The Union human resources development (HRD) ministry is planning to start 12 direct-to-home (DTH) television channels, each catering to students from one academic year, to serve as virtual classrooms at a time when schools are shut due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak and there are questions if the online learning might leave behind those with slow or limited connectivity.
Two senior government officials familiar with the matter said that the ministry sees this as a way to bridge the digital divide for students from Classes 1 to 12.
“The ministry is pursuing a ‘one class, one channel’ plan. The department of school education and literacy may anchor these 12 channels with appropriate content for every class. The expertise of agencies such as the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) and CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) may be used to develop content and run these channels,” said the official who asked not to be named.
While several schools have started online classes, there have been connectivity concerns, and concerns over the amount of additional screen time children will end up being exposed to.
“Internet cannot reach everyone. Therefore, the HRD ministry is exploring radio and television as well. One of the major initiatives is to start 12 DTH channels, each dedicated to one class, from Standard 1 to 12. Appropriate subject-relared content, in different languages, will be beamed to homes. These channels will be free,” said a second official on condition of anonymity.
Some institutions have been using DTH to disseminate education, and it is these existing Swayam Prabha channels which will be repackaged, the official added.
A third official said that a DTH channel catering to higher education sector is also on the cards, and may be launched in consultation with the All India Council for Higher Education (AICTE).
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a review of the education sector, and his focus was on leveraging technology to ensure that even those in the remotest parts are reached, said the official cited above. The HRD ministry has been working on an e-Vidya plan, according to the officials.
In an interview to HT last month, Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said that to address the digital divide, his ministry had tied up with Information & Broadcasting ministry to air Swayam Prabha channels on their DTH platform, Tata Sky, and Airtel DTH.
Earlier, these Swayam channels were be available on DD-DTH, Dish TV, and Jio TV App. “Now a student anywhere in India can request the DTH service provider for these channels without any extra cost as these are free-to-air channels. Swayam Prabha is a group of 32 DTH channels providing high quality educational curriculum based course contents covering diverse disciplines,” the minister said.