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Idiot box? Call it 54 classrooms

New Delhi, Dec. 4: After May 1, few would dare call television the idiot box.

Fifty channels, each dedicated to a specific subject, will make their way into homes from May, with structured lectures to fill in the gaps in quality higher education that most students in India are deprived of, experts said.

From management to mechanical engineering, literature to law, and commerce to communication, each channel will deliver these lectures for students so that they can pursue higher studies sitting at home.

Students will get 20 minutes after every lecture to clarify doubts through emails, SMS and phone calls (see chart).

The channels, according to the experts, would mainly help distance education students who otherwise don’t have much scope for interacting with teachers.

The human resource development ministry will launch these channels, taking the total number of education channels to 54. The new channels will directly broadcast lectures by professors from IITs, IIMs, NITs, central universities and other top institutions, sources in the ministry said.

The ministry, which has already got two GSAT-8 transponders from the Indian Space Research Organisation for broadcasting the channels, has asked IIT Madras to take care of the technological aspects such as setting up studios and up-link and downlink facilities.

At present, there are four education channels — Eklavya, Gyandarshan-1, Gyandarshan-2 and Vyas.

T.R. Kem, former director of the Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC), which runs Vyas, said education channels were the new-age medium for reaching quality education to students. “In India, the majority of students of higher education are deprived of quality education. The content aired on education channels is of good quality. I believe these channels will be of help for students of distance education and those in small towns and rural areas.”

Some 14 crore TV sets have made their way into homes.

According to Kem, nearly 20 million students in India were pursuing higher studies. Of them 12 per cent are enrolled in distance learning while 50 per cent study in non-accredited institutions.

Kem said Vyas had recorded a significant increase in viewers over the past five years. The CEC had conducted a study, which found that about 13 per cent students pursuing higher education were following the channel.

A senior official of the Electronic Media Production Centre at the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which runs the two Gyandarshan channels, said students mostly watch education channels. “Our Gyandarshan channels are available through DTH (Direct To Home). We have found students watch them for quality improvement,” he said.

Since the 50 new channels will be dedicated to specific subjects, the number of viewers should go up significantly, the official added.

The 50 channels will directly telecast the lectures for eight hours and repeat them over the next 16 hours. The programmes will also be available on the government’s education website Sakshat.

The launch of the channels has been hanging fire because the information and broadcasting ministry, which gives permission to companies to start channels, wasn’t giving a no-objection certificate (NoC) as the HRD ministry is not a company.

The HRD ministry took the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office and got an exemption from seeking an NoC.