Education through satellite: Indian SAGA
During the sixties NASA was conducting its Applications Technology Satellites (ATS) program and wanted to test whether television programs could be directly broadcast using satellites to on-the-ground receivers. After a survey, it was decided that only India suitable to partner in this exercise.
India, at this point of time, was also considering the use of satellite in communication networks. To explore how a synchronous satellite could be used for communications, Govt. of India established SATCOM (National Satellite Communications Group) in 1968 and this group recommended that a second generation satellite be used to do trials in the area of educational television.
NASA & ISRO got together in 1975 to work jointly on an experimental satellite communications project called as SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) on Indian soil. This experiment was conducted between 1 August 1975 and 31 July 1976. Over 2400 villages from 6 Indian states were chosen for this experiment which clearly established India’s ability to deploy advanced technology towards fulfilling our country’s socio-economic needs. Such experiments were carried out by other countries as well and most of them proved that satellite TV can play an important role in increasing the reach of education.
The task of producing programs towards this experiment was entrusted to All India Radio, and AIR created modules on topics such as health and family planning, education and agriculture in consultation with special committees set up by different Govt. departments. UNCIEF made a special contribution by getting the noted filmmaker, Shyam Benegal, to make 21 different films on various subjects related to this experiment.
The SITE program was concluded in July 1976. It was found that the transmissions from this program had a great impact on the villagers, as they gathered in thousands and watched the shows. The general interest and viewership remained high during the initial months – about 200 to 600 people turned up at each location. Then there was a gradual decline to about 60 to 80 people per TV set, owing to several factors such as power failures, hardware defects, frequent breakdown of television equipment and the viewers’ pre-occupation with domestic and/or agricultural work.
Agriculture and family planning were two areas that made a lasting impact on the rural population. Almost 52% of the respondents stated they were amenable to adopt the new things they had learned. Thus the SITE experience reinforced that India should pursue making advances in technology to satisfy its internal demands as a nation. Along these lines ISRO launched the Indian National Satellite System in 1982 and the space program it pursued continued to focus on using satellites for providing education. In September 2004, India launched the world’s first dedicated satellite for education and named it EDUSAT. This has helped launch an interactive education system operated with the help of a satellite in India.