Sound schooling – Radio for distance education
January 2006

Sound schooling – Radio for distance education

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Despite rapid developments in communication technologies in the last few decades, radio broadcasting remains the cheapest mode of mass  communication in India that can benefit  rural and deprived communities with low iteracy rate and little  excess to education

At a recent conference on Digital Learning in Delhi [18-19 October 2005], the participants sat bemused as Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT gave a very  engaging account of his ‘Hole in the Wall’ project. Dr. Mitra explained how Delhi slum children with no education and no  knowledge of English quickly picked up different computer  functions, when given
unsupervised access to a computer and the internet through a kiosk.  This project in ‘minimally invasive education’ was later extended to  rural India, prompting a rather disbelieving audience to ask how the Hole in the Wall computers could function in remote and rural  India, with erratic electricity supply, negligible telecom  penetration and next to no maintenance.  Dr. Mitra gamely reeled off a  catalogue of solar-powered UPS, self-rebooting, maintenance-free  PCs, VSATs and other marvels of  digital technology that could presumably keep computers running forever in the boondocks, but it sounded more like a Heath Robinson whimsy than a recipe for  ICT in education. Not surprisingly, the recommendations that emerged  from the discussions emphasized “the need to think of ICT in  education beyond computer aided learning and incorporate other technologies like community radio  and other media. These mediums would not only be cost effective  but also have a greater outreach  potential.” [Digital Learning, Vol 1 Issue1, Nov-Dec 2005]  Classrooms and radio have always gone together, and radio has been  used to teach everything from mathematics in Thailand (Galda, 1984) to civics education in Botswana (Byram, Kaute &  Matenge, 1980). The first School  Broadcast project in India was commissioned as early as 1937.  Over the years, various educational  radio projects have been carried out in the country, with mixed results.

Educational programmes on AIR  All the Primary channels of All India Radio (AIR)
broadcast educational programmes on a  regular basis on fixed time slots. AIR’s educational programmes are   imed at students as well as teachers of primary, middle,  secondary and senior secondary schools, and are generally  produced in collaboration with national educational agencies like NCERT (National Council for  Educational Research & Training)  and CIET (Central Institute of Educational Technology). The Language Learning programme, popularly known as  the ‘Radio Pilot project’, was  started in 1979-80 jointly by AIR and the Department of Education (Rajasthan). Its aim was to teach Hindi to school children as their first language in 500 primary  schools of Jaipur and Ajmer districts, on an experimental basis. The broadcasts were found to be  useful in improving the children’s vocabulary, and a similar project  was initiated in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh.  Apart from AIR’s in-house educational programmes, the  Indira Gandhi Open University  (IGNOU) also broadcasts its educational programmes from AIR studios.  IGNOU-AIR Interactive Radio  Counseling (IRC) was launched in May 1998 for students of Open /  Conventional Universities. AIR Bhopal and IGNOU ran this as an  experimental programme for a year, to provide academic counseling in various subjects and  to instantly respond to students’ queries; but with its success, it was  extended to other AIR stations. Presently, Interactive Radio  Counseling is being provided every Sunday for one hour from  186 radio stations of All India Radio.  non-conventional education, addressing local educational, developmental and socio-cultural  needs. The stations broadcast in English, Hindi and the language or  dialect of the region, for 4 to 12 hours daily.  During the current phase of private FM expansion in India, which is  expected to cover 91 cities, it is reported that the government plans  to offer 87 FM channels to be used exclusively for education. Of  these, 36 would be used by IGNOU, while the other channels would be open to private players. 

Campus radio stations
In December 2002, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting  released its ‘Community Radio  Guidelines’. Though nominally ‘community’ radio, the policy restricts the radio  licenses under this scheme to ‘well-established educational  institutions’. The  licensing process proved so cumbersome that  India’s first campus-based  community radio station was launched only by  2004 (Anna University’s 90.4   Anna FM). Against  optimistic projections of  1000 campus  stations coming up in a  year, only  75 odd educational institutions have applied for a campus  radio  licenses so far, and of these, 15 stations have become operational.  Most of the campus licenses have  gone to universities,  engineering colleges and mass communications  institutions, along with a   sprinkling of well-heeled schools. Transmitting over a range of 5-10 kilometres, their FM radio stations are expected to serve the  ommunity beyond the campus walls, and to produce programmes ‘on issues relating to education,  health, environment, agriculture, rural and community  development’, according to the government’s Community Radio  Guidelines (www.mib.nic.in). Needless to say, the campus  stations that try to live up to this confused mandate – and many of  them do – sound very much like  the public service broadcaster on which they seem to be closely modelled. Satellite radio for education EDUSAT, according to the Indian
Space Research Organization  (ISRO), is the first exclusive satellite for serving the educational sector. It supports radio  broadcasting, along with audiovideo on C-band and Ku-band, and  is built around the concept of  digital interactive classrooms and a multimedia system. The satellite has multiple regional  beams covering different parts of  India, which theoretically enables programmes to be broadcast in  relevant local languages – India has 18 official languages and over  1500 dialects. “India will require  10,000 new schools each year and meeting the teaching  needs on such a scale [by conventional methods] will be impossible,” Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO told  New Scientist at the launch of  the satellite. EDUSAT can provide connectivity to schools,  colleges and higher levels of education and also support non-formal education including developmental communication. The nationwide beams are being harnessed by agencies like IGNOU, NCERT and the All India Council for Technical  Education (AICTE), to reach hundreds of Receive Only  Terminals (ROTs) and Satellite Interactive Terminals (SITs)  located in schools and colleges, many in remote areas. Content generation is the responsibility of user agencies, but  it is a matter of concern that, over a year after the satellite was  launched, much of its capacity is  lying idle. Satellite access for radio  broadcasting is also  available on other platforms like WorldSpace,  which offers a ‘development channel’ to agencies like Equal  Access for networking community  FM channels (as in Nepal), or for directly broadcasting development  and educational programmes for community listening on
WorldSpace receivers. 

The promise of radio
U.K. Open University’s notable  success with educational radio has  demonstrated how invaluable radio can be for weak students, who  benefit from the medium as a  supplementary learning tool. But the use of radio for distance  education in India, as mentioned earlier, has had mixed results.  AIR’s educational broadcasts are constantly hampered by the lack of radio sets in classrooms, the difficulty of  coordinating school broadcasts  with class-room timings and more  significantly, by the lack of good  broadcasters who have a passion for  education and  conversely, of teachers who are  also good broadcasters. All the same, it
has been amply proved that radio  – rightly used –  can improve educational quality  and relevance, lower educational costs and  improve access to education, particularly for  disadvantaged groups. It is most effective when supported by  trained facilitators, group learning,
group discussion, feedback and the  use of multimedia approaches. There is no single ideal format for  educational radio. Innovative programming like those developed  by Sesame Workshop in Africa, for
instance, offer some very  effective  approaches to   on-formal education over  radio. Recently, AIR agreed to a  proposal from  Sesame Workshop India  to provide airtime on  national and regional radio  channels for locally produced  versions of the universally  popular ‘Sesame Street’. The programmes would be aimed  at pre-schoolers, and would also  provide under-served children with  access to educational media, especially in rural areas.  India spends just 3.4% of its GNP on education. Over 35% of the  population is illiterate, and the  drop out rate in schools is  staggeringly high, with 40% of all school-going children dropping out  during the primary stage itself. The  percentage of dropouts goes up to 67% by Class X. The Supreme  School students participating in the  chool audio program in Karnataka  Court of India (in 1993) has declared education of children up  to 14 years to be a fundamental right, but school attendance  is related to the perceived importance of education by  parents, and also to socioeconomic factors. Despite rapid developments in communication technologies in the  last few decades, radio  broadcasting remains the cheapest mode of mass communication in  India, catering equally to the needs of the rich and the poor, rural and the urban masses and  reaching the remotest parts of the country. In a country where the  literacy rate is 65%, and fewer than 50% of homes are electrified, the  humble transistor radio plays a vital role in the country’s socioeconomic  and cultural development. Rural and deprived communities,  with low literacy rates and little access to formal education, stand  to benefit the most from distance learning through community radio.  If and when such communities are permitted to set up their own low  power radio stations – and 4000 such community radio stations are  possible in India, according to government estimates – then we  could witness a revolution in education far beyond anything dreamt of by the purveyors of  digital technology in a digitally divided country.  Using radio for education and
community development is part of  the 75-year-old Reithian ambition for radio broadcasting. Children  and youth can be easily and cheaply trained, and the goals of  universal primary and secondary education for all can be reached  more easily with broadcast support. Among the poor and  marginalized people of the country, radio could even create a new class of people – educated but illiterate

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