ON SEPTEMBER 20, 2004 India successfully launched Edusat, so becoming the first country in the world with a satellite exclusively reserved for educational purposes. The first operational flight of the 2000-kg class GSVL rocket -- it will eventually put the indigenously-built satellite in its geo-stationary orbit -- is certainly noteworthy. In the coming months, Edusat's 12 transponders will begin to beam educational TV programmes, ranging from primary education level to professional courses, to every nook and corner of the country. The idea, as sources at the Indian Space Research Organisation -- they built Edusat -- put it, is to create interactive virtual classrooms all over the country to augment education at local level.
The nobility of the initiative forces a question: what is the quality of educational programming currently available in the country? Are the programmes aired as part of the UGC Countrywide Classroom since 1984 on the national television network to be a model? If so, then Edusat can only beam a deadly lack of inspiration. Indeed, while the design, construction and launch of Edusat was planned and executed with clock-like precision, the same is hardly true of the "software". A consortium of 20 educational institutions has been cobbled together to take care of programme content, but is the requisite pedagogical and content planning in place? What if the approach becomes as ad-hoc as it was with the UGC-controlled initiative?
As the services will roll out over the next year or two in a phased manner, tens of thousands of schools, colleges and other educational institutions across the country will cough up a few crore rupees to buy passive or interactive terminals -- depending on what they can afford -- to receive the broadcasts. That's a lot of money; it cannot go down the content drain. Moreover, unless the Union ministry of human resources development -- Edusat's content manager -- has the imagination to put this technology to good use, Rs 400 crore of taxpayers' money, spent on the satellite and other paraphernalia, will spin uselessly around the earth, enlightening nobody.