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Efforts in policy making

Agriculture

In order to understand the issues being faced by the agrarian community, JD Foundation organized a day-long conference on Agricultural Reforms at the foundation’s office in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.

The participants of the conference include farmers, Representatives from farmer interest groups, Activists and NGOs, Agricultural Research Scientists, Students pursuing agricultural studies, village level agriculture extension officers, advisor to NITI Aayog on Agriculture, owners of farm input outlets.

Minutes of the conference:

Over the last 60 years a large number of initiatives have been taken to mitigate the distress in farming and yet no tangible progress has been made. This is largely because of the focus on increasing productivity rather than taking a holistic perspective on the problem afflicting the farm sector. It is largely a governance issue that failed agriculture sector through skewed policies. The concerns of small and marginal farmers who constitute almost 70% of the agriculture sector were never addressed comprehensively barring issue of subsidies. The issues of Tenant farmers is ignored whose number is growing. There is a great deal of emphasis on water intensive crops with excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Crops failure is growing at an alarming rate. The focus has been on Land Owners instead of Livelihood. About 2385 farmers are moving away from the profession every day. Apparently, the list runs long and urgent measures are needed to put the sector back on track and propose the following measures to be implemented with urgency.

  • Government should procure Agriculture produce directly from Farmers at market rates. If Farmers desire to hold back their sale for a future date, they can avail (75% to 90%) credit on the agri. produce by depositing in the Govt. Godowns. This will prevent farmers from resorting to distress sale. A Market Stabilization Fund should be created for extending credit so that the fund helps offset any losses Govt. may incur in the event of fall in prices. However, Govt. tends to be inefficient and corrupt. Need to have adequate checks and balances to offset it.
  • MSP estimation by GOI is on a macro plane which could lead to skewed prices locally. For instance, the cost of Production of Paddy for a quintal in a State like Punjab is Rs. 780 while the same is over Rs. 1700 in AP. We propose that States estimate MSP separately based on the local factors.
  • Farmers Income Commission should be established by States and it should take following parameters into account and then arrive at a comprehensive Farmers Income scheme.
    • Cost of Production.
    • Output Price/ MSP.
    • Cost of Living
    • Subsidies.
    Based on the above, robust Farmers Income needs to be evolved. It is possible that Cost of Production may vary from place to place and the cost of Living may also vary. Factoring all the above, the gap in Income to Farmers in the States needs to be assessed and that gap needs to be filled through programs like Rythu Bandhu of Telangana.
  • There is a need for a huge shift from the current focus on Land Owners to Land Cultivators. That will help us lay focus on Tenant Farmers as well so that Tenant Farmers can be extended all benefits. Licensed Cultivators Act 2011 should be implemented in letter and spirit.
  • Govt. should evolve single stop Centres called Rythu Seva Kendras (Knowledge and Facilitation Centres) for every 5000 acres. These Kendras should be full- fledged support Centres with adequate infrastructure and manpower. These Centres must be cushioned from political intervention and work on an autonomous basis. All Officers must be made accountable to local Panchayats and their salaries released directly from them.
  • These Centres should be Single Window Centres for all the requirements of farmers as typically a farmer has to interact with 18 to 25 Depts for availing services.
  • Credit: Crops loans and other credit requirement should be extended through these Kendras. These Centres should network with financial Institutions and offer the facility. Crop loans should be enhanced to Rs. 3 lakhs and it should be based on Credit rating of farmers rather than on furnishing of collateral security.
  • Advisory Role: These Centres should act as Farm Research Extension Centres offering advice on Crops to be grown, manures to be used etc. These Centres need to be equipped with trained personnel including agriculture specialists. Soil and water testing facilities should be available in these Centres.
  • Sale: Should establish linkages between all market procurement agencies and build a market intelligence system and make it accessible to farmers.
  • Insurance: Crop and Farmers Insurance (Upto Rs. 5 lakhs) should be offered by these Centres. Crop insurance needs to evolve at Land Parcel level. If it is not feasible then it shoud be done at the Village level.
  • Infrastructure: Emerging technologies and Agricultural Implements should be made available on hire through these Centres. Farmers can also tie up with these Centres for letting their equipment on hire to other farmers. Quality Seeds, Fertilizers and Pesticides should be supplied through these Centres. Adequate Godowns / Storage areas should be evolved in or near the Centres.
  • Value Addition Parks: Every Rythu Seva Kendra should have an attached industrial park for setting up of Agri. Value added industries.
  • Land Records: These Centres should have updated land records data
  • Services: These Centres will offer all Services to Farmers. All these Services must be made legal through legislation so that Farmers can demand these services for the Centres.
  • Locale specific agricultural models should be evolved based on agro climatic conditions by keeping in view the socio economic conditions and water availabilityGovt. should carry out scientific studies and assess areas under cultivation and make production forecasts for procurement, storage and subsequent sales.
  • About 30 man days of MNREGA program should be dedicated for 1 acre per crop.
  • Modernization of Land Records should be taken up as a mission mode project.
  • Multi / mixed cropping should be encouraged.
  • Emphasis should be laid on rural agri processing units so that value addition can be done. Every product coming out of Village needs to be a value added one and branded.
  • Should encourage Fruit plantations or Horticulture.
  • Should encourage Organic farming through incentives and subsidies for certain period of time to facilitate farmers switch back to organic farming.
  • Should identify and encourage Model Farmers
  • Should carry out Financial and Resources audit at individual land parcel level.
  • Natural Resources policy shall be defined.
  • Shall encourage FPOs / Co-op Societies for farm related activities. If 25% of the Farmers come together as an FPO, all subsidies should be released through these FPOs.
  • Shall introduce a Distress and Debt relief Commission and provide for debt rescheduling and swapping during times of natural calamities.
  • Encourage Public Private Partnerships
  • Shall Implement AP Indebtedness Act, 1987 in letter and spirit.
  • Shall explore to offer pension and gratuity for small and marginal Farmers. About Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 3,000. Needs to be deliberated.
  • Should encourage Famers to make their own seeds. Seeds Act will be revisited.
  • Farmers will be trained on mind set change and explore market driven crops. Govt. will take proactive initiatives to prepare them towards it.
  • Shall introduce Practical classes on agriculture in school curriculum
  • Shall evolve health coverage for all farmers.
  • Shall evolve a separate, dedicated Call Centre for farmers. Already available?
  • Shall encourage Single Women farmers through incentives.
  • Shall improve Water harvesting structures and their linkage to Canals and Tanks in Villages.

Conference on Education Policy:

In order to understand the issues with the current education system and come up with policy reforms, JD Foundation organized a day-long conference on Educational policy and reforms at PAGE Junior College, Banjara Hills. The participants included Rtd. Vice-chancellors and professors of universities, Principals of many schools, grassroots reformers working on education, Policy Think Tanks, NGOs, corporate school owners and bureaucrats.

Minutes/ Outcomes of the conference:

The entire education system has become skewed with the Govt. education becoming Teacher centric and the Private education becoming Parents centric. Sadly, what should have been a Student / Child centric one has lost its way through skewed policies resulting in an abysmal system? A discussion was held on 12 Nov. 2018 with People who have spent long years in the domain to understand the gaps and deficiencies and look for a possible way out. The following were some of the observations based on the interactions.

STRENGTHEN ANGANWADIS (ICDS)

  • The importance of Early Childhood Education was acknowledged by all. At present RTE covers children from age 6-14 and it is recommended that it be extended to 18 years.
  • Those below 6 years come under the Ministry of Women & Child Welfare Department - Anganwadis. At present, focus in Anganwadis is more on Nutrition & Vaccination of children and the focus must shift to education too. It is recommended that dedicated Teachers must be appointed for Education in Anganwadis.
  • There is a need to build a cadre of Committed & Competent pre-primary teachers. These Teachers should have the ability to engage the kids in activity based learning & should have awareness about Child Psychology.
  • There is a definite need to create dedicated Training Institutes for training Teachers of Anganwadis. If it is not feasible DIETs should include a Diploma Course in Pre-primary Education.
  • It was also felt that special emphasis needs to be laid on Ethics and Morals in the teaching process for pre-primary children.
  • There is a need for higher resource allocation for early Child hood Education.
  • Career counselling from 6th Class onwards should be undertaken.
  • Gradually in a phased manner infrastructure at Schools should be developed to include Pre-Primary Sections.
  • A separate policy for Early Childhood education is being recommended.

LARGE PRIMARY / HIGH SCHOOLS:

There are two Schools of Thoughts on revamp of primary schools. One School of thought is to have Large Schools through consolidation of small Schools and another School of Thought wants Primary Schools in all Villages.

Thought I:

Consolidate and set up large integrated Schools for every 10,000 people. About 5 Schools per Mandal.

  • Consolidation of Schools helps in better budget allocation & helps in creating a far better learning atmosphere.
  • Make them semi residential by offering breakfast, lunch and snacks in evening.
  • All Students must go to same School. Idea is to create an ecosystem that can accommodate large number of students so that students from different social and economic back grounds can study and play together. This could enable break the social barriers.
  • Helps in introducing accountability through better monitoring
  • Efficient use of resources
  • Travel allowance of 200-250/- per month could be offered to students.

Thought II:

Primary Schools in every Village.

Children below 7 or 8 years cannot travel and hence must have access to education In the Village itself.

  • Single teacher schools should be closed unless extraordinarily necessary. Tribal areas can be given some exception, if there are connectivity issues
  • A School should have basic infrastructure with a minimum Student strength & proportional teaching staff.
    a. Primary School should have a minimum of 100 students.
    b. High School should have a minimum of 250 students.
  • Syllabus needs to be reframed to move away from the Rote system to a learning process. Currently, there is a great deal of emphasis on memorizing subjects.
  • Examination system needs to be revisited. It needs complete overall.
  • Medium of Instruction and Education should be English although emphasis can be laid on learning native language.
  • There is a need to evolve a Mentoring system. Groups of students need to be engaged under Teachers who will be Mentors for them. Mentors will focus on the learning aspects and also personal aspects of students.
  • There is a need to focus on the needs of Special / Challenged children.
  • Introduce psychological courses since early childhood.
  • Focus should be given to develop the following basic infrastructure in Schools.
    Class rooms for Each Class & a Staff room for Teachers.
    Office Room for the Principal.
    Separate Functional Toilets for Boys & Girls with availability of Water.
    Drinking Water.
    Decent ground with Sports Kits.
    Introduce Agriculture practical classes in Course curriculum
    Special Classes on Music, Arts and Culture
    Library.
    Computer Room.
    Compound Wall.
    Bio Metric System for Teacher Attendance.

BUILD LEADERSHIP

  • Propose collegium comprising of VCs, Profs., Teachers and Citizens in location of Schools, appointment of Teachers, Profs., VCs etc.
  • Merit based selection of Principals rather than on Seniority alone.
  • At present Appointment, Training for Principals is happening on Scale & in one go!! "Leadership building can't happen on Scale", and it was suggested that focused and personal training needs to be imparted to develop leadership. Prof. Tirupati Rao, Former VC, Osmania University suggested appointment of VCs well in advance to mentor and train the new incumbents for minimum 3 months.
  • Each School isVigi Unique with its own set of Resources & Challenges. Peer to Peer learning needs to be facilitated for an exchange of ideas between them.

TEACHERS

Teachers are the fulcrum around which the entire educational System is developed. Quality and Commitment of Teachers is very critical in successful functioning of educational system. The following measures must be initiated for constant updating of knowledge amongst teachers.

  • Teacher’s selection process must involve Descriptive tests and interviews with demos.
  • Universities must take up Teachers training. Universities are the hub in which constant innovation and research takes place. There are no better places than Universities for updating of knowledge and skills of Teachers.
  • Close DIETs or Revitalize them needs to be deliberated. If the entire training is shifted to Universities closing DIETs needs to be discussed.
  • At least 1% of teachers should be taken for exposure visits to model Schools across India & Abroad.
  • Appraisal of Teachers is compulsory.
  • Incentivize Teachers

E-LEARNING

The dearth of Quality Teachers has been raised by all. It seems to be a major problem with the new generation not showing interest in taking up teaching as a profession. With evolution of technology greater emphasis can be laid on its use and offer e-Learning classes. These Classes must be interactive.

VOCATIONAL EDUCATION

Every Survey report on Education highlights the Challenge of dropout rate at high school & further dropout post Schooling (SSC). Hence "Vocational Education" should be included as part of the formal schooling at High School level.

It is generally observed that the current practice of adopting the same teaching methods and courses for all students may not suit all. It is possible some students may be good at acquiring specific skills easily and can turn proficient in them if given adequate training. Such identification should take place during school education and students must be given education accordingly. This will help students in acquiring a Skill which will enhance their Employment opportunity and help address the dropout rate. It is important to make training in vocational courses mandatory from 8th class onwards.

FOCUS ON FEMALE LITERACY

Investment on Female Literacy is the greatest lever for the development of any Society and special focus should be given on it. Indeed women are the most valuable resource and a critical component for development of families and communities and yet they are but most underutilized resource!!

It would be Revolutionary step if we can go for 12+3 years of Education for a girl child as a right!! Modalities need to be worked out - such a bold step will go a long way & will sure pay rich dividends by having a positive effect on many other sectors.

ENGAGE PARENTS

  • Establish a dedicated toll free number for Public Schools & Private Schools. Engage Parents through use of them.
  • Similarly create an online platform for Parents.
  • Establish a dedicated Team to address these.

MONITORING & SUPPORT

As in the case of governance & public service - "Performance is proportional to Monitoring & Accountability in education too."

But as the reports show the poor capabilities of Teachers, the current monitoring which is more of "Fault finding" should be replaced with "Review & Support."

  • There is a great deal of agitation on lack of accountability in the education sector. A parallel system needs to be developed for monitoring the infrastructure, teachers and Principals. Probably, a vigilance division in Education Department.
  • The monitoring system should not be about Fault Finding. Instead it should be about review & support.
  • Dedicated cadre of trained personnel are needed for it & one mentor should be assigned for 5 Schools, so that there will be at least one visit to every school per week.
  • These personnel should be trained & in a way they will act as the real change agents.
  • As part of the pre service & in service training they should be trained at good management institutions & Telangana can utilize the services of ISB (Indian School of Business) etc.

COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION & ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Decentralize decision making process. The top down approach has become a bane in the decision making process leading to lack of accountability for Teachers. It is proposed that School Management Committees (SMCs) be set up which can make decisions relating to monitoring Teachers attendance, their performance, Students progress and infra facilities. SMCs can comprise of a few Parents from each Class and Panchayat members. In this context, it was suggested to study the Kerala model.
  • Engage and involve Senior Citizens in SMCs
  • Parents and Community must play an active role in disengaging students from use of mobile phones. Students below 16 years should not be given mobile phones.
  • SMCs play a significant role in ensuring accountability at the grass root level. They should be further strengthened & empowered into a Collegium that is autonomous.

STUDY HOUR / AFTER SCHOOL LEARNING CENTRES

  • It is apparent that learning outcomes are very low particularly from those from the backward communities. It could be because of a host of reasons. Special focus needs to be given for those who do not have a conducive environment at home. ASER and SSA reports show poor learning outcomes and special focus to be given to create a platform where handholding is facilitated at the individual level.
  • At least 1hour per subject per week should be allocated for Study Hour under the guidance of the subject teacher to bridge the basics.
  • As many of the students in government schools are first generation from their family pursuing education, teacher is the only source of input and it is a challenge for any committed teacher to address the needs of each and every student of the class. Hence there is a need for after school learning centres to bridge the gap. Vidhya Volunteers (Preferably girls pursuing higher studies/ graduate youth from village) should be utilized for it by providing honorarium. This should be taken up on priority.

HIGHER EDUCATION:

  • Structural changes needed in higher education
  • Introduce flexibility to choose courses. The current practice of limiting students to specific streams based on their earlier education is limiting course corrections by students. They should have the freedom to opt for their courses irrespective of their previous education.
  • Teachers Appointments need to be done very transparently. This will help gain the confidence of the teaching community. An autonomous body needs to be created on appointments.
  • No sufficient investment on Higher education. It has to increase dramatically.
  • Infrastructure Development is needed
  • Restore Parent – Teacher relation in Universities.

TAKEAWAYS AND AFTER THOUGHTS

  • Eventually, like in all projects, Project Champions are the key to successful implementation of programs. Project Champions need to be protected, nurtured and encouraged.
  • Role Models / Icons / Achievers need to be show cased. Also, there is a great need to engage students with them periodically. This will have long lasting impression on students and could potentially spur them to take greater interest in learning.
  • Do we need create a Collegium for Transparency and Accountability? Political interference seems rampant in location of Schools, appointment of Teachers and their transfers. There seems to be a need to immunize education from political interference and give autonomy
  • Do we need a separate Cadre for Principals? There seems to be a crisis of leadership in management of Schools, Colleges and Universities.
  • Do we need to revamp primary education including remodeling Schools
  • Introduce compulsory work in Govt. sector for 1 year after graduation.
  • Policies need to be flexible to accommodate local requirements
  • Create Talent Fund