Our agriculture education is in a mess

CLIVE DALTON
Last updated 07:33 05/08/2014
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WAY TO GO: Learners using their own time and on-the-job save the cost of travel, accommodatio and fees.

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OPINION: Massive changes in agriculture learning will be needed if we are to double exports by 2025 - and cope with rising costs, increasing competition and the need to find 50,000 new recruits.

The current education scene is a dog's breakfast of courses offered by providers at all levels, all competing for bums on seats. It should never have been allowed to get this way.

Clearly nothing has changed since the ancient Greeks invented the lecture for teachers to inform illiterate audiences. Most lectures today use "death by PowerPoint" and too much emphasis goes on how to teach and not enough on how to learn.

As students, we were tested to see what we remembered and could regurgitate to pass exams. If we failed, then it was our fault and never that of the teacher or their methods.

An urgent new approach to agriculture education is needed using internet access and ultra fast fibre.

Current developments in technology are only a start, and we are suffering badly from DKDK (don't know what we don't know) to meet future challenges.

So in the meantime, we assume that what we know now will get us through.

Consider a change to one central education source to slash the current massive waste among competitive providers, some of them currently pleading poverty.

People learn better as individuals with their differing abilities and needs, and a high demand for their qualifications will be their motivation to learn.

Class learning is a time waster, as tutors have to deal with the wide range of student abilities, so their teaching skills (good and bad) are spread over many students and on crowd control. The killer to traditional teaching is boredom, with learners paying hard-earned money for tedium and wasted time.

Today's high-quality agriculture information is not available to all learners equally throughout the country's many competitive providers.

Internet access allows learners to check their progress as they proceed. So learning is not about memory testing - it's knowing where to find information and how to use it. It's also about knowing what's reliable and what's not.

Learners using their own time and on-the-job save the cost of travel, accommodation and fees, which even if they appear free - somebody pays.

But the biggest saving is in time in today's busy workplaces. Learners (staff and employers) can still meet peers and mentors for specialist motivational sessions, or talk face to face via Skype.

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When tutor-delivered oral contact is needed on line, only the best inspiring tutors in the country should be used. This is now a growing business in international education.

There is no limit to information accessed on the internet using film and video on the increasing range of devices and applications, as just about everything in farming is visual, and involves action.

Learners can also share the invaluable resources of the country's top farmers and their staff. Farms can be visited virtually using Google Earth and aerial drones to show features and management practices.

Internet access can provide learners with up-to-the-minute business information on banking, investment, livestock trading and the like, again provided only by their best oral communicators for all to share.

Industry leaders can talk directly to motivate learners, giving regular updates on the state of international trade to make them feel part of their industry. Leaders can be easily questioned via group Skype.

This new learning approach could be offered to the world and lead to international consultancy and investment.

It could be a massive growth industry for NZ Inc, marketed through the World Bank and FAO. Currently ag education is an antique bureaucratic muddle.

* Dr Clive Dalton is a former AgResearch scientist and teacher. You can read more on this subject on his blog, woolshed1.blogspot.com

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