Enterntainment Education: Rewriting the script in India

Students and faculty at the College got to experience a master class on entertainment education taught by Arvind Singhal, who has studied and worked with this public health communication strategy for years. The method has been conducted to produce positive social change in countries such as India and South Africa.

He is the Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston Endowed professor of communication studies and director of the social justice initiative in University of Texas – El Paso’s Department of Communication.

Students participate in a discussion on the the influence of stories. (Brian Kempf / Features Assistant)

Singhal’s visit was sponsored by the Public Health Communication Club, the Cultural and Intellectual Community Program Council, the School of Education, the Center for Global Engagement and the School of the Arts and Communication.

Entertainment education involves the use of story telling in hopes to alter negative social behavior. Singhal shared a quote by one of his favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true … not just because they tell us that monsters can be vanquished.”

This quote is directly related to the philosophy behind entertainment education, Singhal explained, because, “it is a global storytelling process.”

“The pen can move in any direction it wants,” he said. If there is a social issue, or a “monster,” that needs to be addressed, new and positive social norms have the potential to be created through this form of health communication.

He gave an example of how entertainment education was implemented in Behar, India.

Women tend to be looked down upon in India and are not treated as well as men. In many cases, young girls do not even know their own age because their birthdays go uncelebrated.

This social issue was addressed through a radio soap opera, which told the story of a girl who wished to have a birthday celebration, like her brother did. Because the creators of this radio soap opera “hold the pen,” they made the story move in a positive direction.

In the end, the young Indian girl was able to have a huge birthday celebration. The whole village took notice and realized celebrating a young girl’s birthday would be a good thing.

Singhal went on to explain that through this Indian soap opera, the normal “script” was rewritten to have a better outcome. Though it was a fictional radio show, it resulted in positive change in real life. A young girl celebrated her birthday in a village where the show was broadcasted. They soon noticed more girls celebrating their birthdays.

This is just one of many instances, where the implementation of entertainment education has made a difference and contributed to positive changes among various social and health problems.

Singhal discussed other influential figures that have used this “re-scripting” method of communication. He mentioned both Mother Theresa and Ghandi and the ways in which they profoundly impacted society.

He gives the example of how Ghandi ended violence among Muslim and Hindu Indians, by refusing to eat until people stopped killing. This unique approach to dealing with such a large-scale problem is similar to how entertainment education works.

Ghandi can be considered a “re-scripter” because he overcame the “monster” of violence by acting out to initiate social change.

Looking at life in a different way and approaching situations in ways you would never think to approach them was an important part of his message. Singhal asked his class to stand up and sit back down on their chair in a way in which they have never sat on a chair before. The audience, though slightly reluctant, began to sit down in obscure ways.

“You’ve just changed the normal ‘script’ of how to sit on a chair,” Singhal said.

Singhal ended his class discussing the ways in which video games can be used as a medium to rescript social and health problems that exist today. He explained how Jane McGonigal, a game designer, created a game called “Evoke,” which enables people to collaborate and come up with ways to solve real-world problems.

“Stories matter, but multiple stories matter even more,” Singhal said. If many people offer different perspectives on a problem, there is hope for change to be made.