As a child, growing up under the tutelage of parents who were both professors, the phrase all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy held a very special meaning for me. It stood as an ally in my battle to win those extra minutes of play-time, from the world of studies. Play-time was important, as it provided me and my friends the critical outlet for the wantonness of our human spirit to emerge without the glare of adult-supervision. This was what defined recreation and entertainment for us and served as a catalyst for our growth and development. This was several decades before multi-channel Television had reached our tier-3 town in Bihar and permanently altered the way its citizens engaged in activities of recreation and entertainment.
Everyone knows that the advent of audio-visual programming sponsored by brands of all hues, delivered first via Television, then the Internet and now the ubiquitous Smartphone has changed how entertainment and recreation is consumed. But most of us fail to recognise what is probably the most profound impact that all this has had on us and our children: it has completely changed the meaning of play-time. For our children play-time is no longer that one slice of life, when we set them free from the colossal machine that operates to maximise the human ability to either produce or consume. Huge brand-building budgets routinely sponsor the creation and delivery of mesmeric and scalable experiences that define what entertainment and recreation mean to everyone.
Pick any field: cricket, movies, technology, business, stock-markets, music… All of these have devotees who follow these fields with religious zeal. Mass-media driven entertainment properties—extravaganzas such as Indian Idol, Miss India or IPL—are like the temples in Tirupati or Puri that help to attract the masses to these religions. The key to the effectiveness of these quasi-religious phenomena are the Gods—or at least demi-gods—that are instrumental in manifesting the devotion into tangible followership. This followership converts into eyeballs, viewership, TRP or any of those measurable jargons that help you to decide if it is worthy of your brand’s support. Your brand’s sponsorship helps to create and maintain the Godliness of the Gods. The Gods then bestow their magic charm to heap blessings that give more power to your brand. This is the symbiotic win-win arrangement which consummates the marriage between the entertainment industry and the media industry. So much so, that these two industry sectors have actually converged to become one: the media & entertainment industry.
But if you look more deeply, you will see that Entertainment is not the new religion, Education is. Every morning, parents don’t wake up to dress up their children in KKR-gear and pack them off to play cricket or appear for auditions. Every morning, parents—of all castes, creed and SEC categories—dress up their children and pack them off to schools… Schools, academies (including cricket and singing academies), institutes, coaching classes are expected to do what the temple, the church, the masjid or the monastery used to do before the coming of the industrial age: be responsible for the development of people, the most precious resource that drives society. The driver who drives your family around in your air-conditioned car probably lives in a shanty so that he can save up and send money back home every month so that his child can afford the tutor who will do what school couldn’t.
Make no mistake, Education—not cricket—is the new religion
It is truly the religion that parents get their children to embrace and employers want existing and prospective employees to follow. But neither the children nor the employees are able to espouse any educational initiative the way they take to Cricket or other more exciting platters that reach out to them via the many ATL and BTL channels, supported by marketing budgets of varying sizes. The education system continues to be a religion that few would choose had they not been forced into it by parental and professional pressures. No wonder, students are more knowledgeable about Sachin Tendulkar and Deepika Padukone than anything that is prescribed in their syllabus. Without having ever attended any class on either the God of Cricket or the Goddess of Bollywood.
A few years back Raju Hirani directed a film called ‘3Idiots’ which was a satire on the educational system. The public approved it so ardently that it grossed an all-time record in the box-office. Thirty years before that Pink Floyd rocked the world with their album ‘Brick in the Wall’ featuring their marquee song: We don’t need no education - A number that became the anthem in many an educational institute. A hundred years before that, Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘Totakahini’ a woeful jeremiad rejecting the system of formal education. The 130 year long journey from TotaKahini to 3-Idiots have seen many things change in the world of education, but what continues to plague it is the lack of excitement and enthusiasm among students for anything educational. There is a huge economic demand for education, everyone needs it. But there is no emotional demand for education: no one enjoys it.
Organised education trapped in institutions with teachers untrained in the art of engaging their audience, has lost out to the world of organised recreation and entertainment. Professionals of mass-communication with cutting edge expertise in attracting and retaining the interest of viewers have worked for brands to create and deliver scintillating and scalable recreational experiences that are accessible at nominal cost by one and all. From stump-vision cameras that define the moment of truth in cricket to bytes from the legends of music who guide young stars in reality shows, the best is not held back from the masses due to restrictions of access. None of this would have been possible had brands not come out and backed the creation and delivery of scalable recreational experiences.
Initiatives like the Indian Idol Academy and Miss India Academy are pioneering mass-education programs that are democratising music education and personality development by combining the principles of mass communication with mass education. The model revolves around using the right blend of technology and multimedia to create learning experiences that scale without any compromise on the quality. A click and mortar model, that uses Learning Festivals to awaken interest and generate demand, gradually funnels the demand down to cater to serious seekers of the learning through Learning from the Legends programs. This provides both reach and depth: a potent mix that brands associating with the program can harness. The huge buzz generated by a successful mass-media property such as Indian Idol andMiss India, is channelized systematically and step by step into programs that help learners to move through the entire cycle of learning: fromjaagaran (awakening) to jijnasa (seeking) to adhyayana (study) to abhyasa (practice) to the ultimate formation of swabhav (habit). As brands support students along this cycle of learning, it will leave an indelible mark on their circle of influence…
The time has come for branding and mass-media professionals to translate the success-mantra from the field of entertainment to the field of education. Instead of depleting the entire reserves of play-time, it is better to hijack some study-time and invigorate it with some life.
The author is a pioneer in the field of mass-education and founder of the KarmYog for 21st Century movement (www.karmyog21c.in)