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11th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. All is now fair in India’s ailing pedagogic spaces’
  2. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (promotion and facilitation) act, 2020

ALL IS NOW FAIR IN INDIA’S AILING PEDAGOGIC SPACES

Context:

The novel coronavirus pandemic has created its own pressure on the education sector. Response to this pressure reflects poor systemic capacity to adapt to unforeseen situations.

Relevance:

GS Paper 2: Social Sector & Social Services (health, education, human resources – issues in development, management);

Mains Questions:

  1. Childhood is now fully exposed to the attractions of the virtual world and there is no one to offer a safety net. Discuss in context of online education to children. 15 Marks
  2. Online education has a mountain of problems in India but it can become accessible, inclusive if states are more proactive. Explain. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is educational technology?
  • Advantages of educational technology.
  • Issues related to educational technology.
  • Way Forward

What is educational technology?

Educational technology is the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning. Educational technology creates, uses, and manages technological processes and educational resources to help improve user academic performance.

How to Use Edtech to Advance Your Career

Advantages of educational technology:

  • A shift from ‘one-size-fits-all’ mode: Edtech is shifting the approach towards education from being teacher-centric to becoming student-centric. These platforms enable an individual to study at a comfortable pace from people they are comfortable to ‘hang around and learn’ with, instead of losing onto key takeaways in an hour-long lecture.
  • Democratised access to education: The infrastructure of the Indian education system has been a major concern, be it in terms of physical establishment, provisions or scale. While socio-economic factors come into play here, Edtech has the potential to democratise access to education and opportunities even amidst such fragmented market conditions.
  • Bringing fluidity in the curriculum: Phenomenon-based learning is an emerging concept in the educational landscape, actively engaging students to perceive different concepts and subjects, identify gaps, seek understanding, and draw parallels, etc, in the context of a real-life scenario. Edtech can help further such a learner-centric approach to learning by establishing a connect for the content being imparted, and by assisting the student in charting out an individual learning path based on what they understand of a certain phenomenon.
  • New elements and concepts: While the medium of videos and its utilisation is one of the pioneering and most basic elements of Edtech, the elements being introduced in recent times take this even a notch high. For instance, gamification is a new concept that has emerged in this scenario, engaging and motivating students to learn by using the design and other elements of video games to capture the attention and interest of learners, help them enjoy while learning, and inspire them to continue doing so.
  • Equipping students with better perception towards today’s world: While academic education is one of the foundational steps towards building awareness among young minds, there is a severe lack of a broader perspective in the set curriculum. Moreover, given the current global socio-economic and political scenario, the definition of society and its demand from each individual is dynamically changing. For instance, even though technology is taking rapid strides towards advancement, we are also facing a looming climate crisis that demands awareness and active participation.

Issues related to education technology:

  • Lack of sustained connectivity, a bane: The Indian internet infrastructure is not ready for the paradigm shift to online learning mandated by the situation arising due to COVID-19 , according to a report by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), The report pointed out connectivity and signal issues as the most prevailing problems faced by students while attending online classes.
  • Affordability: Majority of our students cannot afford two square meals and live in an 8×10 room with adult members besides their parents and other siblings. For them, school is the best time of the day.
  • All subjects can’t be taught online: Construction in math, for instance, is difficult to teach online. It is difficult to teach a few new concepts in an online classroom though we use an interactive app as students focus at home is an issue besides the complexity of the topic.
  • Not all teachers are tech-savvy: Ramya Venkataraman, founder and CEO – ‎Centre for Teacher Accreditation (CENTA), said this challenge places the onus on the teachers to upskill themselves in competencies such as subject expertise, classroom communication, content planning and development, student assessment and technology tools, to capitalize on the emerging opportunities in schools in India and abroad as well as in online teaching.
  • Lack of standardised content for regional languages: Children studying regional languages are at a disadvantage as there is not much standardised content available yet online for them.
  • Increase in screen time: Parents are concerned about too much overall screen time (mobile, television, gaming, laptop) including education now.
  • Parents, children need time to understand medium: Parents and students have not been exposed to this new system of learning and will take to adapt to the new form of education.
  • Childhood is now fully exposed to the attractions of the virtual world and there is no one to offer a safety net. Young children’s access to the Internet brings them face to face with self-styled video teachers of every subject, manufacturers of video games, fantasy app makers, and coding instructors.

Way Forward:

In the push for online education post-pandemic, what needs to be factored in is that the poorest of poor students are not left out as they do not have the resources to access it. One way of doing that suggested Mahmaya Navlakha of Arthan is for government to step in to make this new system of learning possible for all. After all, civic society has its limitation. The government can devise a programme which ensures standardisation and quality by working with experts in the field and create a framework that creates inclusion.


THE FARMERS’ PRODUCE TRADE AND COMMERCE (PROMOTION AND FACILITATION) ACT, 2020

Context:

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of APMC markets.  State governments are prohibited from levying any market fee, cess

Relevance:

GS Paper 3: storage, transport & marketing of agro-produce and related issues & constraints; Economics of animal-rearing

Mains Questions:

  1. There is also a point of view that agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) set up under the state acts have not only impeded the development of agriculture but also have been the cause of food inflation in India. Critically examine. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Topic:

  • What was the need for these reforms?
  • Provisions of The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020
  • Significance of this Act
  • Issues related to this Act
  • Way forward

What was the need for these reforms?

Agricultural markets in India are mainly regulated by state Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws.  APMCs were set up with the objective of ensuring fair trade between buyers and sellers for effective price discovery of farmers’ produce. APMCs can:

  • Regulate the trade of farmers’ produce by providing licenses to buyers, commission agents, and private markets,
  • Levy market fees or any other charges on such trade,
  • Provide necessary infrastructure within their markets to facilitate the trade.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19) observed that the APMC laws are not implemented in their true sense and need to be reformed urgently.  Issues identified by the Committee include:

  • Most APMCs have a limited number of traders operating, which leads to cartelization and reduces competition, Undue deductions in the form of commission charges and market fees.
  • Traders, commission agents, and other functionaries organise themselves into associations, which do not allow easy entry of new persons into market yards, stifling competition.
  • The Acts are highly restrictive in promotion of multiple channels of marketing (such as more buyers, private markets, direct sale to businesses and retail consumers, and online transactions) and competition in the system.
Agricultural Marketing- Measures taken by Government

Objectives of these Agri Reforms:

The central government promulgated three Ordinances. The Ordinances collectively seek to:

  • Facilitate barrier-free trade of farmers’ produce outside the markets notified under the various state APMC laws,
  • Define a framework for contract farming,
  • Impose stock limits on agricultural produce only if there is a sharp increase in retail prices. 

The three Ordinances together aim to increase opportunities for farmers to enter long term sale contracts, increase availability of buyers, and permits buyers to purchase farm produce in bulk.

Key Features of The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020

  • Trade of farmers’ produce: The Ordinance allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce outside:
    • The physical premises of market yards run by market committees formed under the state APMC Acts and other markets notified under the state APMC Acts. 
    • Such trade can be conducted in an ‘outside trade area’, i.e., any place of production, collection, and aggregation of farmers’ produce including: (i) farm gates, (ii) factory premises, (iii) warehouses, (iv) silos, and (v) cold storages.
  • Electronic trading: The Ordinance permits the electronic trading of scheduled farmers’ produce (agricultural produce regulated under any state APMC Act) in the specified trade area.  An electronic trading and transaction platform may be set up to facilitate the direct and online buying and selling of such produce through electronic devices and internet.  The following entities may establish and operate such platforms:
    • Companies, partnership firms, or registered societies, having permanent account number under the Income Tax Act, 1961 or any other document notified by the central government, and
    • A farmer producer organisation or agricultural cooperative society.
  • Market fee abolished: The Ordinance prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area’.

Significance of this Act:

  • Reduced role of intermediaries: The new legislation could create an ecosystem where the farmers and traders will enjoy freedom of choice of sale and purchase of agri-produce. Thus, ending the monopoly exercised by traders and other intermediaries resulting in full realization of the price. For example, a turmeric farmer now could sell her produce to Big Basket in Delhi, without any mandi tax or trader commission, at a mutually agreed upon price.
  • Integrated Market: Barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce would enable farm surplus to move freely from surplus to deficit regions. It will advance the idea of ‘one Nation, one Agri-market’.
  • Currently, the agricultural markets are very fragmented. For instance, the monthly average price of rice in 2019 ranged from ₹2,042 per quintal in Agra (Uttar Pradesh) to ₹5,102 in Gangtok (Sikkim). The variation is more pronounced in case of vegetables.
  • Encouraging APMC reforms: Private markets could put pressure on APMC markets (the Act does not repeal the APMC laws) to infuse more transparency and efficiency in their functioning. The State governments have a significant role in reforming the APMC system: o depoliticize the committees and make them more farmer friendly.
  • to allow APMC markets to compete with private markets; the cess levied on market transactions can be waived. o privatizing mandis that are not viable.

Issues related to new Act

  • Sudden changes in market mechanisms may not bode well for the market. For instance, in 2006, Bihar repealed its APMC Act with an objective to attract private investment in the sector and gave charge of the markets to the concerned sub-divisional officers in that area. This resulted in:
    • Erosion of the existing infrastructure over time due to poor upkeep.
    • farmers facing issues such as high transaction charges and lack of information on prices and arrival of produce.
  • The Act creates an artificial distinction between “market areas” (regulated by the mandi system under state governments) and “trade areas” (now under the central Acts), thus risking a problem of dual regulatory market.
    • Also, the new unregulated market space called the ‘trade area’ will have no oversight and the government will have no information or intelligence about who the players are, who is transacting with who for what quantities and at what prices.
  • The newly created ‘trade areas’ would have a clear regulatory advantage over ‘market areas’ vis-à-vis the mandi tax. This could potentially lead to a collapse of the APMC system and initiatives like e-NAM which are riding on top of physical mandi structure in the country.
  • The Act leaves a critical institutional space- how state-specific implementation investments, crucial for running efficient markets, will be negotiated and managed, if APMC are bypassed.
  • State Governments will lose mandi tax, which is a major source of revenue for States like Punjab and Haryana.

Way Forward:

The future of Indian agriculture cannot be salvaged by simply allowing greater freedom to farmers. Agriculture can have a better future only when the excess workforce employed in farming moves to the non-farm sector and there is a greater demand for agricultural products as incomes increase. Because the majority of Indians cannot even afford a decent food basket, many commentators have reached a wrong conclusion that Indian agriculture is facing a problem of plenty.

Also, India’s policymakers need to realise that agriculture is heavily supported by governments in most countries. As has been pointed out by Ashok Gulati in an Indian Express article, producer support to farming in India as a share of total farm receipts is negative, something which goes against the stereotype of agriculture being heavily subsidised. Promises of future gains from deregulation can hardly be a substitute for budgetary support for Indian farmers.

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