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Indian scientists discuss dream education satellite

Space scientists have gathered at Anna University here to deliberate on EDUSAT, a satellite that will be launched this year to cater to the higher education needs of Indians. Experts at the three-day conference from Sunday say ground station technology – for disbursing content transmitted by the satellite – and diverse languages remain the biggest challenge to EDUSAT.

EDUSAT is being devised by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the country’s space agency. Former ISRO chairperson and MP K. Kasturirangan said at the meet: “Launching the satellite is not the challenge. The real challenge will be developing the ground infrastructure for the system to operate.”

“Developing appropriate software that is region-specific and language-specific for the EDUSAT programme will be a critical challenge before Indian scientists”.

“The ground support technology should also be low cost and simple so that operators everywhere in the country will be able to use the infrastructure systems for EDUSAT programme access.”

If EDUSAT succeeds, higher education could be within the reach of the common man, whether or not there is a school or college, whether or not a teacher is available, and whether or not there are books, say the experts. The federal government will provide transponders free of cost to beam content to the deep south of the country, the experts said. Anna University, India’s largest technical education university, will coordinate the educational needs of the southern region for the EDUSAT scheme. Anna University vice-chancellor E. Balagurusamy said at present only 6.9 percent of young people are able to access higher education even though in India today 40 percent of the population is less than 25 years old.

“Our aim is to increase this accessibility to about 17 percent by the end of the decade,” the vice-chancellor said. He said regional diversity and distances were the major challenges that the education sector in India was facing.

“A dedicated satellite was the answer,” said S. Prabhakaran, an EDUSAT consultant.

EDUSAT is scheduled to be launched some time in the next six months from the Sriharikota space station in coastal Andhra Pradesh. S. Bhatia, the ISRO director for development and educational communication, said the agency would provide all the hardware and technical know-how for the project. Several universities and national laboratories are also collaborating on the project. The experts’ consultation in Anna University is expected to grapple with technical and scientific issues and provide solutions to the challenge posed to EDUSAT by India’s diversity.

Gajaraj Dhanarajan, the president of the Commonwealth of Learning, said EDUSAT could by 2015 help achieve India’s target of total primary education. Educationists from Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, NGOs in the education sector, and traditional and open universities from the six regions are participating in the meet.

By: Papri Sri Raman, Chennai.