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DD to use Chitrahaar for literacy project from 14 August

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MUMBAI: National broadcaster Doordarshan is taking its mantle of public broadcaster seriously once again, it would seem. Beginning 14 August, Chitrahaar on DD1 will no longer be just an entertainment show. DD has tied up with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, to launch an ambitious project under a grant won in the Development Marketplace 2002 (World Bank's global innovation competition).

The longest running film-based programme in the history of television, especially popular in villages, Chitrahaar is being transformed from staple entertainment to edutainment that is "more" entertaining through the use of Same Language Subtitling (SLS). The potentially major by-product will be the improvement in the literacy skill levels of millions of people.

The half hour show that airs every Wednesday will now aim to herald a revolution in literacy, by simply subtitling the lyrics of the existing songs-based programming on TV in the same language as the audio. In SLS, the lyrics of Hindi songs appear in Hindi, Tamil songs in Tamil, and so on in any language. The synchronisation of audio and text is created through colour changes in the subtitles, identifying every word as it is being sung. Thus, SLS strengthens grapheme-phoneme associations which are weak people whose literacy levels are very rudimentary. 

According to project officials, the use of SLS for literacy was first proposed six years ago and on-going research since then, conducted in three separate experiments at the level of the classroom, village (on local cable) and state (in Gujarat on DDK Ahmedabad) have been consistent in finding that reading ability improves steadily as a result of viewing film and folk song based content with the addition of SLS. What is perhaps more relevant to network acceptance of the idea is that surveys have found that over 99 per cent of viewers, semi-literate and literate alike, actually prefer song programming with SLS than without. 

Viewers, say officials, have been video-taped in villages and slums trying to sing along through lip-synching. SLS enables viewers to know the song lyrics, 'hear' the words better (useful not just for the hearing but also the hearing challenged or deaf), and write down the lyrics. SLS will integrate everyday reading/writing transactions into the lives of 500 million TV viewers in India at a cost of 3 paise per person per year, the project claims. 

SLS was awarded the Best Social Innovation for the year 2000 in the Education category for the project, Subtitling TV Songs for Mass Literacy, awarded by The Institute for Social Inventions, London. The concept was developed and researched at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), in the Ravi J. Matthai Center for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI).

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