The satellite education system in India is a three-phased project. The first one, currently under progress uses one of the Insat-3B satellite's Ku-band transponder. In this phase, Visveswaraiah Technological University (VTU) in Karnataka, Y B Chavan State Open University in Maharashtra and the Rajiv Gandhi Technical University in Madhya Pradesh are covered.
In the second phase, once commissioned in orbit, Edusat will be used in a semi-operational mode with at least one uplink in each of the five spot beams . About 100-200 classrooms will be connected in each beam. Coverage will be extended to two more states and one national institution.
In the third phase, the Edusat network is expected to become fully operational. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will provide technical and managerial support in the replication of Edusat ground systems to manufacturers and service providers. End users are expected to provide funds for this.
In this phase, ground infrastructure to meet the country's educational needs will be built and during this period, Edusat will be able to support about 25 to 30 uplinks and about 5,000 remote terminals per uplink.
While ISRO will provide the space segment for Edusat system and demonstrate the efficacy of the satellite system for interactive distance education, content generation is the responsibility of the user agencies.
The extension of quality education to remote and rural regions becomes a Herculean task for a large country like India with a multi-lingual and multi-cultural population separated by vast geographical distances, and, in many instances, inaccessible terrain.
Since independence, India has seen a substantial increase in the number of educational institutions at the primary, secondary and higher levels as well as student enrolments. But the lack of adequate rural educational infrastructure and non-availability of good teachers in sufficient numbers adversely affect the efforts made in education.
It was then decided to establish the connectivity between urban educational institutions with adequate infrastructure imparting quality education and the large number of rural and semi-urban educational institutions lacking the necessary infrastructure via satellite.
Besides supporting formal education, a satellite system can facilitate the dissemination of knowledge to the rural and remote population about important aspects likes health, hygiene and personality development and allows professionals to update their knowledge base as well.
Thus, in spite of limited trained and skilled teachers, the aspirations of the growing student population at all levels can be met through the concept of tele-education.
The concept of beaming educational programmes through satellites was effectively demonstrated for the first time in India in 1975-76 through the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) conducted using the American Application Technology Satellite (ATS-6).
During this unique experiment, which is hailed as the largest sociological experiment conducted anywhere in the world, programmes pertaining to health, hygiene and family planning were telecast directly to about 2,400 Indian villages spread over six states.
Later, with the commissioning of Insat satellite system in 1983, a variety of educational programmes is being telecast. In the '90s, Jhabua Developmental Communications Project (JDCP) and Training and Developmental Communication Channel (TDCC) further demonstrated the efficacy of tele-education.
With the success of the Insat based educational services, a need was felt to launch a satellite dedicated for educational service and ISRO conceived the Edusat project in October 2002.
Edusat is the first exclusive satellite for serving the educational sector. It is specially configured for audio-visual medium, employing digital interactive classroom and multimedia multi-centric system.
"The satellite will revolutionise education delivery in the country," says ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair.
The satellite has multiple regional beams covering different parts of India - five Ku-band transponders with spot beams covering northern, north-eastern, eastern, southern and western regions of the country, a Ku-band transponder with its footprint covering the Indian mainland region and six C-band transponders with their footprints covering the entire country.
According to Nair, ISRO has memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a couple of educational bodies. "During next three months, we will be signing up around 20 institutions."
The satellite is primarily meant for providing connectivity to schools, colleges and higher education and also to support non-formal education including developmental communication.
In order to spread the concept, ISRO will also initially invest around Rs95 crore in setting up the ground infrastructure at the institutions. Later ISRO expects the institutions to make the necessary investments.
"We are not looking at this project as a commercial angle," he adds.
However the quantity and quality of the content would ultimately decide the success of the Edusat. This involves an enormous effort by the user agencies. To help in this, ISRO, in cooperation with the user agencies, has already organised five conferences at the regional level, one at the national level and one conference of vice-chancellors of Indian universities to create awareness about the Edusat and its capabilities.
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