Television as teacher

BY Jai Chandiram| IN Media Practice | 15/04/2010
For nine years, Andhra Pradesh has been running five education channels under the name MANA TV. Their popularity has proved that notwithstanding computers, television can grab eyeballs in the classroom,

The Right to Education Bill, which is much in discussion these days, gives a fresh impetus to the education sector. The problems of quality and teacher education have been identified as key areas in need of attention. In this regard, it would be pertinent to look at a key distance education initiative in Andhra Pradesh that has been very useful and successful.


It began in 2001 when an impatient Chandrababu Naidu rebuked some senior officers in the state for the delay in starting the education channel. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had allocated a KU band for education broadcasts two years before but there was a reluctance to launch the channel. Naidu then announced impromptu that the channel would be launched on Ugadi day, 15 days from the meeting. The officials present at the meeting were visibly shaken by the ordeal•the seeming impossibility of starting a channel in 15 days flat.


The Information and Public Relations (IPR) department head Phani Kumar told me, "Ma’am, we have to put everything in place immediately." I laughed, and said, "Not possible." "I know you will do it," he said quietly. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was uncertain about the state’s investment in a television channel and permissions had to be obtained in a hurry.


I got cracking listing the departments that could contribute to this ambitious dream. Groups were set up for technical delivery systems and program committees formed for collecting material. I shot the inaugural film that would showcase the expectations from the channel of both the rural and urban sectors that it was to service. We found women in Pastapur wanted the ‘Ramayan’, a young village boy wanted "English lessons" and, of course, "health and organic agriculture."


With the help of Doordarshan, the channel was inaugurated on Ugadi day with a live transmission and pre-recorded educational programs. There were intensive training sessions for teachers on presentation techniques and the use of the audio-visual resources of the medium.


In order to ensure it satisfies the target audience, a quick study of the requirements of schools for programmes in terms of their specific needs, transmission timings, teacher training, and development of curriculum-based lessons was conducted.


Andhra Pradesh has had a rich experience of governance using the teleconferencing interactive mode in which the chief minister too participated on matters of policy and deliverance on projects. Naidu was sharp and hard-hitting, came with thorough preparation, and literally took the ‘class’ of district administrators. Most of them dreaded these sessions holding them to accountability.


Many good ideas emerged from the ‘smart’ ICT-oriented administrators who were proud to talk about their projects on innovations in kiosks for e-bill payments, computer training and market information. The ‘shabash’ went to the IT sectors who had facilitated the government schemes and projects.

Today, nine years later, the Society for Andhra Pradesh Network (SAPNET) has grown into a five-channel network servicing the needs in education, agriculture, rural development and e-governance. SAPNET connects 646 schools, 164 government colleges, 595 junior colleges, 11 medical colleges, 107 polytechnics, 24 study centres of Ambedkar Open University, five police training centres, 350 mandal offices, and has a communication network of 2,151 outlets.


The down links for the KU band is through direct receive-only terminals (ROT), and some have additional features of telephone and data broadcast from a hub that can be delivered to computers with a DVB card. The Type 3 B is a Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) terminal capable of data reception and transmission and provides for a return channel for video, thus enabling (two-way) video-conferencing.


The maintenance of the TV and receiving dishes is being now passed on to the user to enable them to take control. User charges are being waived and funds are being allocated to the user to enable them to maintain the end facilities. A collection of Rs 64 lakh levied as transmission charges covers part of the operational costs of SAPNET, pegged at Rs 2 crore. This does not include the program production charges of the departments which are incurred by the departments themselves.


Eventually, SAPNET aims to connect all educational institutes, district administrative offices, agricultural extension units and self-help units providing an interactive forum, at the grassroots level. These facilities offer multiple uses, making an investment in them worthwhile.


Programs on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) on Wednesday and Thursday enable 20,000 to 30,000 officers to be trained, in addition to letting them share experiences and solve problems. Social issues such as child marriage and child labour are also addressed by Andhra Pradesh Academy for Rural Development (APARD). Some schools have been provided with UPS in a state where 71% of the schools do not have alternative power supply. Only 43 per cent of the schools had satisfactory power supply.

The response to the channels has been very positive.


Around 50% find the school transmission timings convenient, and want the television classes to be extended from their 45-minute duration to an hour. Tele-lessons have also been found to be very useful to students in subjects like mathematics and physics, and science in general. The TV programs have created popular interest in the sciences and have motivated students towards self-learning.


About 90% approve of the effective use of teaching aids and find live telecasts more interesting as the interaction facilitates clarity on confusing questions. There is a request for documentaries on historical figures featured in the textbooks.


Class teachers, however, are not as approving as they feel they are being compared with the television teachers who have more resources than they do.


There is room for a greater reach. Focus group discussions revealed that the parent-teacher associations could be encouraged to fund alternative power supply and additional TV sets.


MANA TV (under which banner the channels are broadcast) has produced useful educational programs but, regrettably, is unable to maintain the recordings due to lack of funds. It has not been able to convince the departments to invest in DVDs for circulation in order to recover program costs. Unfortunately, the state-of-the-art studio facilities too remain underutilized due to lack of funds and staff.


Additional investment will be required in this gigantic infrastructure as the transmission will shift from INSAT 3B to Asiasat 5. That could be a temporary setback.


But MANA TV has proved decisively that notwithstanding the growth of computers in the school sector, the use of television in the classroom will endure even though with some changes in the due course.  


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