India’s literacy ranks 147 out of 177 countries surveyed by the UNESCO. Many of the hundreds of millions of illiterate people are even neo-literates, which means that they only possess rudimentary literacy skills despite having attended several years of primary school education. This phenomenon exists because many primary school students do not grow up in environments that are conductive to increasing their literacy. The result of this is that every year, an estimated 27 million Indian children complete primary school with non-functional literacy levels.
In order to fight this, social entrepreneur Kothari Brij launched PlanetRead, which won the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2002 and was honoured at the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative meeting. PlanetRead believes that literacy skills must be constantly reinforced in order to avoid regression toward illiteracy. In order to do that, the organization found Same Language subtitling (SLS) an effective tool.
The effectiveness of SLS is further supported by research studies conducted by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and the Nielsen-ORG Center for Social Research. They found that when exposed to 30 mins SLS per week, the functional literacy rate among students who had at least five years of Hindi in their schooling history grew from 25% to 56%.
Currently the organization applies SLS to eight major programmes in a major Indian language. The programmes have a weekly airtime of 30 minutes and reach 200 million neo-literate viewers. The organization was also able to convince Indian policy-makers of the value of SLS, which will hopefully accelerate the adoption of SLS within India, with the vision to expand efforts internationally.