India has a population of 1.4 billion and a literacy rate of 80%. However, the quality of literacy is alarmingly low. India is estimated to have 600 million weak readers and 250 million non-readers. Children fall behind in reading from the early grades and weak skills only erode overtime due to lack of reading practice. Six out of 10 weak and non-readers are girls and women.
BIRD provides a billion Indians guaranteed daily and lifelong reading practice in their language(s). We are adding Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on mainstream entertainment content on television and streaming platforms to serve one vision: Every Indian, a fluent reader. Simply put, SLS is the idea of subtitling audio-visual (AV) content in the ‘same’ language as the audio. Viewers get to read what they see and hear on the screen on all popularly watched entertainment, such as, films, serials and cartoons. For example, SLS on one film means exposure to 14,000 words, equivalent to a novel for young adults. Regular SLS exposure at home on TV, over 2-3 years, doubles the number of functional readers. Eye-tracking and pilot studies have shown SLS exposure causes automatic and effortless reading practice even among weak readers. International leaders like Bill Clinton, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, and Stephen Fry have noted the power of SLS based on our work and repository of evidence.
Our work has driven national broadcast policy. After two decades of evidence-based-policymaking, SLS is now a policy under the Ministry of Broadcasting. Half the entertainment content on TV, in every language, state, and channel, is mandated to carry SLS by 2025. BIRD has developed a strong system change strategy for reading literacy at a national scale centred around impacting girls and women. In 2022, BIRD received a transformative grant of $6.5M from Co-Impact for system acceptance and implementation of SLS on TV and streaming.
As BIRD enters into a hyper-scale phase to scale SLS in 12 Indian languages in the next 5 years, BIRD is actively seeking partnerships with governments, private television networks, and streaming platforms to ensure reading literacy at a transformative scale.
There is growing global interest in SLS because it is relevant anywhere where people watch video-based entertainment and where reading skills are in need of improvement. BIRD's subtitled quality content, solutions, and AI tools can be used by the industry and government as they are all open source and not proprietary, which will allow them to use the tools at scale without worrying about cost.