It was in 1996 that Brij Kothari, professor at the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad)’s Centre for Educational Innovation, hit upon Same Language Subtitling (SLS). The concept is simplicity itself — if you subtitle TV programmes in the same language, viewers cannot help but read along.
The possibilities of applying this innovation in India, which has as many as 325 million ‘literates’ who cannot even read a Class II textbook, let alone a newspaper, were immense. “But it took us five-six years to convince Doordarshan to have SLS in its films and song-based programming, which has the most viewership, especially in rural areas” says Kothari.
Kothari’s non-profit organisation PlanetRead will receive the Schwab Foundation award for ‘social entrepreneur of the year’ on Sunday.
It was only in 2002 that DD agreed to SLS on its popular Chitrahar, followed by Rangoli. Today, DD’s Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Kannada and Marathi channels have fixed slots for films and film-song programming with SLS.
Does it work? A study by market research agency Neilson’s ORG-CSR indicates that it does indeed. Only 24 per cent of children became good readers after five years of schooling, while as much as 56 per cent could read well if their schooling was reinforced by exposure to SLS.
What’s more, viewer ratings for the TV programmes went up by 15 per cent when SLS was added.
Kothari has since spun off his innovation into BookBox, a for-profit venture, to partly bankroll PlanetRead’s activities.
BookBox has animated stories for children which with SLS running below. Available as books, downloads and CDs in 25 languages — English, Hindi, Sanskrit and little-spoken ones like Santhali and Bhil — Kothari is on the verge of penning a deal with Apple to make it available as a mobile download on iPhones.