Singing along one’s way to literacy

One poem that always inspires me is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Its starting lines came to my mind when I learned about Brij Kothari and his brainchild PlanetRead:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too…

Brij’s project employs a technique called “Same Language Subtitling,” by which “lyrics are added as subtitles to film songs on TV programs,” thus providing the illiterate viewer with an opportunity to learn how to read. Brij hit upon the idea of using SLS with televised Bollywood songs based on the intuition that if illiterate viewers were exposed to both visual and textual cues while singing, they would naturally develop reading skills. In fact, according to “eye-tracking research” conducted by the SLS group, “viewers naturally synchronize the auditory and textual information while watching a film song with SLS.” Moreover, “when SLS is integrated into popular TV entertainment, reading happens automatically and subconsciously.”

Following research and trials, Brij’s challenge lay in getting the idea adopted by the government and mainstream media. Easier said than done, unfortunately – due to the supposed frivolity of the idea, Brij faced opposition from academics, government institutions and television gurus. Convinced that his idea was compelling, however, Brij did not lose hope and kept on trying. As a result of his perseverance, PlanetRead is now funded by, and has 10 nationally televised programs on air, covered in most parts of India. Brij has also started another venture – BookBox – again based on SLS.

The lesson? PlanetRead is not an earth-shattering concept, neither is it revolutionary. The idea is a straightforward one, but the social entrepreneur behind the idea, Brij Kothari, is unconventional in his approach. Despite opposition, skepticism, and impending failure, Brij continues to pursue his idea with firm conviction and belief in the potential for a different future.

Want to learn more? Listen to Brij Kothari’s interview by Sheela Sethuraman at Social Conversations.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • International: The US government has put India on its ‘Priority Watch List’, along with nine other countries, saying that the country’s failure to protect Intellectual Property Rights is putting health, safety and jobs of its citizens at risk. [Source: Times of India]
  • Literacy: The Global Monitoring Report says that India has 35 per cent of the world’s illiterates, but at the same time, the country’s education development index has slightly increased.
  • Energy: Talks on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline started again as the country looks for more sources of energy.
  • Health: The government launched a public health website, which will provide information on water supply and sanitation, as well as allow visitors to contact the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation and allow cities and towns to update data.

[TC-I Changemakers] A book for every child — the mission for Pratham Books

The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Gautam John, who works for Pratham Books. We have written

Pratham Books

about Pratham in the past, but have yet to write about this part of the organization. Pratham Books’ goal is a book in every child’s hand — by no means an easy task. Pratham Books also has its own blog, which you can read here, and also has a Facebook group — click here to join. Utilizing the wonders of Skype, TC-I’s very own Vinay Ganti was able to speak with Gautam (who is currently situated in Bangalore) about the amazing things Pratham Books has done and what they hope to do looking forward.

Vinay Ganti: I wanted to first thank you on behalf of the ThinkChange india community for taking the time to speak with us today. Why don’t we start with the obvious question of what exactly Pratham Books does and why it was started?

Gautam John: At the simplest level, the goal of Pratham Books is to place a book in every child’s hand in India. Or to be more emphatic, we want to provide access to books to the last child in the last village in India and promote reading as a habit. The need for Pratham Books arose four years ago and came out of the umbrella organization’s activities. Pratham is a large scale movement aimed to make every child in India literate. [Note: A videocast with a Vikas Taneja, a member of Pratham USA’s Executive Committee, will be posted in the near future.]

The chairperson of Pratham Books, Rohini Nilekani is also the chairperson of the Akshara Foundation, whose goal is to have every child in school and learning well, across the state of Karnataka. Pratham Books supplies books to the Akshara run programs.

VG: This goal is by no means an easy task. The first issue that comes to mind is how many of the poor will be able to afford to purchase these books.

GJ: Pratham Books was designed specifically with this issue in mind, and is just as much a proof of concept as it is a publishing house. We wanted to show other publishing companies that one can profitably and sustainably provide books to children, and for this reason none of our books are priced at more than Rs 25. We have also recently adapted our books to a story card format, abridging the content to fit in an A5 sheet that is richly illustrated, laminated and is priced at Rs. 1.50.

Continue reading

Midday Newsfeed

Some titillating headlines:


  • Whole Planet Foundation (WPF), a Whole Foods Market nonprofit that “empowers individuals in the global community through entrepreneurship” recently announced the creation of the Whole Planet Foundation Supplier Alliance for Microcredit (WPFSAM), a coalition of natural foods companies that aims to support the financial endeavours of WPF. The WPFSAM Alliance has pledged USD 1.05 million over three years to fund microcredit programs in developing countries, including the Grameen Trust in Costa Rica, Guatemala and India; Fundación Adelante in Honduras; and Pro Mujer in Nicaragua.” (Source:
  • Related to an earlier post regarding social capital exchanges, Credit Suisse “will launch in the coming weeks an index that encompasses social responsibility criteria in addition to strong valuation and performance characteristics. The index will be composed of stocks that rank highly on both social responsibility criteria and financial ratios.” (Source:

Government regulation/programs:

  • The UP government has placed a ban on the construction of liquor stores in and around areas inhabited by the Dalit population due to the reported connection between alcoholism and illiteracy, both of which have been cited as problems in the Dalit community.
  • The Highways Department is developing a “Road Management System that would include a ‘Road Asset Information Database’ of the core road network and a computerised Pavement Management System (PMS) to enable more efficient planning.”
  • Following recommendations from the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, the Central government is devising a health insurance scheme that will cover the entire BPL population of 30 crore.

Health Research:

Evening Edition

  • Outsourcing: Higher-skilled jobs are the next step up from lower-value business process outsourcing and are known as Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO). A Times article features KPOs and discusses how they approach jobs such as legal outsourcing.
  • Health: In its latest budget, the Indian government outlines several plans for increasing health services in the country, including a National Rural Health Mission, National AIDS Control Programme, and a program for the elderly.
  • Literacy/Feature: A Times of India article highlights social entrepreneur Dr. Brij Kothari and “Same Language Subtitling,” a method used to improve literacy among adults and children. An impact study found that by watching a subtitled show 30 minutes a week, along with schooling, 56% of children were able to read paragraphs in Hindi, as opposed to the 25% who only went to school and were not exposed to subtitles.

Midday Newsfeed