Capacities for Change, GFAR blog

GFAR scales out Transformational Learning to another continent


Transformational learning and student leadership development in undergraduate universities, agricultural and life sciences colleges at the global level is a key focus area of GFAR for the years 2018-2021. Reform of agricultural and life science universities and departments around the world is needed to adapt to changes in their dynamic environments, and to mend the gap that exists in producing the right caliber of university graduates who can meet societal demands, fulfill their own aspirations regarding their own futures, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The GFAR Collective Action on Transformational Learning and Student Leadership Development was set out by the Steering Committee during the meeting in June 2017 and has led to the establishment of a platform of African Universities committed to promote transformational learning and to apply the concept in their own universities. Read more here and here.

Expansion to other Regions

The initiative was then introduced to Asia in collaboration with Partner in GFAR, APAARI. Dr. Iman El-Kaffass presented the concept in plenary at the Regional Conference on Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN: Agri-Food Systems, Rural Sustainability and Socioeconomic Transformations, in February 2018. At the same time, GFAR started promoting the concept to the Near East and North Africa Region. A high value partnership to introduce and implement the initiative in the NENA region was developed among numerous GFAR partners in the region.

The Workshop in Cairo, Egypt

The first workshop on Transformational Learning and Student Leadership Development was held on April 1 and 3, during the 37th Annual Conference of ARABACRA, hosted by Zewail City in Egypt. The workshop had around 80 participants representing 60 Universities and higher education institutions and colleges from the NENA Region. Representatives of the government, the private sector, the NGOs including women and farmer organizations took active part in the workshop.

The workshop had the following objectives:

  • Introducing the GFAR initiative on Transformational Learning and Student Leadership Development to high level management of universities in the NENA region and to their stakeholders and promoting its adoption in NENA universities and colleges of agriculture and life sciences.
  • Identifying the region-tailored reform to be undertaken by the participants based on representative and equitable dialogue – innovation platform style – of the multi-stakeholders concerned.
  • Starting a representative platform of stakeholders of higher education under the auspices of the Union of Arab Universities, AARINENA and Zewail City of Science and Technology, together with workshop participating universities and stakeholders.

The workshop used a very bottom-up participatory approach with specific questions which the participants answered in groups and presented their collective answers in innovative ways, including paintings. Participants were asked to position the NENA Region as it stands in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals. Foresight exercises included reflecting on the different scenarios of the region in 2030, the preferred scenario, and how we can change the present to realize the targeted future.


The Student of 2030

The 20 student participants openly expressed their image of the future and their expectations from their university years. Competencies, including knowledge, skills and attitudes of the targeted graduate able to realize this preferred future in line with Global Goals for 2030 were detailed through group work. Participants then discussed the activities that need to be created in universities to provide such a graduate.

Participants agreed that in addition to the most up-to-date academic knowledge, the targeted graduate should acquire – throughout the university years – experience and skills in entrepreneurship, problem solving and decision making, community involvement, organizational leadership, working and training with real employers through internship programs, empathy and appreciation of diversity. In this respect, experiential learning, entrepreneurial grant writing, internships, conferences and seminars, arts, theatre and music, lab experiments, community service and other desired activities were listed and described.

Five aspects of learning

Acting as facilitator for the workshop, Dr. Iman El-Kaffass of GFAR Secretariat introduced the concept of comprehensive student development that she has been promoting through GFAR for a few years now. The concept focuses on the development of the student in five aspects: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and professional. According to this approach, learning institutions should be a “one stop shop” for students where all their developmental aspects are addressed through tailored, state-of-the-art programs, and where they are mentored to develop methodically in every aspect. Universities – in addition to providing top-notch academic education to students, need to cater to the five aspects.

This was followed by a reflection by the participants on the enabling environment required in the universities to realize all elements discussed. The description of the needed enabling environment included the redefinition of the classroom, of the role of the instructor and of the purpose of the universities. It was agreed that this redefinition should be reflected in the instructors’ recruitment processes, their training and evaluation and in the change of the value definition of the instructor from researcher and publisher to facilitator of the transformational learning process that the student will be offered at university. The transformation will also include reformed curricula, restructured governance, rewritten school missions and strategic plans and establishing effective student mentoring processes.


The “prison” of disjointed knowledge

The enabling environment was also described as one where the university becomes a “platform with no walls” where students and the outside environment interact continuously to create collaborative learning experiences that prepare the students to serve the environment upon their graduation. Students expressed that in today’s world they are able to get a lot of information much more quickly through the media, and in some instances this information is more up to date than that presented by their instructors.

Students expressed their view that the outside real and virtual environments are now so open, where knowledge freely flows across disciplines and sectors, that going to traditional classrooms or lecture halls can seem like “going to prison”. Rather, these classrooms should physically and virtually open their walls to the outside world and allow different contributors to the process of learning to enrich the experiences of the students.

The role of the instructor should therefore stop being that of a source of information, but rather become that of a facilitator, making sense of the information acquired. This requires supporting the students to acquire better analysis and deduction skills, in addition to communication and decision making skills.


The way forward

The workshop and follow up presentation of findings were met with buy-in from the participants who are serious about wanting to reform universities in the region to qualify graduates to meet the regional and global challenges.

Participants formed a platform for Transformational Learning and Student Leadership Development that will be facilitated by both AARINENA and the Union of Arab Universities. Zewail City of Science and Technology and Sinai Holdings (including Sinai University) expressed interest to host the platform and its subsequent meetings.

A concept note for the initiative has been developed by the partnering universities and organizations and is ready to be disseminated to a wider audience.

A follow up meeting is scheduled in October 2018 to be hosted by the Union of Arab Universities in Amman, Jordan, to assess progress and shape future steps. Some of the indicators to be used at the short and medium term would be the number of universities going through the reform, the number of reform elements adopted by each university, number of multi-stakeholder partnerships developed, processes that have been reviewed and changed, short term outputs; etc.

To learn more about this Collective Action, and its scaling out to the NENA Region, watch Dr. Iman El-Kaffass in this interview on Egyptian TV News Channel 2:

Download the Collective Action concept note here

Blog post by Dr. Iman El-Kaffass, Sr. Advisor, Capacity Development and Organizational Transformation, GFAR Secretariat and coordinator of the Cairo meeting. 

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