Education in colleges and schools across India's villages and urban areas will not be the same from July 28 onwards after the launch of a revolutionary education service by President A P J Abdul Kalam on Thursday.
Install a one-and-a-half feet long, small dish antennae in your home, school, neighbourhood community hall, college or university and you can attend world-class classroom lectures, whether you are a primary student or a college graduate. Such lectures delivered at any remote learning centre or the Indian Institutes of Technology are disseminated to your home.
Nearly a year after the Indian Space Research Organisation launched the world's first dedicated education satellite, Edusat, virtual classrooms have become a reality in the country. President Kalam opened the country's first phase of Edusat's operations on Thursday by connecting 15 teacher training centres and 50 government schools through satellite in Kerala.
What is Edusat? And how does it make virtual education a reality for India's illiterates as well as thousands of government-run village schools?17 state governments have so far sent proposals to the central government requesting setting up of Edusat Networks for Elementary Education.
Kerala became the first state to launch virtual classes through Edusat in elementary education.
The idea of connecting India's schools has been a fascinating one, says ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair, one of the main forces behind the project's launch.
"Satellites," he says, "can establish the connectivity between urban educational institutions with adequate infrastructure imparting quality education and the large number of rural and semi-urban educational institutions that lack the necessary infrastructure."
The universalisation of education is a top priority for the government all these years. But some 35 percent of India's billion-plus population is illiterate. To make all of them literate, India will have to set up 10,000 new schools every year.
Nair says setting up such a huge number of schools and teaching them by conventional methods is an impossible task.
"In this context, Edusat is going to bring about a revolution in the field of education in the country in the coming year," points out the ISRO chairman.
ISRO officials say the Edusat project will be realised in three phases.
Already, the ISRO runs several pilot projects on Edusat with the Ku-band transponder on board INSAT-3B, which is already in orbit. In the first phase, the Visveswaraiah Technological University in Karnataka is the main beneficiary. Under this, all engineering colleges of the University are networked with 100 nodes. Besides Karnataka, the Y B Chavan State Open University at Nashik in Maharashtra and the Rajiv Gandhi Technical University in Madhya Pradesh are covered under the pilot project.
In the second phase, the Edusat spacecraft is being used in semi-operational mode with at least one uplink in each of the five spot beams. About 100 to 200 classrooms are connected by each beam. In addition to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh included under the first phase, coverage will be extended to two more states and one national institution.
In the third phase, Edusat national network would become fully operational later this year.
Kalam's inauguration of the Edusat operations in Kerala was part of the national network operation.
"The virtual classroom project is going to inculcate a new culture in television viewership in the country, as students can now study sitting at home or in community halls, without the help of teachers," says Kerala's Education Minister E T Mohammed Basheer.
How will Edusat work?