Improving Literacy Through Television

I don't believe my generation to be any stupider than our parents, but literacy rates can always be improved.

Including "online video" in the definition of "television", it seems indisputable that young people today spend a much greater proportion of their time in-front of televisions than their parents did. The thinking goes that if we're going to accept this as an acceptable norm, then we should do our best to ensure this activity is productive or educational.

The problem lies therein: kids would rather fall asleep than watch "fun" educational programs. We youth see through your brightly-coloured role models and "informative programming"... such tricks will not work on us. So what's left?

The solution must be to take existing programming that young people, particularly children, do love and watch, and make them that little bit more educational without actually changing their content. Whilst that may sound like an impossibility, there is an easy solution.


Sticking bloody big subtitles on every children's TV channel and every online show targeted at children would improve literacy. Using subtitling to improve literacy rates amongst primary school kids is known as "Same Language Subtitling".

The brainchild of Brij Kothari, the concept was first academically studied in Mumbai and was shown to significantly improve literacy rates, particularly amongst the country's less affluent communities. A Nielsen study demonstrated that the ability of schoolchildren to read a "simple Hindi paragraph" jumped from 25% to 56% "when exposed to subtitling for 30 minutes a week".

Whilst letting our children do what they do best (stew in-front of entertainment), a simple shift in the delivery of this content may enable us to boost literacy across the board and "save our schoolchildren" from increasing irrelevance in an ever-more-competitive international economy.

We ran out of magic silver bullets a long time ago, but low-cost, low-energy hacks like this, developed to benefit developing nations grappling with exploding populations and rapid growth may similarly be applied in our own Western societies.