Revolutionising Agri-science Education Through Online Learning
“If you eat, you need agriculture. If you wear clothes, you need agriculture. If you take medicine, live in a house, or write with a pencil, you need agriculture.” – (J. Ryan, 2018)
February 2022, by Agricolleges International
In 2016, The Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), a household-based sample survey conducted by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), published key findings from a survey completed between January to March the same year that collected data on the labour market activities of individuals aged 15-64 years.
The quantitative results of the survey helped support the vision of the then-fledgling idea of a group of South African based businessmen and women to create an online (cloud-based) Agricultural College to revolutionise the teaching and training of the Agri-sciences by offering increased access (online) to education opportunities to those most in need.
Howard Blight, Founder and CEO of AGRICOLLEGES international says: “There is a dire need for quality and affordable Agri-education in South Africa, Africa and the rest of the developing world. While some universities and colleges throughout the country are turning away thousands of student applicants each year, due to a lack of facilities for students looking for some form of education, it is equally true that our universities are being asked to accommodate more and more poorly prepared and poorly resourced students with fewer and fewer resources to do so.
Courses studied through AGRICOLLEGES international, will meet both the needs of the industry to gain young, skilled agricultural talent, and an affordable price-point – at R 32 900 per year,” (H. Blight, 2017).
A provision such as this helps address the need to increase the number of educated and skilled Agri-sector workers to help ensure long-term food security and sustainability. The AGRICOLLEGES international initiative is supported by notable industry-known associations. With so many agri-industries enjoying strong growth over recent years, they remain very much aware of the need for ‘relevant’, ongoing education and training in order to ensure that the next generation of farmers and Agri-sector workers are available.
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association said: “The South African citrus industry will continue to grow if we maintain our competitive edge. But, to maintain our competitive edge, we need to keep abreast of the latest technologies in the industry to better our production. We also need to make sure we have the right qualified personnel within the industry to continue to grow. We applaud AGRICOLLEGES International for helping to create the next generation of farmers and managers thereby ensuring the sustainable development of food in Africa” (AgriOrbit, 2017).
First Steps and Origin of Agricolleges International
In 2016, Howard Blight and his team at soon-to-be established AGRICOLLEGES International, developed a cloud-based online learning solution that had the potential to reach the growing youth population of South Africa. In March 2018, AGRICOLLEGES International launched its very first short course (7 weeks) in Agribusiness. The content was developed by agriculture experts and the learning designed in Desire2Learn’s cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS), Brightspace, by a highly qualified instructional design team.
Now, almost 4 years later, AGRICOLLEGES international prides itself in being an award-winning platform. Students have the choice between 19 different courses that include 4 National Certificates, 4 Introductory Courses, 5 Fundamentals Courses and 6 Citrus-specific courses. They received several awards in 2021, putting them on the map as a world-class online learning platform that is delivering exceptionally well in the Agri-learning industry. 2021 also saw the launch of numerous new short courses including a series of Citrus short courses, a short course in Aquaponics and the Fundamentals of Good Agricultural Practices course.
Our students matter at ACI
AGRICOLLEGES International has seen an immense amount of growth since its launch in 2016 and boasts with students from a total of 36 countries. As part of the National Certificate courses, students get the opportunity to work on operational farms and “get their hands dirty”. It provides an opportunity for them to see the theory they studied online, in practice. The students work with a facilitator as well as an assessor. They are guided through several assignments during these practical sessions that must be submitted at the end of their course.
These National Certificates are aligned to and accredited by AgriSETA and provides a vital opportunity for students to gain a national level qualification as a stepping stone towards a Higher Certificate, Advanced Certificate, and eventually a three-year National Diploma.
This will ensure a continued supply of well-qualified students entering the Agri-market to continue ensuring food security, not only in South Africa but worldwide. The response to this modern approach to agricultural education has been overwhelmingly positive with many students enrolling for more courses soon after the completion of their first.
Initially, there was a misconception among students that it is going to be too difficult to study online and that the high cost of data services in Africa would make it unaffordable for them. However, they quickly realised that the responsive nature of the platform and the approach to design, did not require a lot of data.
Agriculture, Education and Technology go together
The technological approach to education allows AGRICOLLEGES International to extend its reach and provide teaching and learning opportunities to those students for whom location or socioeconomic position would have otherwise prevented their participation in the past. The online learning software utilised by AGRICOLLEGES is world-class. From registration to how the course is structured and the assessments, the offering is productively competent.
What’s Next for ACI?
AGRICOLLEGES international has recently made a venture into uncharted territory – cannabis and hemp production. The legal Cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing, most exciting, and dynamic industries in the world. It is estimated that South Africa’s cannabis industry could be worth R27 billion by 2023. It has the potential to contribute significantly towards Africa’s job creation, our economies and our continent’s health.
However, for the industry to realise its full potential, Africa needs a skilled workforce that understands how to cultivate and manage the Cannabis value chain. AGRICOLLEGES international partnered with Cheeba Africa Cannabis Academy to develop a National Certificate in Plant Production with additional material that specifically focuses on the production of Cannabis and Hemp.
This full-time course provides learners with the opportunity to engage in farm management and operational activities in the Cannabis and Hemp industries. The programme will equip learners with the necessary skills to start their own small-scale Cannabis or Hemp farms and provides important skills needed for those wanting to seek employment in the agricultural side of the Cannabis and Hemp industries.
This course provides individuals with an excellent all-round plant production foundation and offers further specific training for those interested in growing cannabis for personal use, or wanting to consider the commercial opportunities available through a licence to either export their yield or supply it to a laboratory for the treatment, processing, and manufacturing of cannabis-related products.
So much more to come
Some of the exciting courses that will make their way onto the AGRICOLLEGES platform in 2022 include Beekeeping, Poultry Production, and Irrigation courses. AGRICOLLEGES international has access to world-class content in these leading industries with several courses being developed in these fields. Further Applications courses in various crops are also under development. These Application courses are the practical element of the short courses and students from around the world will have the opportunity to work with leading experts and farm specific crops.
With AGRICOLLEGES international, it is possible to upskill yourself, gain knowledge and prepare yourself for the world of employment, whilst enjoying a secure income from your current employment. For more information on AGRICOLLEGES, as well as the courses we have to offer, please visit https://agricolleges.com/.