Budget’22: Govt’s (tele)vision for pandemic education

Nirmala Sitharaman | PTI

‘One Class, One TV Channel’ scheme to be expanded to 200 channels, FM announces in Budget 2022-23

Arushi Bhaskar

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech said that the ‘One Class, One TV Channel’ programme would be expanded from the current 12 to 200 television channels and would include classes in regional languages to increase access to education.

Sitharaman made the announcement as part of her budget speech in the Lok Sabha Tuesday. Launched in 2020, the ‘One Nation, One TV channel’ scheme is meant to supplement school education by running television channels exclusively for a class.

Sitharaman said the expansion will help students who have suffered learning losses due to schools being shut during the pandemic— particularly those belonging to rural areas, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other weaker sections of society. 

But the language of education in these channels limit their efficacy, teachers said, since the content is mostly limited to Hindi and English. The expansion proposed in Sitharaman’s speech today seems to tackle this problem.

However, some people were not even aware of such a scheme, raising more questions.

Under the programme, the Union Ministry of Education currently operates 12 free Direct-To-Home (DTH) channels, each one dedicated to a particular class. These come under the Swayam Prabha project of the Ministry, which overall comprises 34 educational DTH channels. They are also available online, on Swayam Prabha’s website.

An official at Delhi state’s Education Department said that while the intention behind the scheme and the expansion is “noble”, it is still not enough to replace formal schooling.

“The content on these channels is supplementary in nature, and it mostly helps in revising concepts, especially for younger classes,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There is simply no substitute for a teacher, but for that we’ll have to open schools, which is a little risky considering the times we live in.”

This view is echoed by others as well. Yamini Aiyar, President of the Centre for Policy Research, tweeted that “e-content is NOT the answer.”

Meanwhile, Manuraj Singh, who studies in the njinth standard at the municipal corporation school in south Delhi, said that he has never even heard of these channels. His mother, Meera Singh, a domestic worker, hadn’t either. 

The family does not own a television set, and would have to rely on Swayam Prabha’s website to access the channels.

“Our teachers have only asked us to read the books they have sent, and do the assignments they give on WhatsApp,” he said. “Sometimes they ask us to read a newspaper and come, but that’s it.”

“I would prefer calling my teacher and asking her to solve my doubts,” he added. “Already we have to spend so much time on mobile for school, I wouldn’t want to spend more data on it.” 

His mother said that if the government is running such schemes, it should also ensure that the people who need them the most become aware of them. 

“They should also provide people like us with Internet connections. It’s obvious by now that they are not serious about opening schools, so that’s the least they can do,” she added. 

However, a more decentralised approach seems to work better in the delivery of educational services. G. Jaya Bharathi, an English teacher at a state government school in Tamil Nadu, cited the example of Kalvi TV, an educational channel run by the state government, in helping students overcome learning losses. 

“Teachers of ninth and tenth standards assign homework based on the programmes run by the channel,” she said in a telephone interview. Since the content is in Tamil and English, the students find it accessible. 

“If the central government makes good programmes aimed at children in state boards, I would definitely recommend them to my students,” she added. 

The Delhi government official agreed that decentralisation would solve a lot of problems. “State governments have more reality of the grassroots. If they run their own channels, students would be more impacted for sure,” he said.

“But states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have a long history of focus on education, as compared to other states, especially here (north India),” he added. “They already have a lot of things in place. Here we face underfunding and other problems. It would be like starting from scratch. This (One Class, One TV Channel) is good enough for us.”