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BookBox is promoting literacy through same language subtitling on TV and in digital books



Bridging the gap: Brij Kothari, the brain behind BookBox

IT WAS while researching medicinal herbs of the Andean communities in Ecuador and watching Spanish films subtitled in English, that Dr. Brij Kothari had his `eureka moment'.

"I think I told some friends who were watching with me, `Why don't they simply subtitle these Spanish films in Spanish? And if they just did this on film songs in India, India would become literate!'" says Brij.

That was in 1996, and since then Brij has been working at it, developing his simple idea into a literacy campaign. Same Language Subtitling (SLS) is a fun reading practice that not only helps early-literates and school dropouts, but also, according to Brij, "doubles and even triples the rate of reading improvement that children may be achieving through formal education".

SLS was tested at villages and railway stations before it was beamed nationwide through the popular programme, Chitrahaar.

It was a sure fire hit — if you knew how to read you could learn the lyrics, if you were in a noisy little café or hard of hearing, you `heard' the songs better.

Surveys, conducted by Nielsen's ORG-Centre for Social Research, showed around 90 per cent viewers preferred songs with SLS.

Plus, it's cheap: one paisa for a year's reading practice per person.

"Simply because with every nationally telecast TV programme, we reach over 100 million early-literate people," says Brij.

Social mission

According to Brij, Doordarshan is "on the verge of implementing SLS nationally on all TV programmes and languages. The CEO of Prasar Bharati, K. S. Sarma, the Director General of Doordarshan, Navin Kumar, and the Secretary of Education, Kumud Bansal, are all leading the way in recognising that SLS could do wonders for literacy in India," says Brij.

Family, friends, colleagues and volunteers have joined along the way to form what is today BookBox, "a social venture - a company that runs on business principles but with a social mission at its core". BookBox will create TV and digital "books" for every child and in every language, making SLS, "India's contribution to world literacy".

Brij has been exposed to what he believes are some of the "most effective systems of education", both as a student (at SAICE-Pondicherry, IIT- Kanpur), as a scholar (Cornell University and as Reuters Foundation Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University) and as faculty (IIM-A).

"The educational problem of the world is not that we don't have enough top-notch scientists and engineers, it's that we have over a billion people who cannot read the headline of a newspaper," says Brij.

Back to hometown

Over the years, SLS has received appreciation and awards, including the Development Marketplace from the World Bank, and the Best social Innovation in Education from The Institute of Social Inventions, London, and the Ashoka fellowship for Brij Kothari.

Now Brij has brought the project back to his hometown in the form of a `non-profit organisation' called PlanetRead, as he explains, "to well... make this planet read!" And Pondicherry has been chosen for unbiased reasons.

"Pondicherry and Auroville are special places where there are people from all over the world who are constantly aspiring for something more beautiful," says Brij. "The creative energy is palpable and BookBox is a creative project centred around the diversity of languages and cultures."

You can take a `sneak peek' at www.bookbox.com, or even send in your story to stories@bookbox.com

MEERA MOHANTY

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