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How India’s educational TV channel emerged

27 July 2012

Dr R. Sreedher

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Does a country of 1.2 billion not deserve educational TV channels? Dr R. Sreedher, Media expert and Community Radio Practitioner, opines that if an innovative model is conceived, there is enough space in the TV market for these channels to become viable.

From a single TV channel in 1990, to more than 800 TV channels. From a Rs 300 crore ad revenue in 1990 to Rs 8000 crores now. With hundreds of news channels and around a dozen sports channels, India’s television industry has seen an unprecedented growth.

But how does it explain a dearth of education channels?

Public broadcasters, world over, claim to stand for Education, Entertainment and Information. Yet, baring a few nations, education broadcasting has taken the backseat with no success beyond Discovery, National Geographic and Channel Four.

On the other hand, India’s threesome, going by the GyanDarshan brand-name, began as an experiment on an ageing transponder on INSAT 2B. The public broadcaster, Doordarshan, entered into a partnership with the Ministry of Human Resource Development on January 26, 2000.

As the story goes, the Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU) set up an earth station in association with ISRO for experimenting on Interactive Media counselling for its distance learners. The channel was called TDCC (Training and Development communication channel), its legal sanctity open to question.

An extended C band, not particularly in vogue, was used for this virtually close circuit telecasts and every now and then, IGNOU would telecast a lecture via regional centres equipped with dedicated antennas to allow for two-way interactivity.

This technology, originally tested as part of one of the most elaborate educational television experiment in the 70’s, remained still-born as ISRO never attempted improving it. Hundreds of research papers were presented on these experiments all over the world.

The then Education Secretary, MK Kaw, and the then vice chancellor of IGNOU, Prof AW Khan, along with yours sincerely, thought of creating a 24 x 7 channel for Education. A transponder was allotted for education and IGNOU became the nodal agency to provide hardware and contents from its studios.
Organisations under the MHRD were urged to part with their videos for IGNOU to broadcast on this channel. Major players like NCERT, IIT, UGC and IGNOU and the Central and State Institutes of Education and Training that produced school programmes thus came together to begin the new channel.

Sadly, these programmes were not aired by Doordarshan on prime time. They were put in cold store after their first telecast.  Yet, UGC claimed that the project had a good viewership, proud that its programmes were watched by senior citizens!

The concept of bouquet of channel called the GyanDarshan basket was conceived with one channel being given exclusively to UGC, IIT NCERT, ICAR and IGNOU so that it had the best of all five. This came to life in 2002 and the next year saw the emergence of Eklavya, the technology channel which was later followed by the Vyas Higher Education channel. An agriculture channel emerged and faded out for political reasons and the school education channel has not seen the light of the day.

But alas the content remained static on these channels with no attempts to promote it. Earlier, it was the problem of cable operators asking for huge carriage fees until GyanDarshan was mad a ‘must carry’ channel. It is available on Tata Sky, DD Direct, Videocon, Dish TV and so on.

The Public Broadcasting Trust, later published a book titled ‘The Channel That No One Sees’. Adding fuel to the fire, Doordarshan, oblivious of the history of these channels, demanded a carriage fee to carry them on DTH which the institutions began paying.

In the private sector ZEE TV experimented twice with the educational channels, ZEE education and ZED TV but closed it due to lack of response and revenue. The Topper channel is a pay channel.

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