The television and radio network can be tapped to spread education to children in poorer areas

Popular media such as radio and television can not only entertain but also educate. This potential of the media has been highlighted in recent years by TV episodes of Galli Galli Sim Sim (GGSS), the Indian version of the famous educational series for children titled Sesame Street. Telecast on some TV channels, the program in its more localised versions is aired on All India Radio as well as 10 community radio stations under a radiophone project.

The organisation behind GGSS, Sesame Workshop, estimates that the community radio stations in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana help GGSS to reach nearly 1.4 million children with a curriculum focus on literacy, mathematics and healthy habits. There is a provision for interaction with radio programmes through telephone and also for community-level advocacy to promote policy changes. These programmes are also used to promote awareness about right to education.

GGSS used innovative approaches to promote early grade reading for which it received an award. Phase II of the radiophone project is combining radio broadcasts with in-classroom learning material, focusing on health, hygiene and nutrition.

Under ‘Project Metro’ this programme content was taken to about one million children in urban slums over a five-year period. An evaluation of the results revealed that pre-school children exposed to GGSS were found to be much better prepared for school. The capacity of these children to recognise letters of the Hindi alphabet was much better, and they had much better understanding of benefits of hand-washing.

GGSS is just one indication of the useful role media can play in improving access of innovative and creative education to children from weaker sections in remote villages. Community viewing including mobile audio-visual units can improve this access and its impact.

While education as a right of all children has been rightly emphasised, an unfortunate reality is that children from economically weaker households face several disadvantages vis-a-vis other children even if they come to the same schools. Also, children in rural schools, particularly in the more remote areas, also suffer from several disadvantages compared to urban children.

Carefully planned and creatively implemented media initiatives can play a limited yet very useful role in reducing some of these disadvantages and problems. TV is accessible to more and more economically weaker section families, particularly in urban slum areas. This accessibility can be improved by specially arranged community viewing in rural areas. Radio is much more accessible in villages, and the potential of radio is now improved with the spread of community radio to more and more areas.

Greater accessibility of TV and radio can be used in careful and creative ways to improve the educational prospects of children in the zero-10 age group. Firstly, there is considerable scope for improving the school preparedness of children particularly in the two to five years age-group. There are about 170 million pre-school aged children in India, most of who do not have access to pre-school training and are therefore disadvantaged at the time of entering school.

Secondly, TV and radio programmes can help in maintaining interest and involvement of children in the earlier grades so as to reduce the possibilities of drop-out.