Skilled, Knowledgeable Teachers are of Paramount Importance

Michael Parr, Michael Schultheis and Jim Simon
Edited by Keith Moore

Hands on lab training in Senegal; two men in lab coats looking at a computer tablet and standing in a laboratory in Senegal.

Hands-on lab training in Senegal. Photo: ERA Senegal

Training teachers is more important than developing the curriculum, although neither is complete without the other. Good instruction involves both quality science and practical experience. Learning skills/capacity is weak among agricultural education and training (AET) students in developing countries, particularly in post-conflict situations. Agricultural professions are often a fallback educational and training choice for AET students who are not generally academically inclined. Stimulating these minds is challenging, and this requires motivated faculty who can bridge the gap between the new science and business of agriculture and real world applications. Rote learning will not suffice. Hands-on training exercises need to be led by those who understand the technology and the learning outcomes necessary to build the skills to operate those tools for profitable enterprises.

Teacher Training

Mastery of good science can be limited by lack of equipment and training resources, but also by a lack of teachers who have the requisite knowledge and experience using the equipment and other training resources. Teacher training in the sciences may improve the knowledge of instructors, but doesn’t necessarily provide the know-how for applying that knowledge profitably. Furthermore, instructors need to be trained in pedagogical knowledge and skills in order to create and adapt curricula to the learning needs of their students.

Hands-on knowledge and skills are expected of graduates, but most existing curricula and pedagogical practices lack mechanisms for transferring those skills and know-how, even when the resources have been made available to faculty (a not insignificant task in itself). Improved teaching methods can address skill and knowledge transfer but only if teachers employ the methods.

Behavior Change

Short- and long-term training can provide the knowledge and skills required of faculty, but don’t guarantee that they will be used. Behavioral change on the part of instructors requires that there is adequate motivation for such change. Projects have encountered difficulties engaging local faculty in improved pedagogical practices, often due to the extra effort involved and lack of incentives. Projects can find ways to channel increased benefits to these instructors, but how can such incentives be made sustainable?

Projects that only focus on training students fail to become transformative because the institutional apparatus training them has not changed. Teachers must be trained and must use that training to instill active learning practices within students.