Agricultural education and training (AET) in South Africa are facing several challenges in its attempts to meet the requirements of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the South African National Development Plan (NDP).
In September 2017 the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) released a consensus study to identify ways in which these challenges could be addressed. It concluded that the country can meet national food requirements, but that the current system of managing education and training is fragmented and in serious need of substantial reform.
Chaired by Prof Frans Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa initiative, the study recommended improving the quality of AET by identifying three key areas in need of urgent attention:
- Bringing about substantial institutional reform.
- Stimulating a more effective agricultural innovation system.
- Developing a shared vision for the role of AET in national development and prosperity.
How to support reform
It is interesting to note that agricultural colleges are governed at provincial level and are therefore not formally part of the national higher education system.
Since AET is split between research councils and several government departments, it may well prove beneficial to establish a national council for AET to support reform and coordinate integration, cooperation and accountability regarding the various policies and programmes.
Stockfarm spoke to a few less traditional South African agricultural training institutions to find out how training methods have changed over time and what new study options are available nowadays.
Wynand Espach, chief operating officer of AGRICOLLEGES international, says it is important to ask what agriculture will look like in future, so that training at colleges and universities in South Africa can cater to the demands of the continuously changing technological era.
“Many of the careers as we know it will eventually be phased out and it is crucial that the most applicable skills and knowledge are transferred to our students. As technology and the human factor are merging, we have to make sure that the two can work together.”
Traditional colleges know that the classroom setup needs to change, and many are already working towards improved environments and strategic partnerships with modernised online colleges. “However, most traditional colleges still have limited space and classroom sizes. This is where the development of online learning programmes comes in.
“Shorter courses and online learning are gaining popularity largely because students can work and study at the same time. It also suits employers since their workforce does not have to study or learn new skills away from work. Wynand says that AGRICOLLEGES international refers to this study method as the ‘learn while you earn’ programme.
The new type of classroom looks distinctly different from the traditional one. “It is an expensive and complicated process for traditional colleges to reprint textbooks or to change their curriculums, while online colleges enjoy the advantage of being able to change their material very quickly. It means the most recent and relevant knowledge is transferred on world-class platforms using the latest technology,” says Wynand.
With more students opting for this study method, online colleges can present courses that are relevant to specific industries and which cater to the needs of students.
Wynand notes that technology has made it easier to identify students who may find the course difficult and that the content for such students can be easily adjusted to suit their requirements. “Technology even caters to disabled students and we see a whole new world opening up for them.”
He also says there is a good chance that traditional and modern colleges can work closely together, with theory and some practical work done online, while the rest of the practical work is done at traditional colleges.
Peritum Agri Institute
“We are keenly aware of the fact that agricultural training has become so much more accessible to students,” says Emmie Pietersen, director at Peritum Agri Institute. “Aspiring students enjoy much bigger choices regarding their future plans, with a huge selection of new training institutions and online options available to them.”
She believes better access to training goes hand in hand with a responsibility to evaluate the methods offered by the different institutions. “It is important to determine if it is on par with technological developments, in tune with the quality standards of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and, importantly, whether it meets the students’ needs.”
Traditional versus modern
Emmie’s viewpoint is that many traditional study methods should not be discredited, including the following:
Regarding modern study methodology, Emmie refers to electronic studies that include the following benefits:
Emmie encourages aspiring students to consider signing up at a training institution that supports new methods of training. “It offers so many benefits, such as part-time study or distance learning by means of online platforms, access to modern electronic learning methodology and alternative assessment methodology, which is more suited to practice-orientated disciplines in agriculture.”
thinking fusion AFRICA
Syngenta Grain Academy was established in 2013 with the aim to develop leadership among young commercial grain farmers. The thinking fusion AFRICA leadership development programme, Leadership in the Connection Economy, which is accredited by the University of the Free State’s Business School, is its core development programme.
Dr René Uys, one of the three directors of thinking fusion AFRICA, says the programme’s success and the fondness producers have for it, are probably a result of its design features. She outlines it as follows:
- Personal development and mastery take place against a backdrop of self-insight obtained through tough measures and head-on conversations.
- The traditional competency model is replaced with leadership skills development in the four zones of influence, namely self, one other, team and member of a leadership team – each with its own outputs.
- Thinking in a complex environment and overcoming complex problems are mastered through a system thinking group project that culminates in a presentation at the end of the programme.
- The programme is structured into three contact sessions two months apart. These face-to-face sessions are enriched with measurement tools, video clips, music, debate and discussion sessions, journaling, exciting activities, sound leadership reading, group sessions, individual presentations and more.
Dr Uys confirms that this successful model will soon be taken a step further to include a Leadership Academy that will accommodate all producers and the entire agricultural value chain.
“The Leadership in the Connection Economy programme is presented to commercial farmers. We have also developed a programme, Essential Leadership Insight, with six community-based contact days presented to farm managers, supervisors and administrative farm staff. This programme prepares a participant to take personal leadership, develop a personal development plan and more comfortably start leading others.”
She adds that the programme has a unique structure and will soon also be accredited and presented in a joint venture with the new leadership academy to be established for agriculture.
“We have also developed programmes for youth and community upliftment aimed at youth and community members on and around farms. It prepares participants for the challenges of the world of work and assists in obtaining study and employment success.”
Nelson Mandela University
“Agricultural management training at Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus is geared towards the challenges of modern agriculture,” says Johan Jordaan, a senior lecturer at the School of Natural Resource Management Science in the Faculty of Science.
He says that it is no longer appropriate, nor sufficient, for education and research to be conducted strictly according to subject disciplines. “Modern agriculture increasingly demands integration of subject disciplines in order to address challenges in a trans-disciplinary way.”
Educational programmes at the George Campus are based on a systems approach. With this approach a deliberate attempt is made to teach students to integrate different subject disciplines in order to better understand the complexity of sustainable resource management. “Hence the unique character of agricultural management training where technical and scientific subject matter is integrated with management knowledge, entrepreneurial skills and ecological principles,” says Johan.
The George Campus is unique in the sense that expertise and research capacity in the fields of agriculture, forestry, nature conservation and wildlife management are situated on one campus and can be effectively combined in the different diploma and degree courses.
Apart from academic education on campus, a programme of practical work-integrated learning forms part of the agricultural management course. Students are required to complete a twelve-month programme of experiential learning at an approved farm or agricultural concern. This unique concept integrates academic training and practical experience in such a way that students are exposed to the latest technology, methods, realities and challenges in the agricultural industry.
“Many students also use this opportunity to gain experience overseas. With the help of the agricultural sector, students develop the capacity to make a meaningful contribution to the economy and the wider community when they leave university,” says Johan.
Diploma studies are offered over three years and focus on the management of natural resources and the application of business management principles. Students are trained in aspects such as financial and labour management, and marketing and legal principles. It also has a strong emphasis on environmental conscience and sustainability towards managing soil, plant and animal production, and pasture systems. Each subject is complemented with practical training comprising visits to different enterprises.
After completing a diploma, students can enrol for a one-year advanced diploma. This allows them, in addition to the management modules, to focus on an enterprise or industry of their choice within the plant or animal production modules. The advanced diploma leads to an honours degree in natural resource management, which in turn allows for further postgraduate studies.
Johan emphasises that the goal of agricultural management training at the George Campus is to equip students for a successful career in the natural resource industries value chain across the world. – Carin Venter, FarmBiz
For enquiries, contact:
- AGRICOLLEGES international on 074 146 3420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr René Uys of thinking fusion AFRICA on 082 888 9702 or email@example.com.
- Johan Jordaan of Nelson Mandela University, George Campus, on 084 512 5167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.