Billion Readers (BIRD), aims to ensure daily and lifelong reading practice for a billion people in India. This seemingly impossible goal is made possible by adding Same Language Subtitling (SLS) to existing entertainment content on TV and streaming, in all Indian languages – word for word viewers read what they hear. SLS was conceived for mass reading in 1996 at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). Through guaranteed and constant reading practice a nation of weak readers can be transformed into a nation of fluent readers.
Officially, India has 250 million non-literates and one billion literates. While this represents progress, it disguises a grim reality – of the billion “literates,” 600 million are weak readers who cannot read simple texts. Due to many factors, 6 out of 10 weak readers are girls and women. While a nation’s literacy is measured as a skill, for women it is fundamentally about their dignity. Illiteracy’s assault on women’s dignity is further compounded by caste, class, geography, and special needs.
Most households in India have few books or reading material to enjoy but have a TV. With SLS switching on the TV will mean switching on reading. A billion+ TV viewers in India will get 2+ hours of SLS exposure per day as a staple part of their 4 hours of screen-based video entertainment per day they consume throughout their lives. That is the equivalent of 14K words seen/read per day, a book read every 5 days, or 4000 books over 60 years. A lifetime or 70 years of daily reading with SLS costs less than half a pound per weak reader. Several international personalities have endorsed SLS due to its power to scale and proven cost-effectiveness: Bill Clinton, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Gordon Brown, and Stephen Fry.