Because we care: How Partners in GFAR are transforming agricultural learning

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Because we, the Partners in GFAR, care about the future of our youth and the future of agriculture, education is one of our most important agendas. Many young people in Sub-Saharan Africa leave school without being able to properly read and write, with their work prospects handicapped for life. An enormous number of young people are turning away from agricultural opportunities that they see as associated with poverty and drudgery, rather than success and promise, and are migrating to seek jobs that simply don’t exist in the cities of their dreams. This is a recipe for the collapse of both rural and urban societies.

Education is vital to society and to sustainable development. Our futures depend on developing the agricultural leaders of tomorrow – and this requires radical change in the kinds of education being offered to our young people. Universities are places of great repute, yet are struggling for resources and facing demands from agri-food industries and from society, to equip young people with holistic skills and the inspiration, not just to find a job, but to create new agri-food-based opportunities and enterprise and themselves become community leaders.

Building our ideas together in Nairobi

A collective action on ‘Transformative learning and student leadership’, is being developed among GFAR Partners. The initiative is catalyzed by Education and Organizational Development Expert – Dr Iman El-Kaffass for the GFAR Secretariat, together with GFAR Steering Committee member Prof Agnes Mwang’ombe of The University of Nairobi and Dr. Anthony Egeru of RUFORUM. The agenda is not just about reforming curricula, but creating fundamental transformations in the operation and practices of our higher education institutions, so that they meet the needs of our young people today and tomorrow.

“We need to provide holistic education for our future leaders, not just technical skills, but also building the life skills required for rounded individuals, with much to offer society”

-Iman El-Kaffass, GFAR Senior Adviser, Strategic Planning and Capacity Development

Through GFAR Secretariat funding and technical advice, a workshop of 40 GFAR Partner organizations: University Vice Chancellors, Deans and former Ministers, students, private companies, research, CSOs and farmer organizations, came from across Africa to meet at the University of Nairobi and set out a new vision of how higher education must change if it is to meet society’s needs. Facilitated by Fode Baudet of the Centre for Inter-Cultural Learning of Global Affairs Canada, the meeting was a really high-energy process over 3 days.

“We cannot leave agriculture to die. If it dies, humanity dies. Universities must develop our future agricultural leaders, but the reality now is bigger student numbers and stretched resources. More innovative thinking is needed to change the learning game. We must transform our universities and we, most of all, must care about this. If we don’t, then who will?”

-Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary

Through GFAR funding support and advice from Dr El-Kaffass, a workshop of 40 GFAR Partner organizations: University Vice Chancellors, Deans and former Ministers, students, private companies, research, CSOs and farmer organizations, came from across Africa to meet at the University of Nairobi and set out a new vision of how higher education must change if it is to meet society’s needs. Facilitated by Fode Baudet of the Centre for Inter-Cultural Learning of Global Affairs Canada, the meeting was a really high-energy process over 3 days.

Transformational change means going beyond our comfort zones, thinking beyond the usual game. The participants set out their vision of what the graduate of the future should look like and what technical and life skills   they will require to become the agri-food leaders of tomorrow.

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 “The Private sector needs graduates who are fit for purpose and ready for work!”

-Hosea Machuki, FPEAK fresh produce exporters, Kenya

Participants identified what characteristics were required of university’s functions and learning processes to make this a reality, listening to each other’s views and together creating an exciting new vision of how universities should function and how they can contribute more effectively to society. We worked together in an incredibly positive and dynamic atmosphere to set out an exciting new agenda for African universities, to make their learning processes attractive to young people and to potential employers, finding the solutions required, not just obsessing on the problems, as happens in so many events.

Together, the Partners in GFAR are creating a truly transformative agenda, with universities becoming redefined as institutions engaged with society, and which enable learning and individual development, rather than static, and often dated, teaching.

Inspiring ideas flowed from all, identifying key elements of transformative change that go well beyond curriculum reform, to open out our universities to engage with farmers and industry and through their courses and co-curricular activities, develop the young leaders of tomorrow. Ideas developed covered the technical needs for change, the essential enabling environment for success, the innovative investment mechanisms required and the communication needed to get uptake of the concepts into practice. Together these add up to a true transformation of our higher education institutions and systems.

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From the outcomes of Nairobi a global GFAR Collective Action is developing, a Transformational Learning and Student Leadership Initiative to meet these needs. Key elements are:

  • A shared model of aims and the transformations required
  • Multi-stakeholder platforms for transformational student leadership
  • A common concept note for generating resources to transform individual universities and for the sharing of learning
  • A number of universities are already volunteering to pilot the approaches involved.

The value of this new thinking was seen in the very positive feedback from participants following the meeting:  The participants considered the meeting highly participatory, very practical and with great teamwork and equity among the participants, even though they came from widely differing backgrounds. The methods used to develop a common theory of change were welcomed, as was the honesty from all involved in exploring the challenges facing African universities and their willingness and openness to finding radical new solutions, with external partners from farmers to the private sector, to meet these daunting challenges.

The theory of change and concept note developed through the meeting are now being taken forward by multi-stakeholder working groups addressing each area: technical writing; networking and communications and advocacy and fund raising.

“I have been thinking, reading and writing about transformation of the curriculum for the last 18 months.

This has turned my thinking upside down… I will throw my proposed framework out of the window and re-start with transformative learning!”

Post-event Feedback questionnaire

And then to the RUFORUM AGM in Malawi…

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In Africa, this initiative aligns directly with the RUFORUM agenda 2030 and our GFAR-RUFORUM partnership shows much promise for the future.  The Collective Action was presented by Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary and Prof Maggi Linington, Executive Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Science at the University of South Africa, to 300 African University Vice- Chancellors and Deans at the well-attended RUFORUM Annual General Meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi on 26-27 October 2017.

The concepts were very enthusiastically received by the university heads present, who all recognized the challenges involved and the need for a fresh approach, a transformational change, in order to be able to fulfil their roles and create new generations of dynamic African agricultural leaders. Already, a further 20 African universities immediately requested to join this Collective Action and the initiative is growing fast.

Together, these active and willing partners, #thosewhocare are transforming university education through the GFAR collective learning initiative, first in Sub-Saharan Africa, next in the Near East and North Africa region and then into Asia. Please join us on our journey – its open to all – and together we will transform higher education and provide a new future for our youth!

To become involved, whether as a university or other stakeholder, simply first register your institution as a Partner in GFAR at http://www.gfar.net/about-us/be-a-partner and then write to us at GFAR-secretariat@fao.org to express your interest in this GFAR collective action.  GFAR is a voluntary network, there is no fee or legal requirement in becoming involved.

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Blogpost by Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary

 


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