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ICTs, IoTs and AI at best can complement but not substitute education and capacity building

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Internet of Things (IoTs) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been fascinating human kind in different aspects of life. In fact, internet has become almost identical with an umbilical card connecting the mother as information with all its stakeholders as children. The exponential demand for the growth of internet to support ICT, IoTs, AI. both from urban and rural areas is the prima facie indicator of the space of internet, that the performance of service providers will decide their presence in the market. The contribution of internet to GDP is around 5% of the GDP and will increasingly catch up with agriculture which is currently contributing to around 14% of the GDP.

IoTs, ICTs and AI for education in general and Agricultural education in particular are crucial and vital. Certainly, ICTs, ICT based e – resources and AI are more fascinating and scintillating for teachers, students and the farmers. However, it is crucial to note that ICTs can at the best complement but not substitute the education, teaching, training, extension efforts. Digital divide plays a crucial role in information access. Digital divide refers to asymmetric information due to differential access to ICTs, IoTs, AI and differential skill sets to use internet, ICTs and IoTs. Digital divide can be due to gender divide, age divide, literacy divide, regional divide, social divide.

Do we need Agricultural centric Information Technology or Information Technology centric Agriculture?

Youngsters, farmers, most often are fascinated with the intensive use of ICTs, IoTs, AI in agriculture. The extent of use these should depend upon (1) the type of information to reach the farmer through communication only and (2) the type of technology transfer to reach the farmer through result and method demonstrations. The ICT centric information can be used for the type 1 information, while for the type 2 information, it is still crucial to have the help of agricultural extension worker such as grama sevak / grama sevika / village level worker /extension guide.

Dominance of the Practical component in courses

The Bachelor of Science (Agri) is the most offered degree program in State Agricultural Universities. The course is extremely interesting precisely because there is practical component in almost all the courses taught. A cursory examination of the theory and the practical content in the degree program indicates in the four years of degree program, about 55 percent of the total time is devoted to practical and 45% of the total time is devoted to theory classes. In practical skill development is given prominence. The students are taken through the phases of: Seeing is believing; Listening is understanding on to finally Doing is learning.

Importance of ICT, IoT, AI based e courses

ICT, IoT and AI emphasize on the contribution of stresses the role of communications and integration of telecommunications and computers, softwares, storage, audio-visual, that enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information. ICT is an umbrella term that includes any communication device, encompassing radio, television, cell phones, computer and network hardware, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and appliances with them such as video conferencing and distance learning. ICT covers any product that will store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit, or receive information electronically in a digital form (e.g., personal computers, digital television, email, or robots).

Illustration in Costing groundwater for irrigation

It is crucial to note that in this class students are taught about the role of groundwater in agriculture, in irrigation, profitability, wise use, sustainable use and implications of over exploitation. Unless the students are also taught the aftermath of unsustainable extraction due to over pumping of groundwater for the cultivation of crops like paddy, which uses around 5000 litres of water per kilo of paddy, students will not be able to understand and appreciate the need for sustainable use of groundwater. Most students as farmers will think, groundwater will flow when ever switch is put on!

Since this is class is in the ambit of agricultural economics and resource economics, the students need to be taught 1. Costing groundwater for irrigation 2. Computing profitability of crops by adding groundwater cost to the cost of cultivation, 3. Implications of over exploitation of groundwater indicated in the cost of negative externality. These require a combination of use of Micro soft Excel (to teach the students the costing of different components of groundwater irrigation such as cost of drilling and casing well, cost of pump set, the differences between fixed and variable costs, and finally the cost of irrigation water), then using internet, to convey what are the results of the GRACE satellite imagery which reflects how the groundwater in Punjab and Haryana are being over exploited due to cultivation of rice, wheat by pumping groundwater, and how the NASA scientist is explaining the phenomenon highlighting the explanation behind the groundwater over exploitation video.

In the above example, we are appreciating (1) the need for a teacher to integrate his/her skills of teaching the subject matter (theory) in explaining that cost of groundwater is not merely the cost of electricity used in pumping groundwater, but also includes cost of initial well failure, premature well failure, reflecting negative externality due to cumulative interference of irrigation wells, fixed cost and variable cost of groundwater (2) the practical aspect of using MS Excel software to compute the comprehensive cost of groundwater used for irrigation and finally the use of (3) GRACE satellite pictures of NASA showing overexploitation of groundwater in Punjab, Haryana region, almost irreversible with serious implications due to monocropping of paddy, wheat contributed by MSP policy.

The ICT, IoT, AI based e resource is thus crucial for students to understand, perceive, conceive and appreciate concepts used in different branches of agriculture and needs to be used to complement the teaching efforts. They can never substitute the teacher in class room and field situations.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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