When Judith A. McHale, chief executive of Discovery Communications Inc., is not in her 10th-floor suite in the company's Silver Spring headquarters, she can often be found in Gail Ifshin's office.

Ifshin is the executive director of the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, a nonprofit enterprise that provides free television sets and customized educational programming to about 320,000 students in 150 schools in 10 countries. It also has trained more than 5,000 teachers.

The idea for the program came from McHale's experiences. The daughter of a foreign service officer, she spent her teenage years in South Africa where she witnessed the obstacles tat students living under apartheid faced in obtaining an education.

In 1996, a year after McHale became president and chief operating officer of Discovery Communications, she launched an initiative that later became the Global Education Partnership.

A trip to Mozambique that same year spurred her on. There, she saw 200 children cycling daily through two classrooms without pencils or paper and only three teachers. In such circumstances, television is not a distraction, said McHale, but a resource.

At one site, a shy 11-year old girl thanked her for the chance to see a shark; she'd only read about them before.

McHale recently returned from Africa. In Uganda, she sat in the back of a one-room school watching teachers use videos to teach about 50 8- and 9-year-old girls about butterflies. "What is inspiring is what the teachers are able to achieve," she said.

-- Annys Shin