Learning at leisure: Using entertainment education to empower the poor
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October 4th, 2011
03:56 PM ET

Learning at leisure: Using entertainment education to empower the poor

Editor's Note: Mahmoud Mohieldin is a World Bank Managing Director, responsible for the Bank’s knowledge development. This post is part of the Global Innovation Showcase created by the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square.

By Mahmoud Mohieldin – Special to CNN

What does a TV program showcasing Bollywood film songs have to do with India’s development? Viewers don’t typically sit in front of the television expecting to be empowered with knowledge that helps them improve their lives. But if writers and producers are provided with substantive information about critical topics, could television be transformed into more than just entertainment? Could popular programs be used to subtly yet effectively deliver information that convinces audiences to change their behavior and improve their lives – or, in the case of same language subtitling, helps them learn to read?

That was the idea behind The World Bank’s Development Marketplace grant program in financing an innovative pilot led by Brij Kothari at PlanetRead Literacy for a Billion. The pilot added Hindi subtitles to a popular television program that showcased Bollywood film songs, with striking results. As compared to a control group, levels of illiteracy were cut in half, and the percent of children who were learning to read and became good readers more than doubled.

At the recent Conference on Entertainment Education held at the World Bank Group, thought leaders in behavior change made it clear that communications experts, educators and behavioral psychologists have been successfully employing this strategy in the field of health as well.

Essentially, entertainment education is a communications strategy that works through mass entertainment media by incorporating information into popular programs to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. It is usually part of more comprehensive communications strategies that can include public service announcements and more direct forms of informational communications such as websites and text message reminders—all of which are used by government policymakers, development professionals, civil society and NGOs working in development.

Read: Using technology to stop "cattle-rustling".

Examples of the development impact education entertainment can have extends beyond television to other media.  Take for example the case of Taru, a 52-episode radio soap opera broadcast in four Indian states between 2002 and 2003.  Developed as a joint project of All India Radio (AIR) and the NGO Population Communications International (now PCI Media Impact), and closely coordinated with rural health practitioners in the villages where it aired, Taru promoted gender equality, reproductive health, informed family planning, caste and communal harmony, and community development.  Impact evaluations showed that communities that listened to Taru started to discuss the need for girls’ education and informed family planning, creating an enabling environment for villagers to seek family planning services that were available to them but which had been underutilized.  Sales of condoms, contraceptive pills, and pregnancy test strips more than tripled in villages where Taru’s impact was closely monitored.

Entertainment education is expanding its reach to a few other development topics. Recently in both Kenya and South Africa, popular television dramas have dealt with a variety of financial issues including over-indebtedness, opening a bank account and financing a small business. In South Africa, the National Debt Mediation Association is a partner in one of these efforts, and the show it is collaborating on will publicize the NDMA’s services for consumers who find themselves in over their heads in debt.

The potential to scale-up the use entertainment education for development has never been greater than it is today. More than a billion households worldwide have a television.  Television penetration rates in emerging economies like Vietnam and Algeria are as high as 80 percent and over 95 percent in Mexico. In India, more people have cell phones and televisions in their home than have indoor plumbing.  And those homes lacking television sets almost certainly have at least one radio or mobile phone, as telecommunications technologies continue to expand, reaching even the most remote and challenging environments. Indeed, mass entertainment media captures people’s attention regardless of culture or context.

Read: China as an innovation nation.

However, even after many decades, entertainment education has yet to reach its potential.  It is still applied to a relatively narrow set of issues, missing opportunities in many areas of development, such as gender equity, violence prevention, sanitation and environmental protection.  Entertainment education has also tended to be done through one-off projects targeting specialized programming rather than via mainstream shows and partnerships with commercial media that capitalize on the skills and resources of leaders in the entertainment industry.  In their current form, entertainment education initiatives are costly and are not delivering as many messages to as many audiences as they could.

Here is how to scale up entertainment education so that it produces significant progress towards society’s economic and social goals:

1.  Leverage partnerships among governments, civil society and the commercial entertainment media sector, both globally and locally.

2.  Extend entertainment education techniques beyond health education to treat a range of pressing development issues: financial access and capability, water and sanitation, nutrition, gender equity, and violence prevention, to name just a few.

3.  Link entertainment education to development programs and projects at the community-level to increase impact.

4.  Take a transmedia approach that employs traditional and new media in concert so that SMS messages, Facebook entries, Tweets and comic books support and reinforce the educational information broadcast through popular TV and radio programs.

5.  Build a research base for entertainment education and proving its efficacy: This means that each pilot intervention should incorporate a rigorous monitoring and impact evaluation framework and new funding sources should be made available for such evaluations.

Read: How cell phones can expose counterfeit drugs.

When implemented properly, entertainment education can create deeper and more effective interactions with intended beneficiaries yet at a scale unmatched in many other development initiatives. The international development community should seize this innovative opportunity to work toward our shared goals.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mahmoud Mohieldin. Read more from the Global Innovation Showcase created in partnership with the New America Foundation.

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Topics: Development • Education • Innovation

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    Learning is fun is all I can say here. I'm already in my 60's and still at it. If only a lot of these ignoramuses would do the same thing here, support for all these useless and unnecessary wars overseas would end in a hurry and the Tea Party Movement would be on the decline plus deal a blow to the Republicans!

    October 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  2. Meritta Jansen

    Very interesting blog, but isn't it better not to expose the magic to day light? Some viewers might be more careful when they watch soap operas if they know that they are being used for economic or financial messages.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  3. moqtada al qather is criminal

    فيلق القدس الايراني سينفذ عمليات نوعية لتاجيج الحرب الطائفية في مدن ( سامراء ، الضلوعية ، بلد ، الدجيل ، المشاهده )

    شبكة المنصور
    منظمة الرصد والمعلومات الوطنية

    وردتنا معلومات من مصادر مطلعة وموثوقة مفادها مايلي :

    خليه تابعه لفيلق القدس الايراني تتواجد حاليا في مدينة البصره عدد عناصرها من ( 50 – 60 ) عنصر يشرف عليها من ناحية الدعم اللوجستي احد قيادات فيلق بدر المدعو ( ابو حسن الركابي ) من اهالي مدينة ( الزبير ) وهو من اهم مساعدي ( هادي العامري ) في البصرة ومن عناصر فيلق القدس المعتمدين في الداخل العراقي ستنفذ هذه الخليه عمليات مرسومه لها من قبل فيلق القدس في المدن التاليه :

    ( سامراء / ضلوعية / بلد / الدجيل / المشاهدة ) والغاية من عملياتهم هي أشعال ( الحرب الطائفية ) انطلاقا من هذه المناطق المذكوره . والعمليات هي :

    1 / تنفيذ عملية ارهابية ( تفجير ) تستهدف اما مرقد ( الامامين العسكريين ع ) او مرقد ( السيد محمد ع ) في منطقة بلد .
    2 / تنفيذ عمليات اغتيال لشيوخ عشائر من ( السنة والشيعة ) تظهر العمليات على اساس طائفي .
    3 / ضرب جوامع سنية وشيعية في كل من ( بلد و ضلوعية و المشاهدة ) وتكون الضربات بالتزامن وبأوقات متقاربة .

    عناصر الخلية التي ستنفذ العمليات مرتبطة بصوره رسميه بفيلق القدس الايراني ومن المقلدين لولاية الفقيه .

    العناوين التي يتردد عليها بعض عناصر الخلية من ( العراقيين و الايرانيين ) وذلك من خلال المتابعة المستمرة لهم هي :
    1 / البصرة / شارع الجمهورية / بداية فرع فندق الامراء / دار رقم 128 على 45
    2 / البصرة / الطويسة / قرب مكتب الصدر بحوالي 45 متر / دار رقم 67
    3 / البصرة / الطويسة / قرب مدرسة البنات / دار رقم 91 على 3
    4 / البصرة / 5 ميل / قرب محطة القطار / دار رقم 84 على 2 على

    December 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  4. hindismsinhindi.com

    Santa teacher – jab bijli kadakti h to chamak pahle dikhai deti h aur aawaz baad me sunai deti hai…kyo? . . . Banta student – kyoki hamari aankhe h aur kaan peeche … संता टीचर – जब बिजली कड़कती है तो चमक पहले दिखाई देती है और आवाज बाद में सुनाई देती है … क्यों ? . . बंता स्टूडेंट – क्योंकि हमारी आँखें आगे हैं और कान पीछे …

    March 12, 2012 at 3:07 am | Reply
  5. ritu

    entertainment education is very useful in the rural area...today we are seeing many advertisements as well as shows on TV which guides people about their health..it is really very effective way to spread importance of good health in rural area...

    April 20, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply
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