Home Articles Broad-based geospatial education in India: Imperatives, hinderences and ways out

Broad-based geospatial education in India: Imperatives, hinderences and ways out

Prof. (Retd.) Jawahar Lal Jain
Dept. of Geography, University of Sagar, India
Past President, Indian National Cartographic Association
[email protected]

This article urges all social sciences people – and particularly geographers within the ambit of geospatial education and capacity building endeavors in India, to emphasise on geospatial education right from higher secondary school level. Besides meeting wide-ranging educational and capacity-building objectives, it will also bring in a sea-change in its societal dimensions. The article deliberates upon imperatives as well hindrances to such a radical move, also hints at the way out for it.

The whole gamut of geospatial technologies such as remote sensing, GIS, GPS, etc. are now collectively called geoinformatics or geomatics which has taken the world by whirlwind. Their possible applications reach out to the limits of human ingenuity and imagination. By virtue of its nearly universal applicability, the need for its education and training has also become quite broad-based. Though all segments of geoinformatics are fairly technical in nature, people from all walks of life are using it in some way or the other. For this, geoinformatics needs must be part of the general education system – at the high or higher secondary level of schooling – and should be incorporated in the syllabi of all branches of learning – science, biology, commerce and humanities. This article conceptualises plausible modalities of bringing out this radical development and concomitant preparatory work including educational aids, so that this new, composite, originally high-tech subject is well-received among staff and the student community.


If this can be implemented at the high or higher secondary school level, most of the matriculates will be well poised to join graduation courses if they so decide, or follow geoinformatical methodology in their specialisation. As a number of these youths follow a professional course in the subject, the country will have a large manpower to man umpteen positions in education, business, service, industry, R&D, and geoinformatical industry itself. One should realise, however, that to incorporate any change in the school system entails huge preparatory effort. For example, NCERT or equivalent state bodies examine the proposed syllabus and its compatibility with the scheme of existing syllabi. Perhaps, it would be more pragmatically clubbed with a new subject incorporating earth science, environment, etc. Then, manpower is to be developed within the school system, and geo-data and equipments are to be provided. So too, suitable text books and practical workbooks also have to be developed and brought out.

To begin with, it may be introduced in selected good schools. Then a chain of teachers’ training workshops are to be arranged on a sustained basis. Indian Society of Remote Sensing can initiate and academically support some prototype module of school teachers’ training programme in this respect, say, with help of state regional space application centres. Indian National Cartographic Association’s National Map Quiz programme may also be further extended. Survey of India’s ‘Map Education’ and ‘Working with Maps’, and National Remote Sensing Centre’s ‘Data Users Sourcebook’ are some initial source materials, which may be further enhanced.

This broad-based education in this subject will bring the geoinformatical revolution full-circle in the country, wherein not only office, business, industry, and institutions shift to function the geoinformatical way, but the end-users and people at large also behave accordingly. Geoinformatics will then tend to be the way of life, the functional culture of people. This will check the disparity of the way of government, office, industry and institutions on one hand and the way the people respond on the other, as the country advances in development. This disparity otherwise may get to ridiculous proportions.

Inter-related and overlapping as they are, the several components of geospatial technologies are coalescing in a broader, complex subject. It is high time they should be harmoniously integrated as one compound subject furnished with concepts, principles and procedures, etc. of its own. It is also high time that unitary textbooks on the subject as a whole are brought out, which should be fit for higher secondary or under-graduate level. These simpler books will serve better if they are written in less technical language, with emphasis on conceptual clarity and procedure of application.

If the educative endeavors are to involve very large section of the society of this vast and varied country, they are soon going to be confronted with the language problem. Barring only a thin minority, the younger generation is very poor in the so-called lingua franca of the India – more so in the Hindi belt of the country. To be readily digestible, some books need to be written in Hindi language for students of the vast Hindi belt of the country. The few extant books in Hindi on the subject leave a good deal to be desired in terms of production quality and get-up in general, and particularly need to be more pragmatic in exploring/coining Hindi equivalents of technical terminology. Projects on Hindi translation, or rather Hindi rendering, of established, standard texts on the subject need also to be taken up.

This language glitch continues to be the Achilles’ heel in the educational build of the young generation, more so in the Hindi belt of the country. For serving the interests and needs of the Hindi and major regional language areas, it is advisable to venture a simple, concise and explicative text on the subject by organising the entire contents/coverage into a series of 1-or-2-page-spreads with boxes on specific explicative points. Each 1-or-2-page spread will have its corresponding 1-or-2-page spread in Hindi (or other regional languages, like Bangla, Tamil, etc.). The English version is supposed to be a little more terse, leaving some space for diagrams; or, alternatively, diagrams etc. may be arrange as separate 2-page spreads on nearby pages. Thus English and the vernacular versions of each topic or spread will be available face to face for verification and understanding. If successful, practical workbooks may likewise be developed in this bi-lingual mode.

This bilingual approach may also be harnessed, for example, by Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP), who though managing to acquit things in the English medium, may have to interact with their country fellowmen in their respective language, unless those countries also have English as functional lingua franca. EDUSAT can play the most effective and conspicuous role in this endeavor, as it has so far been doing in other subjects and in universities and colleges in this subject also.

Some school boards have either included or are deliberating a section or so on remote sensing data in their curricular schema. This with the pre-existing sections on earth science, environment and climatic change makes a sizeable subject which can be suitably augmented and integrated as Earth and Geospatial Science as a full-size subject that can be offered as an additional subject for students from all streams. The main task here entailed on the part of the senior faculty is to integrate and harmonise the various components as one subject, and to simplify and generalise it to suit the higher secondary school level. This entails extensive preparatory work, as hinted before, in terms of proper textbook, practical workbook, as well as a source/reference book written in a vein of popular science, besides commensurate software. Training man-power from among school faculty or providing them with guest faculty for some time will also fall on their shoulders. Motivating the mid-career people – say, school and college faculty – to take upon the golden opportunity as well as meet the challenge entailed is itself a tough task.

EDUSAT has a big role to play in this design. Its topic lessons and source material need to be developed for higher secondary school level in Hindi and other major regional languages, besides English, or perhaps in a functional mix of English and a vernacular.

Copious illustrative material is much desirable not only for this program, but in general as well, that explicates things through diagrams and other illustrative elements. Some worked examples on a real life problems may be taken up and then geospatially explore most workable solutions – may be sometimes with one or two or three alternative approaches under different sets of back drop situations. Similarly, one should realise and appreciate that any single approach or method may not be able to yield the best solution due, say, to the limitations of data or methodology. The very logic of GIS solution in terms of requisite data sets and analysis sequence is often amenable to review, as situation or experience demands.

In the realm of educational tools and aids in the geospatial field there is a long standing need for 1. partly vector-added image-data (like skeletal image-map); 2. A collection of basically-interpreted data, i.e. data with a interpreted, transparent overlay and some nominal text, much on the lines of, say, ‘LANDAT TM Data Applications – Illustrated Examples’ by NRSA, 1990 (compiled by Dr. L. Venkataratnam), and 3. elucidation on the change over from the standard False Color Composite approach to near natural color composite approach, along with the method and procedure of the this change over. Another educational early source material is the LANDSAT Tutorial Workbook by NM Short (1982) and its various versions. Yet another major source material is the ‘Earth Watch’ (1980) and ‘Marks of Man’ (1983) by Charles Sheffield. Also there are now various shades and grades of satellite image-based atlases, including a moderate ‘Satellite Atlas of India’ by NATMO (2007). (Though it has but nominal vectors added to the images and no interpretative text to accompany them.)

There is however a definite need for a tutorial like Nicholas Short’s, and illustrative material like Charles Sheffield’s, essentially based on IRS satellite data and Indian examples and illustrations. Sheffield-like work may be effected through augmentation of R. Vaidyanathan’s two projects – on the set of Indian topographical maps and stereo-pairs illustrating certain landforms – by furnishing them with annotated satellite data and covering not only landforms but many other features of natural and cultural landscapes. Apart from serving as reference sources, such materials would be of great help for anybody seeking self-schooling or just brushing up one’s moorings in the subject. Unlike the Western World situation, there is a dearth expository book on maps and other modern geospatial data for youngsters with Indian illustrations and examples. However Survey of India’s two little books. e.g. ‘Working with Maps’ (1992), and ‘Map Education’, (1993), are extremely useful sources for Middle and High school children; and so is NRSA’s, ‘Remote Sensing Data User Source Book’ (1995). Of course, this last named work is much overdue for revision and augmentation. Only, all these source materials need be available in the Hindi and other major vernaculars.

Whereas many people are aware of essentially free geoportals alike the Google Earth, Wikimapia, etc, not many people are as conversant with using ISRO’s own free geoportals like BHUVAN, and still less the BHOOSAMPADA. Thus Web Cartography also needs to be highlighted – with some simple map/image handling tools to be used with the remote sensing data. Obviously NIEPA and NCERT in collaboration with some ISRO or DST institutes or academic departments would best be able to generate this source material, and also work out an action plan for it.

As the matriculates with some orientation to Geospatial Science pass out from schools, there should be in place a good number and variety of graduation courses with this subject as a component of the graduation programs – from technologically solid B Tech. programs in Geospatial Science in technical institutes to the usual one of three main subject type Bachelor degree programs in other educational institutions. This will naturally lead to avenues like PG programme in many subjects with geospatial science as one of the major optional paper, or an exhaustive PG programme of masters degree in this vast, composite subject in full-fledged university departments of this science. Those who did not, or could not, follow it that thoroughly may seek to further it in, say, a PG Diploma in this science certain university departments.

Already a great deal of work is in progress in varied courses related to this new-technology gestalt in many an institution of higher learning, besides, of course, the well-grounded ISRO (DOS) and the DST institutions spearheading the programs of training/ capacity building in the pertinent subjects. Their details and modalities are being discussed in other presentations here as also elsewhere. Surely, EDUSAT can potentially contribute significantly in all these endeavors by way of suitably tailored presentations to various grades of courses.

Besides strictly technical training programmes, there must be promoted somewhat technically moderate academic programs in the graduation and post-graduate academic programs as part of the education in Humanities and Social Sciences under ICSSR, which will generate manpower to man the faculty to run these academic programs, as also the operator level manpower. That will provide for manpower as broad and varied as the applications of Geospatial Science & Technology, and will bring full-circle the societal sea change in this respect. For a subject as vast, varied and composite this one it is not only apt and appropriate but also due and desirable that full-fledged independent departments of Geospatial Science be established in universities and other institutions of higher learning. 3. Endeavour at creating a new composite subject out of the several inter-related technologies should culminate in the principles and procedures of this new integrated science as a whole, and there should be brought out single, well-knit text book on the subject, rather than a jumble of technologies and a range of textbooks to cover each of them.

It is surprising why Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) has still no programme/section for education in geospatial science, whereas that subject has become one of widest applicability in all branches of learning and all walks of life. And hence this unequivocal and ardent plea for a whole-hearted educational programme in this newly developed subject specifically for this vast section of the society – e.g. that of humanities and social sciences. The time is ripe to strike this radical change, which in fact has been overdue for some time.

Obviously, the whole endeavor is an uphill task pitched against the tide – to admit the non-technology, social science people in the ambit of a patently science & technology subject complex, and it is pertinent to plead for a U-turn in the exclusive mindset to an inclusive one solely on the strength of the firm conviction and contention that it is only through bringing geospatial education in the fold of school and collegiate general education that: the country will be set to bring about a large enough manpower of all grades and shades for the many and varied jobs and roles; and it will bring the geospatial quantum revolution full circle and bring about commensurate societal sea-change.

Again, this is only one major aspect of the problems. Even if the science & technology brethren liberally accept this radical change and extend a helping hand, the geography and other social sciences brethren may evince their hitch and diffidence syndrome and falter awhile before they whole-heartedly pour their energies at acquitting this skill, besides the school education command – NIEPA, NCERT, and various state boards – expressing its murmur at such a big change in its tight packed existing system. Therefore, it is important to emphasise on and specify self-schooling resources and/or annotated/illustrated source materials.

References:

  • Agarwal, NK, ‘Essentials of GPS’ II Ed. 2003.
  • Chakroborty D & RN Sahoo, ‘Fundamentals of Geographical Information System’, 2007.
  • Gupta Ravi, ‘Remote Sensing Geology’ II Ed. 2006
  • Joseph George, ‘Fundamentals of Remote Sensing’, 2003.
  • NATMO, ‘Satellite Atlas of India’, 2007.
  • NRSA,‘Landsat TM Data Applications – Illustrated Examples’ (compiled by Dr. L. Venkataratnam), 1990.
  • NRSA, ‘Remote Sensing Data User Source Book’ (1995).
  • Sheffield Charles, ‘Survey of Earth from Space’ Vol. 1 – ‘Earth Watch’ 1981, and vol. 2 – ‘Marks of Man’ 1983.
  • Short NM, ‘Landsat Tutorial Workbook: Basics of Remote Sensing’ (NASA Reference Publication), 1982.
  • Survey of India, ‘Working with Maps’, 1992.
  • Survey of India, ‘MAP Education’, 1993.
  • R. Vaidyanathan, ‘Index to a set Sixty Topographical Maps Illustrating Specified Physiographic Features from India’, C.S.I.R., 1968.
  • R. Vaidyanathan, ‘Index to a Set of Seventy Aerial Steropairs Illustrating Physiographic Features from India’, U.G.C., 1973.