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  The import of EDUSAT

The launch of EDUSAT by ISRO in Sep,2004 has been viewed by media mostly as a technological feat. Not many are aware it’s part of a grand strategy India has been knitting together since 1975, to take education to everyone. Few countries have prioritised education as India has done.

The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment [SITE] of 1975-76, using an American satellite, whetted India’s appetite for technology driven education. 2400 villages were served with information on hygiene, health and family planning. It met with enthusiastic participation. It was hailed then, as the largest sociological innovation on earth.

By 1983, India’s own INSAT series of satellites were being pressed into service for various uses, education being among them. INSATs went on to train Indian universities to prepare content for remote delivery. The Vishveshwariah Technological University in Karnataka, the Y B Chavan State Open University in Maharashtra and the Rajiv Gandhi Technical University in Madhya Pradesh have for over a decade now, been delivering remote lectures to units affiliated to them.

In 1985, the Indira Gandhi National Open University [IGNOU] was inaugurated to serve off-campus students through correspondence courses. Course materials printed on paper are mailed to over 600,000 students country wide. They are given face-to-face spells of education periodically in 504 study centres. IGNOU has become immensely popular and its courses are valued in several developing countries today. It has also kept abreast of technological developments and has been deploying its content through them. Several websites have also sprung up to assist IGNOU students.

Use of satellites for education continued steadily, until 2002, when India took the momentous decision to dedicate an exclusive geo-synchronous satellite for education. That was the birth of EDUSAT. It is unlikely that any other country made such a decision, before it became affluent.

Meantime, educationists and content developers had been co-opting satellite television for delivering education. IGNOU and Doordarshan came together in 2000, to run 3 round the clock education channels branded as Gyan Darshan and a network of FM stations, known as Gyan Vani.

It is in the context of the foregoing that the EDUSAT is to be seen. It is not a pioneer in education, as many mistakenly believe, but only a modern tool to serve the massive education movement already underway in India. For those who are puzzled about how a supposedly poor India, has come to be perceived as a nation of brilliant knowledge workers, it may help if they understand, that for Indians -rich and poor- learning has always been a high priority.

Deployment of EDUSAT will proceed in three phases. In the initial phase, current programmes running on INSAT-3B will be synchronised with EDUSAT and enhanced. EDUSAT has five beams covering north, south, west, east and north-east of India. In the second phase, between 100 and 200 classrooms will be connected live. Interactivity will come from one uplinking station in each area. In the final phase, EDUSAT will support a total 20 to 30 uplinks, with each of them connected to 5000 remote terminals. That translates into about 150,000 remote, interactive class rooms.

When you have had a feel for that national purpose, the rocketry behind EDUSAT will make almost prosaic reading. The 2 tonne EDUSAT cost Rs.90 crores to build. The rockets that launched them stood 49 metres high, weighed over 400 tonnes,and cost Rs.160 crores. They were of total Indian build, save for the Russian cryogenic engine. The satellite has 12 transponders taking the total count of transponders that India owns, to 200.

Geo Synchronous Satellites are the top league. India had made two successful experimental launches earlier. On Sep 20, 2004, the assembly that stood on the launch pad in Sriharikota, in south India, was the first operational launch, that would qualify India as a proven, commercial satellite launcher.

At 4.01 that damp afternoon, rockets fired and in copy book perfection, vaulted and placed in the sky, an institution that Indians revere the most - the Guru.