Sumita Vaid

Thompson lends a hand to the cause of universal education

The School Chale Hum campaign for the India Government-funded Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan stands apart in its simplicity

Sadly, imparting education in our country is not as secular and uncomplicated as one would like it to be. It is fraught with many problems. Problems such as high school drop out rate, teacher indifference, low levels of literacy among parents, low community involvement, gender bias and minority group issues. If that were not enough, lack of funds and poor infrastructure has rendered the scenario as grim as one could imagine.

To get a grip on this situation the Government of India has launched many schemes from time to time to draw attention to the issue. Unfortunately, many of its programmes have not really reached the target audience, courtesy lack of a concerted effort at selling the idea of universal education. Even when money has been splurged on spreading the message, the messages themselves have failed to strike a chord, laden as they were with profound academic messages.

Against this backdrop, the School Chale Hum (let's go to school) campaign for the India Government-funded Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) devised by Thompson Social & Rural (the social communication unit of JWT) comes as a breath of fresh air. The four-minute film, produced by the Bharatbala Productions, opens with the Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging children to go to school. With this prelude the film cuts to a panoramic view of children approaching school, attending school or preparing to go to school. Kids are shown in their true element - learning, exploring and interacting with each other. The background anthem - with lyrics by Mehboob, and music scored by the triumvirate of Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa - explains why it is necessary to go to school. The film ends with Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi reiterating the message of School Chale Hum.

No clarion call. No solemnisation. The film talks directly to its target audience - the children of India.

The message of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan - funded by the Ministry of HRD (Education) and launched to provide eight years of free education to children in the age group of six to 14 years - couldn't have been delivered more simply. "SSA needed a single-focus programme identity and communication device that would transcend regional and socio-cultural barriers effectively," explains Rajat Ray, vice-president and manager, Thompson Social & Rural. "The anthem is not about a cold word called Literacy, or about being able to write one's name and a few words on paper. It is about a mass movement called Education. A movement that will ensure that a cobbler's son need not be a cobbler, a peasant's daughter need not be married off at 15, or a shopkeeper's little brother need not grow up to share the tiny shop," adds Ray.

SSA was rolled out to ensure a school/alternative schooling facility within one kilometre of every habitation across the nation. "SSA is a convergence of all the existing programmes such as the District Primary Education plans, Operation Blackboard, Janshala etc, with a focus on elementary education. It calls for a major attitudinal change in the community at large. Parents of uneducated or undereducated children need to be convinced. Children themselves need to be motivated. Opinion leaders and social mobilisers, right down to the grassroot level, need to do their bit. The service providers need to internalise the importance and urgency of the programme."

An important aspect of the communication is the SSA mnemonic. It features a girl with a book in her hands and a boy perched on a flying pencil. They are the Jadooi Jodi (magical duo), the programme mascots. "The visual integration of the children, book and the flying pencil clearly establishes the fact that the programme pertains to children's education. The message reaches out clearly to the illiterate and semiliterate as well," points out Ray.

The education anthem film is on air in 16 different regional languages on the national and regional networks of Doordarshan and on cable & satellite channels. To take the message deeper into the nation, the film would be shown on mobile video vans travelling through villages. Alongside, the anthem will be broadcast across all radio stations of the country. The unabridged four-minute anthem will be shown as a music video on popular television channels.

The current education anthem film is part of an elaborate communication plan. What will follow is a series of issue-related films supported by an aggressive print campaign. © 2003 agencyfaqs!