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Edusat has the potential to bridge India’s learning gap

Giving the learners an opportunity to interact with the instructor is crucial for effective education and training.

analysis Updated: Feb 22, 2018 00:04 IST
Rupamanjari Ghosh
Rupamanjari Ghosh
Education,Rural India,India
A teacher teaching in a rural school Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra. We need to address serious social challenges along with the obvious technological challenges. (Getty Images)

We have been hearing the good news – 2020 will see India emerge as the world’s youngest nation, with a median age of less than 29. Compare that with China, which at the same time, will be at 37 or Japan, which will be 48. A younger working population will have a beneficial impact on the economy. With 64% of its population in the working age group, this demographic potential offers India’s growing economy an unprecedented edge that economists believe could add a significant 2% to the GDP growth rate. Can the country turn this potential to an actual dividend for itself? Much depends on our ability to educate young people consistently and competitively, in a cost-effective way, and at this large scale.

The government has a clear focus on skill development. Expect a greater push around that in the new National Policy on Education (NEP). In a fascinating talk at the Shiv Nadar University, I recently heard BN Suresh, former director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, recounting the glorious launch of India’s first full-fledged educational satellite, Edusat, in 2004. Much earlier, in 1975, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), designed jointly by Nasa and the Indian Space Research Organisation, had highlighted the role technology could play in improving the quality of education in India. Looking to address the shortage of qualified teachers at the school and higher education levels, supplement curriculum-based education and provide effective teacher training, India took its next big step towards integrated technology-based learning with the launch of the dedicated Edusat.

Satellite communication technology using Edusat became a strong tool for the development of distance education with interactive learning using two-way audio and video communication channels. Even as the government attributed large funds, the scope of success from the Edusat initiative remained limited due to several challenges. In its report a few years ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India noted the underutilisation of Edusat because of implementation deficiencies such as a delay in establishment of ground network, idling of network connectivity, disparities in the allocation and idling of satellite bandwidth, inadequate content generation and deficiencies in monitoring and evaluation.

But that was the past. Given the current realisation at the policy level and effective mobilisation of all stakeholders, e-learning is at the forefront of our efforts to address the country’s educational challenges. Edusat no doubt has the potential to bridge the learning gap. But for this to be a reality, we will need to take care of hardware and management deficiencies as well as address deeper implementation blockades.

With a linkage to the Skills India Mission, agencies such as UNESCO can incentivise the states in their use of Edusat in skill building. We have to move away from one-way satellite transmission to dedicated two-way interactivity. Giving the learners an opportunity to interact with the instructor is crucial for effective education and training. Even in the remotest corners of the country, educational institutions need to replace their receive-only terminals, get ready to tackle irregular power supply, and not complain of difficulties in fitting the ‘lectures’ into timetables. There is a lot of scope for indigenous innovation in this sector if a budding entrepreneur is listening!

In this new version of education, the NEP needs to recognise the potential of satellite-enabled e-learning, and allow its entry into the mainstream. The Edusat can be integrated with the indigenously developed MOOC (massive online open course) platform, SWAYAM, launched last year. We need to ensure creation and availability of ‘standardised’ content in sync with the offline curriculum and the NEP, utilising the attractive multimedia technology for facilitating the teaching-learning process, without any compromise on academic rigour. We need to address serious social challenges along with the obvious technological challenges. This will be a difficult task, and awards may be instituted for the innovative and effective teachers on the digital platform.

The potential of Edusat remains undiminished today. It can be made more relevant in addressing key challenges of new-age education, and enhancing and sustaining employability for India’s millions.

Rupamanjari Ghosh is Vice-Chancellor, Shiv Nadar University

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 21, 2018 18:58 IST