Satellite Supported Networking of Rural Schools :: Experiences of RGPEEE

The project launched by the Government in December 2005, aims to add value to elementary education

By Dr Masood Parveez, Senior Regional Director, IGNOU Regional Centre Jabalpur (MP) and Project Director, RGPEEE, Jabalpur, MP
Dr U C Pandey, Regional Director, IGNOU Regional Centre, Bhagalpur, Bihar

The quality of school education has long been a cause of concern. Despite the sincere efforts made by the Government since independence, the desired changes are visible only in selected urban pockets. The schools in remote and geographically inaccessible areas still starve for the good quality teachers and infrastructure. Trained teachers aspiring for better wages and better lifestyle are unwilling to go to such areas. The already available teachers are largely untrained, inadequately paid and overburdened with work. The result is poor quality of educational delivery leading to low turn up of students, low success rates and high dropout. With the enactment of Right to Education, the Government of India has now waged a decisive battle against these issues. Ensuring free education for the students of the age group of 6-14 is now a constitutional obligation and school education has now come to the forefront of the national agenda.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The project has been a major initiative of ISRO, MHRD, IGNOU and State Governments of Hindi speaking states in India. The implementation of the project has testified the following assumptions:
• ICT can be viably utilised to compensate for the deficiencies in the trained teachers in rural areas. The video lessons can be immensely useful for improving the quality of school education as the students find such lessons as per their needs, tastes and learning styles.
• The teachers feel empowered as they can explain the –difficult topics in syllabus through innovative video lessons. It was otherwise not possible to explain the teachers such difficult concepts through just “chalk and talk”.
• The teachers training programmes through SITs has been a new opportunity that helps project officials in fulfilling its mandate.

Towards satellite based solutions

India is one of the major countries across the world to realise the potential of satellite based technologies for education. The Department of Space, Government of India, has made huge investments for the launch of EduSat, a dedicated satellite, solely available for education and development. The satellite has been specially designed to use interactive satellite terminals, create virtual classrooms, develop mechanisms for video on demand and to create effective mechanisms for teaching and training at remote locations. This capability has facilitated one national level network and five regional/state level networks in the country in Ku-band. Rajiv Gandhi

Project for EduSat Supported Elementary Education (RGPEEE) which is on the national beam of EduSat in Ku band is a major venture of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and governments of seven Hindi speaking states in India, namely Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. The project launched by the Government in December 2005, aims to add value to elementary education.

RGPEEE: The core ideas

The project was established with its hub at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, with field sites located in remote and rural schools of Sidhi and some of the adjoining states of Bihar, UP and Chhattisgarh. Sidhi was selected as the focus of the project keeping in view its peculiarly difficult socio economic conditions. However, it was decided to expand the network to other states after gaining new insights and experiences for using the potentialities of EduSat. This Project which was initially known as “Sidhi Project” was launched as the joint initiative of IGNOU, MHRD, ISRO and the Governments of those Hindi speaking states where the project’s downlinks were established.

Started in December 2005 the Project has now expanded to 7 different states in India where Hindi is the link language with 1082 Receive Only Terminals (ROTs) and 33 Satellite Interactive Terminals (SITs) in different parts of the country.

The RGPEEE had following few core ideas and contentions:
1. ICT can be a viable means to link the urban centred institutions with the rural schools.
2. The teachers have to be identified from the grassroots and their capacities have to be built up for development of such interactive lessons.
3. The teachers training programmes can be devised from the teaching hub during the long term vacations of the teachers or on holidays. The Satellite Interactive Terminals (SITs) developed under the project can prove handy for holding such interactive sessions.
4. The feedback from the receiving sites can be taken in order to bring about further improvements in the project.
5. The Project was conceived in such a way that in future it will be expanded in all the Hindi speaking belt keeping in view of the fact that the Hindi is a link language .

Project impact: What has been learnt?

The feedback studies undertaken by the Project officials have revealed mixed response on the project initiatives. Whereas such telecast schedules merged with teaching schedules at receiving locations showed results as per expectations in some of the schools in some other areas huge administrative issues cropped up. Project officials faced huge cases of thefts of the equipments.

Simultaneously the issue of monitoring the network came up as a huge challenge as the administrative network of the school education was the only channel for monitoring and the school teachers did not feel accountable to any other agency. The huge cases of theft made it difficult for the project officials to get the sites insured as the insurance agencies were not very keen to get the sites insured. The schools did not have any security of their own and therefore it was difficult to prevent thefts.

There were other issues noticed in the process of implantation. For instance, there was shortage of teachers at the grassroots locations. Holding workshops and orientation programmes to identify the hard – spots and motivated teachers and their training became difficult keeping in view of limited staff available at project site and non availability of trainers. Frequent transfers of the teachers was another difficult issue to be handled as new teachers need to be oriented again and project officials found it hard to do it frequently.

Despite the inconsistencies, the RGPEEE has been able to prove that satellite based networking can be used to improve the quality of school education. The idea is worth replicating on a larger scale.