SA’s cloud college may benefit Zambian farmers

Agri Colleges International, a company that came into existence when a group of South African farmers decided to address the skills shortage in their industry by building at least five new agricultural colleges, may offer cloud-based learning opportunities for students in Zambia and Tanzania.

“We are looking at making our courses available across our borders with the first countries earmarked being Zambia and Tanzania. We’ll start with English speaking countries, and later we will translate courses into other languages and roll it out for the continent,” said Howard Blight, head of the Agri Colleges steering committee.

The initial plan had been to construct five brick and mortar colleges in South Africa, but this plan was replaced by one of teaching from a cloud-based learning platform. The creation of the facility was partly as a result of talks held with Prof Danie Brink, dean of the agriculture faculty at Stellenbosch University (outside Cape Town).

Learn to farm via the internet

Cloud-based learning, said Blight, is a relatively new concept based on a learning management system (LMS), which, in this case, is based in Salt Lake City, USA. From there the courses are uploaded into the ‘Cloud’, and, provided a person has internet access, learning can take place anywhere on the planet.

“It even facilitates practical evaluations. You can place your mobile device on a stand, and your moderator, from say the faculty of engineering, will watch you change the bearing on a tractor wheel, and you will get your mark accordingly,” Blight explained. After realising that they could achieve more with less money, the committee changed the thrust of the company’s direction. “Our start-up budget has been downscaled from more than R300 million to about R120 million and I’m not even sure we’re going to need all that,” he said.

Many of South Africa’s mega-farmers have pledged their support for this project.

Blight said that the project was launched to address the desparate need for skilled farm management personnel in South Africa.

“Of the 32 agricultural colleges we once had, we now have only two.”

The first one-year course would present the industry with trained graduates by the end of 2018, said Blight.

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