There are hundreds of educational channels in the world. Organizations like BBC, ABC and You Tube also have theirs. In India, since 1989, there are quite a number of government-owned and private educational channels. In Kerala also there is one- Versatile ICT Enabled Resource for Students, or Victers Channel, funded by central government and run by state government. An investigation into it reveals unexpected corruption, mismanagement and favouritism, making this good dream vanish.
Opinionated pea-brains sent to remould the channel in the lines of caste, community and religious fanatics.
Kerala is the highest literate state in India. Keralites live and work in every part of the world. They are educated, intelligent and hard working, as their neighbours and employers in whichever countries they work in would say. The world’s largest electronics and software forms are proud of their Keralite employees. Therefore it is unbelievable that a government educational channel in their native land which was expected to have served well their children deteriorated through corruption and mismanagement and became a haven of cheap fortune-seekers and political gamblers. The irony is that this situation was brought about by the caste, community and religious elements in Kerala’s education minister’s office who sent an opinionated pea-brain to head this institution and remould it in the lines of caste, community and religious fanatics, and that is whom this represents now. There are thousands of Keralites in India and abroad who are able to lead this educational channel to success and brilliance but the Kerala Government and the Education Department want it to remain in a wormy pit- Kuzhi in the native language of Malayalis.
The idea is to make the whole country a great class room, linking from remote hamlets to the great metros.
The idea of educational channels in India is to prepare exam-centric capsules on physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and languages and air them through satellites to prepare students for regular examinations and competitive tests. Content from School Examination Boards, Universities and Technological Institutes would be made available for this purpose and beamed across space through satellites, capsulizing them into real-time lectures. The whole country would become a great class room, from remotest villages and hamlets to great cities and metros, linked through digital networks. That is the conception behind Information and Communications Technology-Enabled Virtual Class Rooms.
Education broadcast space is steadily being filled up with stars. No one will say the future of e-learning is dark.
Terms like E Learning, Virtual Class Rooms, Flexible Learning Frameworks and Educational Broadcasters are becoming common. Launching educational channels, establishing production houses and providing technology-driven learning solutions are now everyday activities even in under-developed countries. Of course, getting regulatory approvals is hard in many countries but educational broadcasts are now a priority with many governments. Conventional education systems of countries are not much interactive, while young population is increasingly tech-savvy and interactive. That is how, and why, interactive web-based education is gaining momentum in the world. Telecom companies provide services in Direct To Home and Internet TV formats, which are liberally being used by educational channels. There are subscription-based channels with least advertising, and private channels have paid portals and free portals. Contents are made available through desk-top computers, lap-tops, palm-tops and mobile phones. There are 24-hour channels and morn-to-night channels. Also content is made freely available in You Tube to watch online, or download and watch in leisure at homes. Recognizing good potential, more and more institutions, companies and organizations are entering this segment. Education broadcast space is steadily being filled up with stars. No one will say the future of e-learning is dark.
The operation of every educational channel in India is governed and supposedly regulated by three departments of the Union Government of India.
Under the current policies of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, government departments are not permitted launch Direct To Home channels. At the same time, the Ministry of Human Resources Development has been calling for at least a 1000 educational channels to be established, to provide quality education to remotest villages. As a compromise, it was decided that the Human Resources Department can start educational channels by signing up with Prasar Bharati Corporation, the owner of all government channels in India, a part of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Under this agreement, HRD can start and operate channels but broadcasting licenses would be held by the Department of I & B. Prasar Bharati will not sign MOUs with individual channels but only with a consortium of several educational channels. Transponders for airing programmes will be provided by the Department of Space under this agreement. So, the operation of every educational channel in India is governed and supposedly regulated by three departments of the Union Government of India.
Educational channels in India, unless registered under the Companies Act, cannot attempt DTH transmission.
Setting up of TV Studios in states was the first step for this massive mission and the HRD Ministry allotted amounts, initially Rs. 50 Lakhs, from the funds of National Mission on Education through ICT to each studio, on the assumption that ‘there would be 20-25-minute live lectures by eminent faculty across prominent institutes, and students will be able to put queries to teachers; they would be able to SMS queries on a given number and the teacher will be able to answer right away.’ When in 2011 HRD was very near to launching 1000 educational channels, new guidelines came into force in 2012, according to which only companies registered under the Companies Act are permitted DTH transmission. So, now, educational channels in India, unless registered under the Companies Act, cannot attempt DTH transmission. Government departmental institutions cannot even think about airing anything other than pre-recorded programmes up-linked to Edu Sat, to be received in schools using only special receivers. Why should educational channels have to air live programmes instead of pre-recorded ones? Looked from every angle, it is unnecessary. Even after hundreds of universities and thousands of schools are linked with bandwidth, live programmes are still spendthrifts for government educational channels. They are not only unnecessary but expensive also. Government educational channels do not need live telecasting unless they are competing with private and commercial channels which they are not expected to do. Why should they compete with commercial channels, unless to satisfy the rotten egos of their directors?
Victers Channel broke every rule of the Government of India, to please local religious fanatics.
In India, according to the norms of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, starting an educational channel is not easy. In present circumstances, such channels cannot broadcast live. They can only produce prerecorded visuals, uploaded to the exclusive Educational Satellite Edusat of India, which could only be received and viewed in schools using special receivers. This Victers Channel in Kerala dared to break every rule of the Government of India and broadcast live, even though their pages would never load, due to incompetence in running and managing. Also the schools in Kerala have no computers and no broadband connectivity. Government would explain that thousands of computers were purchased for schools, which is true, in a way. They indeed were purchased in thousands, for pocketing commissions by departmental purchasing officers. None of them worked in schools and most of them did not even reach the schools. The schools do not have funds for getting the non-working ones repaired or getting the inoperable ones replaced. Broadband were connected to schools in noisy and pompous inaugural functions with state ministers present but were disconnected when payments defaulted. So now most of the schools neither have working computers nor connectivity. Even though Victers Programmes uselessly steal a lot of teaching time, teachers still try to make them available for students as it is the only channel allowed in schools. As school computers and connectivity are namesakes, a few parent-teacher organizations in parts of Kerala begged local Cable TV Providers to connect this government channel to schools and that is what is going on now. It is just a threadbare presence this much-dreamt-about educational channel has in schools now.
Escape from exposure of corruption by involving media in corruption.
Which is the easiest way for escaping from exposure of corruption, mismanagement and abuse of authority? Certainly it is pleasing news paper men and television channels men, and if possible, carrying on corruption involving them. That was just what Victers Channel in Trivandrum did. They brought about a clandestine programme named Fourth Estate to hide their own corruption by involving media in a diabolic plan conceived in the Public Relations Department. It is not strange that the media in Kerala, which is very quick and sensitive in reporting corruption and favouritism in other government institutions, did not report any of the corruption in Victers Channel.
The answerable department has no control and the controlling department is not answerable!
Government aimed to create virtual classrooms in remote villages using computers and satellite relays. The Government of India gave each state a television production station and facilities for up-linking programmes to educational satellites. These television stations in state capitals are well-equipped, to produce literally anything, thanks to the liberal assistance with central government funds. In Trivandrum, running of the Victers Channel is assigned to the IT At Schools Mission under the Department of Education of the Government of Kerala. The Director of Public Instruction is answerable for whatever happens in this channel, but the DPI has no control over this channel. It is run by another government department, the Public Relations Department, which is not answerable for the activities of this channel. The answerable department has no control and the controlling department is not answerable! That is the clever set up created by government secretaries and ministers in the capital, to make possible their own private agendas and corruption in this channel.
The least-qualified man the better to lead an educational channel!
1. Victers Channel: Interface Not Working
Who will be selected to head this educational channel in the state, normally? A person with exceptional skills in the fields of academic instruction as well as in the entertainment field would be the first choice of anyone. If a bureaucrat with these skills could be found, it would be suitable for government. But such talented and brilliant people needn’t always be fit to carry on corruption and favouritism at the order of political gurus and motivated authorities. So, they decided to send a person with no particular qualification to head a channel- a minor Public Relations Officer on deputation- to lead Victers Channel.
Two Information Officers of the Public Relations Department are sent on deputation to two institutions which are partly or fully enjoying government funds. We shall see what happens next, which is typical in Kerala where bureaucrats are involved. Mr. V. Salin of PRD is deputed as Head, Edusat, State Project Office, State Council for Education, Research & Training, Poojappura, Trivandrum, to govern Victers Channel and Mr. N. P. Santhosh on Additional Charge as Secretary, Kerala Press Academy, Kakkanad, Kochi, renamed since then as Kerala Media Academy. They come up with this idea of producing a television series on journalists titled Fourth Estate utilizing the manpower of Victers Channel, relaying it for thrice in the channel and then storing the digitals in the Academy Archives. This programme wasted channel manpower and materials but the digital rights to the end products were to be owned not by the channel but by the academy. And no money came to the channel funds too. If the academy has a product with them, they pays, as is in government. These digital articles were not a gift from Victers Channel to the Press Academy. So, logically, we can assume that the academy paid for the material, the payment did not reach the channel, and the two officers pocketed the money. The Director of Public Instruction and the Director of Public Relations did not think it necessary to take any disciplinary action against these two officers and remove them from the posts. We can guess this has been going on for a long time.
2. Public Relations: Officers On Deputation
This was not a singular incident. Someone wanted a full digital video coverage of the New Delhi Trade Fair of December 2014 and was willing to pay. This Victers Channel Head jumped at the chance for making money. Staff, equipment and funds of the channel were diverted to cover this fair at New Delhi which had nothing to do with educational channels. The team including the director stayed around two weeks in the country’s capital and returned with a few hours’ rushes as video cassettes. Because staff, equipments and funds were not available in Trivandrum due to this Delhi affair, the School Science Fair- an important event in Kerala’s educational sector- could not be, and was not, covered. Rushes of the Delhi Fair must rest with the channel, unedited, making people believe it was just a mistake in deployment of manpower, materials and money. It was not a mistake. The party who wanted that footage wanted only an unedited copy of the footage which they must have got edited beautifully by professionals. No doubt they paid which must have been pocketed. The unedited rushes at the channel were a decoy to make people think they were never used by anyone. Look, how much damage was done by a decision of a Channel Chief- multi faceted damages- resulting in unnecessary coverage of a Delhi fair, abandon of a much necessary coverage of a School Science Fair, and pocketing a considerable sum unlawfully, abusing one’s authority!
On the occasion of the National Teachers’ Day of India on September 5, 2014, the Prime Minister decided to address the students of the nation through all Indian channels. Victers Channel in Kerala was the only educational channel in India to decline to air the Prime Minister’s speech to the country’s students. As a gesture of challenge, they telecast the State Education Minister’s pre-recorded interaction with students at the time. The government of Kerala did not care and did not bring this to the notice of the Government of India. The DPI and the DPR did not consider this as a crime but continued to use channel authorities as convenient tools for personal objectives.
Programmes polluting the sensitive, fresh and innocent brains of Kerala’s children.
There are dozens of regular programmes aired through cyber space by this fallen channel to pollute the sensitive, fresh and innocent brains of the little children of Kerala. A close look at just three of their regular programmes would warrant a closer and thorough examination of all their programmes- approved and rejected- and activities.
Light House is a live Question and Answer Phone-in-Programme, attended by professional doctors, aired every Friday from 2.30 to 3.30 PM. It was meant to discuss the everyday little problems of children- their physical and emotional inabilities generally- presented by parents. As each week passed, it became more and more vulgar, unfit to be aired to schools, with more sexual questions and perverts taking over. Lack of decent etiquettes and morals, lack of home work and lack of dedication on the part of channel authorities caused this demoralization of the programme.
Kids’ Question Corner (Kutti Chodyam) was designed to inspire students by interacting with inspirational personalities by bringing students and leaders from the various strata of society to interact with each other in the channel studio. At first these inspirational personalities were fine cine actors, lyricists, playback singers, playwrights and writers revered by all. Then they became tarnished state ministers whose names were frequently read, associated with corruption. Then came cheap politicians whose unruly behaviour in public causes uproars. It proved only one thing- the cheap and worthless things the director of this channel was a slave to, intellectually. The channel authorities failed in realistically anticipating what questions an intelligent child might ask in Kerala.
Fourth Estate was an endeavour to select a few media men, ask them questions and bring out their views and opinions. Had they brought a TJS George or a TVR Shenoy to the screen, it would have been inspiration for children. But they brought to studio yellow-paper pen-pushers, asked them ridiculous questions and received back answers which were more ridiculous. This farce has been going on for years. If it was journalism they intended to cover in this programme, it was never touched. It is just a confusing programme, of dubious origin. Fourth Estate is aired at 7 PM every Sunday.
News Channel! Kerala state already has dozens of news channels. In the midst of these news channels, Victers Channel diverts precious time, money, man and materials to produce news and telecast. And, in the name of news, they show state ministers’ and politicians’ irrelevant functions. It continues for two years, pleasing camera-hungry rogues.
It is time this misguided entity be wound up, or revamped and saved through the wise and timely interference of the Government of India.
1. Victers Channel: Interface Not Working
2. Public Relations: Officers On Deputation
Tags: Educational Channels, Victers Channel, IT@School Kerala, Corruption In Kerala, Essays, Articles, Investigative Journalism, Media In Kerala.
[By arrangement with the author]