With the widespread popularity enjoyed by Bollywood songs, it didn’t  take long for the project to achieve success.

Moreover it helped immensely that most people knew the lyrics (even if they could not read or write in the language) & were eager to sing along. SLS then helped viewers to associate with the written word and subsequently with repeated viewing get acquainted with the alphabet and phrases . "It’s really just karaoke”, explains Kothari.

Initially, he subtitled a few Hindi film songs and put the system to test in the towns & villages of Gujarat. Feedback revealed almost 90 percent of  viewers had appreciated the subtitles.

Realizing that the system would be most useful if aired on national TV, Kothari approached Doordarshan to implement it in film based programmes like Chitrahaar.

Initially there was skepticism. People feared it would affect the commercial  viability of the programmes. We finally convinced DD- Gujarati to run a few pilot show. "Later  people wrote back saying how much they had enjoyed the programme,” he says. That was in 1999, today grants from the Google foundation, the national literacy mission and a world bank award have enabled SLS to run in 10 different languages in as many states.

An added bonus is its cost effectiveness.

The government budgets ` 150 per person per year for early literacy and manages to reach only five million people,” says Kothari. "We spend one paisa per person per year, and reach 80 times as many people.”

In 2004, Kothari instituted Planet Read, an NGO in Pondicherry to promote SLS.

Given the phenomenal growth of TV, the device looks poised to make learning more fun. “With SLS reading has landed in your home, delivered through your TV,” says Kothari. "You sing along & then one day you realize you can read.”