May 31

ICT SOLUTIONS TO TRANSFORM AGRICULTURAL LEARNING AND KNOWLEDGE ACCESS IN MALAWI

Malawi is pre-dominantly an agrarian economy with nearly 85% of the population deriving their livelihood directly or indirectly from agriculture. However, agriculture contributes only 29% to the national GDP due to various factors including low agricultural productivity and limited human capacity. There is not only an greater emphasis on agriculture by the government and international development agencies, but also an increasing interest in youth of the country in pursuing agriculture and related fields.
Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), the only Agricultural University in the country is witnessing this increased interest where the student strength has grown from 900 to 3500 in just 3 years, a 400% increase! This sudden surge in student intake has further worsened the resource (both physical and human) constrain at the University leading to large class sizes of more than 400 students thereby reducing the effectiveness of teaching and poor knowledge assimilation by students evidenced by low grades and increasing dropouts.

USAID funded Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP) – Malawi has introduced Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions at LUANAR to address some of these critical challenges. The key initiatives include introduction of an E-Learning platform – Online Learning and Training (OLAT) and a digital offline Agricultural library – The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL). The project has established a state of the art media center at the University which has the capacity to capture lectures digitally and produce very effective localized digital learning content for the use of the students. This content is hosted on the OLAT platform that allows access to students to these lectures anytime and anywhere and without the use of internet on the University Local Area Network (LAN). The project strategically overcome the initial resistance for adaptation of ICT’s and succeeded in bringing a behavioral shift among the faculty towards digitized form of teaching. Within one year, the project has digitized over 600 lectures covering all subject of the first year benefitting over 1500 students and will continue to capture all courses offered by the university. Moreover, the students now also have access to over 100 hours of lectures from global faulty including those from Cornell University and Indian agricultural universities. Similarly, the introduction of TEEAL has significantly enhanced access to knowledge of students, researchers and faculty at LUANAR fostering quality research. Today, TEEAL provides offline access to full text and searchable database of over 325 high quality agriculture and allied sector research journals from the year 1993 onwards to the entire University.

Maureen Makioka, first year student, LUANAR says, “OLAT has come at the right time for LUANAR students because we not only go to the library to get information but OLAT is able to give us all class room lectures. It is so beneficial for our academics at LUANAR.”
The introduction these ICT based initiatives open various avenues for the university in expanding its horizons. The University can now effectively integrate its satellite campuses with the main campus at Bunda, eventually launch online courses (both degree and vocational) and extend to digital extension. This initiative will pave way for more effective and efficient learning for the students and creation of a world class global university.

Prof. Emmanuel Kaunda, Deputy Vice Chancellor, LUANAR says “The e-Learning implementation is a step towards LUANAR’s dream to be on par with global agricultural institutes and the first institute to offer online courses in Africa”

Foot Note:
About TEEAL and sponsor and website
TEEAL is a digital collection of research journals for agriculture and related sciences. Researchers, students, faculty and librarians can discover and access thousands of full-text PDF articles without the use of the internet. TEEAL is available to institutions in income-eligible countries.
http://www.teeal.org/

LUANAR students using OLAT and TEEAL in their library

LUANAR students using OLAT and TEEAL in their library