Farming Best Practice

Agricultural Education

The Pressing Need to Extend Access to Agricultural Education

The idea of growing crops and herding cattle is almost as old as humanity. As time has progressed, farming methods have been changing in parallel, although never as quickly or as radically as in recent years. However, while schools of medicine and similar learning establishments began taking in students during the middle ages or even earlier, there was no effort to introduce formal agricultural education

Farmers were mostly peasant labourers working the land for its wealthy owners in exchange for their accommodation and food. Typically, the farmer’s role was passed from father to son for generations and the knowledge and skills passed on by example. Later, some farmers without children of their own began to school apprentices who would eventually assume their responsibilities to the landlord.

In 1845, the world’s first agricultural college opened in Cirencester, a thriving market town in the south-west corner of England and the first to recognise the need for agricultural education. The college was initially a private venture, and it received no state subsidy until some 30 years later. However, the state’s intervention also revealed that, like universities, the college’s focus was primarily on theory and might not be sufficiently relevant. 

By the turn of the 19th century, it had become clear to the authorities that there was an acute need to increase productivity on the nation’s farms. While agreeing that theoretical knowledge was necessary, they felt that teaching practical skills should take precedence to achieve adequate production levels. This fundamental insight would eventually define the model for agricultural education worldwide.

Today, the importance of ensuring that farmers remain aware of the latest development on their field and that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to take advantage of them is a given. To meet these needs, colleges and universities have developed a wide range of courses leading to a diploma or degree. While that may sound like good news, attending a brick-and-mortar establishment is not an option for many of those who most need to receive agricultural education. 

These aspiring learners face three main obstacles that preclude them from conventional learning opportunities. They may be unable to afford the fees; they may be unable to leave their farms for prolonged periods to attend an institution full time, or they may not meet the mandatory entry requirements.

A joint venture between Educate to Grow and AGRICOLLEGES International is now helping aspiring and established farmers and interested school leavers overcome each of these problems and pursue their agricultural education via a fully-interactive e-learning platform and a smartphone or tablet. Your donations help South Africa’s farmers to continue putting wholesome, quality food on your tables.

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