Dr Binod C Agrawal is Vice Chancellor, Himgiri Nabh Vishwavidyalaya, Dehradun, and Director, TALEEM Research Foundation, Ahmedabad. He has been deeply involved in communication research. Earlier he was Advisor (Social Applications) in satellite communications at Space Applications Centre, ISRO, and has worked over two decades in ISRO. He pioneered use of qualitative methods for communications research during the world famous Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) while leading SITE social research and evaluation team of over hundred inter-disciplinary team of social scientists. The research findings and experiences are documented in the book SITE Social Evaluation. Dr Agrawal is the Founder Director of Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) where India’s first professional teaching programme in business communication and advertising was started in 1994. He has also represented India in several international communication research fora and has over a dozen publications on television, computer technology, and anthropological studies. Digital Learning has Dr Agrawal talking about his current and past engagements and his experiences in the use of multimedia in education.
Please tell us about the vision and mission of TALEEM Foundation.
Registered in 1996, TALEEM, meaning education and training, is an acronym for Transnational Alternate Learning for Emancipation and Empowerment through Multimedia. It is an initiative from the Essel Group of Industries to channelise part of its resources to address issues of national concern like over-population, environment preservation and equitable distribution of resources such as education, health services and income generating skills.
The organisation aims to provide access and opportunities for quality education through distance and open learning, which will lead to employability and income generation; promote quality social science and communication research; and also utilise information technology for the development of the less privileged.
What are its ongoing initiatives and focus area in education?
One of the major endeavours of the Foundation was setting up of Himgiri Nabh Vishwavidyalaya (University in the Sky) for the vocationalisation of education. Set up in 2005, the University provides regular professional courses and distance learning via satellite television and information technology.
Another initiative is the Basic Education Support Television (BEST) Project, now operational . The primary aim of the project was to impart basic education at primary school level through television. The project is syllabus based and intended as class room viewing for primary school children of classes 1-5. BEST was targeted at children in rural and semi-rural areas covering around 10,000 primary schools in nine Hindi speaking states in a phased manner over five years. Initially the project could not succeed due to lack of cooperation from various state governments and support from the industrial houses across the country.
How has been your experience with the use of multimedia in the field of education, since your parent organisation is synonymous with cable TV revolution in India.
Since 1973, I have been involved in the use of satellite and information technology for boosting education and development. Efforts were made in the understanding and experimenting with means and methods of using technology to improve the quality of life and education. In 1975-76 we worked on the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment, popularly known as SITE. SITE was considered a unique experiment in the use of satellite television direct broadcasting in rural India to improve agriculture, primary education and rural health. SITE proved beyond doubt that gap between urban and rural India can be neutralised through satellite television. The social evaluation of SITE was carried out in 2400 villages by my team to understand the effects of world’s largest techno-social experiment. The SITE opened up the path for satellite broadcast in India.
My next encounter with digital technology started in 1984 when I was evaluating Computer Literacy And School Studies (CLASS) project in 250 higher secondary schools spread across the country. CLASS evaluation indicated that school children regardless of their socio-economic background were keen to learn computer. The major finding was that the school children had great deal of determination and initiative to use the computer very intelligently whereas the teachers were not ready to accept the computer beyond school hours.
Another involvement was related to major Indo-Canadian reaserach project entitled ‘Application and Social Impact of Computer Technology in Higher Education’. The study was carried out both in India and Canada which provided a model for computerising Universities. The results of the study were published in three volume books (1993). Even today no such comprehensive comparative study has been carried out.
CLASS evaluation indicated that school children regardless of their socio-economic background were keen to learn computer
Please tell us about the ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ project.
At the turn of the century, on the request of America India Foundation Bangalore, I studied ‘Spanning the Digital Divide