What we do

A survey taken in 2018 shows that India’s literacy rate of those above the age of seven is 78%. But evidence suggests that an estimated 60% “literates” cannot read simple texts such as billboards or bank documents. Weak reading is a problem that has been overlooked despite its defeating effects on the economy as a whole. Quality education is key to tackle this challenge.

The Billion Readers project aims to complement education by building a simple social innovation- Same Language Subtitling (SLS). The core idea of this is to implement subtitles on entertainment programs in the same language as the content of the show.

Eye tracking woman in Delhi

Vision

The vision is to aid in converting weak literates to functional readers using existing resources. Eye-tracking studies have demonstrated that SLS gives automatic reading practice to weak-reading viewers. The evidence from pilot studies of SLS implementation on TV in eight Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada & Punjabi) is strong. Regular SLS exposure results in steadily improving reading skills among all viewers: children in and out of school, youth, and adults. A billion viewers in India watch four hours of TV every day, and will do so for life. Reading practice from SLS is incredibly cost-effective and scalable.

Mission

In 2019, after 2+ decades of evidence-based-policy-making, SLS became a part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s (MIB) AccessibilityStandards, under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.[1] Half the entertainment content on TV, in every language, state, and channel, is required to carry SLS by 2025. The international acceptance of SLS is growing. With the support of Co-Impact, IIM Ahmedabad, MIT Open Learning and J-PAL South Asia, we are actively looking to partner with state governments to scale up SLS on TV in the state language. The partnership aims to raise the reading literacy skills of the state’s population by:

  1. Scaling up SLS for a 3-5 year project period on state and private TV channels.
  2. Agreeing on a matching funding mechanism for the project period while putting in place a long term sustainability strategy.
  3. Conducting an independent impact study.