A five-year project to upgrade higher agricultural education in the country has achieved “almost all targets” and significantly exceeded more than half of them, a senior World Bank official said at the International Conference on Blended Learning Ecosystem for Higher Education in Agriculture held in New Delhi between 21 and 23 March.
The quality of students coming out is better, in that they have higher cut-off scores, the graduates have higher placement rates and the research is more effective, Bekzod Shamsiev, Senior Agriculture Economist, The World Bank said.
The placement rate of post-graduate students has gone up by 10 percent, that of undergraduates by 60 percent and faculty research effectiveness has scored high marks, Oliver Braedt, World Bank’s Practice Manager, Agriculture & Food Global Practice, added. He said more work could be done on gender balance.
About 1,000 students and 450 faculty members from 20 agricultural universities have completed international training at 89 institutes in 27 countries in 160 subjects under the National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP), R. C. Agrawal, Deputy Diretor-General (Agricultural Education), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and National Director, NAHEP said. More than 900 experiential learning units have been set up at various universities under the project where students can get hands-on experience for six months and become proficient in subjects as diverse as genomics and tea processing.
The digital content repository has more than 160 digitised courses and faculty members have uploaded more than 10,000 videos. The e-content, using virtual and augmented reality tools, is immersive. Assessments, including short and long answer type questions, have been digitised, Agrawal added. All agricultural universities have access to e-learning and e-goverance applications; they all have smart classrooms, video conferencing facilities and virtual reality experience labs. Eighty-six percent of the agricultural universities have academic management systems; 90 percent have wi-fi on campus and 92 percent have high-speed internet connectivity, Agrawal said while giving a status update on digital infrastructure
NAHEP is a five-year project initiated in 2018 with equal contribution of $82.5 million (about Rs 600 cr) each from the World Bank and the central government. The World Bank loan is to be repaid over 19 years after a grace period of five years, The purpose of NAHEP is to transform agricultural higher education. The Blended Learning Platform is part of the project.
While digital education has helped overcome physical constraints during the Covid pandemic, it cannot entirely replace face-to-face teaching and in-field experience, Shamsiev said. The purpose of digital learning is digital agriculture. It should help in precision farming, environmental monitoring and automation of agricultural processes. It should lead to better trading systems and market information, efficient supply chain logistics and provide information for better policy-making and regulation, Shamsiev added.
The international conference hosted jointly by ICAR and the World Bank is part of NAHEP’s Resilient Agricultural Education System (RAES). It had representatives of more than 10 academic partners of ICAR from around the world representing over 10 countries deliberating on the best strategies in blended teaching and learning.
The Blended Learning Platform is housed in the cloud, called Krishi Megh, which agriculture minister Narendra Tomar launched in August 2020. He had also launched virtual classrooms in April 2021. These digital infrastructure facilities helped ICAR institutions cope with disruptions caused by the lockdown, when face-to-face teaching was prohibited. Tomar said the ministry would launch Agri Stack, alluding to India Stack, or the IT programmes that enable digital payments through online verification of identity and Aadhar-linked bank accounts and mobile phone numbers.
(Top photo of Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar cutting a millet cake at the inauguration of the conference, courtesy of ICAR)