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Home » Reading for a Billion, with Bollywood: Brij Kothari at TEDxCERN (Transcript)

Reading for a Billion, with Bollywood: Brij Kothari at TEDxCERN (Transcript)

Brij Kothari – TRANSCRIPT

Imagine you woke up this morning and found yourself to be completely illiterate. Perhaps it feels like you are here. Or maybe here. You can’t read a thing, maybe a few letters, but you can’t really string them together to make sense. How would that impact your life? You wouldn’t be here at a TEDx talk if you were illiterate.

In fact, you wouldn’t be able to use your cell phones. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Google maps. And maybe one good thing: no texting while driving. That was a theoretical exercise for us, but for this mother and child it’s a daily disadvantage.

Imagine he is sick and she needs to take him to a doctor in the city. She’ll get to the bus stop and not be able to read the signs and not know when and where the buses are leaving. At the hospital, it’ll be difficult to navigate the lines, deal with all the information and forms, and then, the doctor might write a prescription in, of course, doctors’ beautiful handwriting. How dependent is her life?

But look, in her hand is a miracle of digital revolution: a cell phone. She has the potential to access all the information in the world and reap all its benefits, but illiteracy will prevent her from doing that. Officially, 74% in India are literate, but we all know that the majority of the literate, so-called literate, actually can not read even the headline of a newspaper. In fact, the problem starts early.

Most children today in India are in school but learning very poorly. In fact, so poorly that in class five, only one out of two children are able to read a class-two text. So the literacy pie actually looks something like this: only 30% of Indians can actually read a newspaper. The remaining 70% are either completely illiterate – in red – or a big number: 467 million – in yellow – weak literates. They have some alphabetic familiarity, but they really can’t read anything, a simple text even. Together, the ones in red and yellow, are 740 million people who can not read in India. OK, that’s the population of 100 Switzerlands where nobody can read, imagine that.

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