I had worked extensively in major irrigation projects and also in minor ones, including the restoration of natural tanks — particularly in the arid zones. The challenge was to optimize the water for irrigation and micro-irrigation projects. It involved a lot of core engineering, management, and also the use of software and automation.
Normally drip irrigation is done to conserve water resources, minimise wastage of water, and maximize the yield (the outcome of farming/agriculture). Every plant gets the right amount or dose of water, at the right time, for the right duration: precision irrigation. This is an integral part of crop science and does involve an algorithmic approach and mathematical models too, truly! Hence, also the use of software and automation.
Overuse of water and flooding can lead to losing a crop, very low yields, and more importantly, the nutritional elements in the soil getting washed away, making the crop more vulnerable to diseases, lower yields, etc. Obviously, to optimize the use of water, many drip irrigation schemes were implemented, and the project brought more areas into the cultivable belt.
This needs education going right up to the farmers, and they should be convinced that with optimised inputs, yields can still be maximised. The system, along with the experts including agricultural scientists, resource providers, area development authorities, and all the other stakeholders align with this belief, and hence it works. Thousands of hectares of dry and arid lands in the North Karnataka belt are now converted into cultivable areas, improving the local area’s socio-economic profiles.
Given the pandemic situation, our belief of ‘not having done enough’ to transform ‘old school’ thoughts in education & rote learning, heavy curriculum, heavy books, intense homework, etc., has been showing us the flaws in our traditional schooling, and in learning practices. Subsequently, during the pandemic it was all about online learning and remote video classes, but the fundamentals of covering the curriculum needed long online sessions, and the effectiveness obviously got diluted. Yes, there simply was no other choice.
I am trying to build an analogy here with a brief case study about micro-irrigation that I narrated in the above paragraphs. When we want the best outcomes from our education system, it is not about dumping knowledge resources, curriculum, books, and everything else that we associate with traditional education, as we know.
The reason I am writing this in the context of irrigation is that the ultimate goal of efficient irrigation is to ensure that right directions are set in the irrigation system depending on the soil-crop combination, and hence the cropping pattern and the cropping calendar that emerges, in the following generic areas:
- How much water is required for the field, and when; also, what type of fertiliser and other nutritional inputs is required in what quantities, and when — this is where automation and technology support was useful.
- ‘Optimisation’ is the most important word here.
- ‘Overdoing’ of any of the inputs only kills the crops or diminishes the yield, the outcome, in both quantity and quality.
For a moment, let us step back and look at our traditional education system and our traditional narrative on how we learn. Try and compare this to the narrative of traditional farming with traditional irrigation.
I encourage all to think if we can build a similar narrative in the area of education & learning. For the want of a better word, let me call it ‘drip education’. Here again, the idea is about imparting age-appropriate education and learning, well-calibrated, just in time, and just the right amount, with emphasis on the quality of learning resources; most importantly, it is about ‘nothing more, and nothing less’. When I said ‘appropriate’, I meant personalisation.
This is just like a universal formula in farming that will not work for all, and thus necessitates the need for precision irrigation which requires factoring soil, crop, weather, availability of resources, water sources, and many other resources for its design and implementation.
Can this inspire us to think about a parallel in how we design our education systems, learning design, and delivery? Let us bring back the following words: ‘precision’, ‘right amount and the right time’, ‘nothing more, nothing less’, etc. In the context of education they mean being adaptive and sensitive to the ecosystem, environment, socio-economic profile of the area, the learners, the instructors, learning material, clarity of outcomes, etc. These, and many more factors, have to be considered in designing an education system, along with the learning methodology and putting ‘the learner at the center’. The design, and how it will be blended and orchestrated, is important for accomplishing the desired outcomes.
The yield in the education context is not just the quantity; it is the right mix of imparting knowledge, experience about the real world, and a better-fit into the micro-local community that we live in. It all has to be calibrated and re-calibrated with time, and the needs change.
One size fits all does not work.
The final objective is to develop learners into socially responsible individuals and help them develop a passion for themselves by providing the right enablers. Communities are as diverse as our diverse geographical, linguistic, historical, cultural, and socio-economic profiles. Hence, education systems and models cannot be simply copied, nor can we take a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach or a regimented approach. It has to be ‘designed’ truly using the ‘design thinking’ approach.
Hence I will leave you with this:
The right doses, in the right quantities, at the right time; never too less, nor too much. Design and precision is important in designing and executing such projects. Pure replication rarely works!