27) Massive Open Online Courses for Agricultural Professionals to usher in classrooms without boundaries

Hyderabad, Telangana, India (05 September 2014) – Opening unlimited opportunities for the less privileged in India to have access to quality agricultural education, the ‘National Virtual Academy for Indian Agriculture to promote Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for Agricultural Professionals’ was launched yesterday at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) global headquarters.

The MOOCs will be offered through the National Virtual Academy for Indian Agriculture, an online platform built on an open source software “Open edX,” to meet the requirements specifically of India’s agricultural education system, where available resources are scarce relative to the extremely large audience – in a country where more than 70% of the population is involved in agriculture directly or indirectly.

Advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) now enable the building of “classrooms without boundaries” in the cloud to provide sharing opportunities of courses and learning approaches among academic institutions in India, in order to reach the masses.  With this platform, one course can have the potential to reach 50,000 – 150,000 learner participants at one time – particularly those who are less privileged, far from education centers, and with lesser resources.

The launch of the National Virtual Academy for Indian Agriculture to promote MOOCs for Agricultural Professionals is a regional event of the new global education consortium, One Agriculture – One Science (http://www.oneagriculture.org). This consortium is a unique international partnership between ICRISAT and top agricultural universities, research organizations and other related agencies from India, Africa and the USA working towards revitalizing global agricultural education, capacity building and technology transfer to address the challenges of global food and nutritional security.

“The One Agriculture – One Science has been formed to strengthen the existing agricultural education system, bringing to fore all ideas and innovation in agriculture to tackle the problem of feeding the world’s poorest of the poor. With this initiative we seek to encourage more youth into agriculture, and to reach out to millions of farmers to embrace new technologies to progress into a dynamic sector,” said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT.

“Our best hope for the future is education. We need to train researchers, educators, extension agents and farmers with more knowledge and skills to be able to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have in the past 10,000 years,” said Dr Jack Payne, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida, in a video message.

“We are focusing on special theme areas and are looking to collaborate with partners to develop some new solutions based on proven principles of online learning, distance education, short courses and open universities,” said Dr Christine Geith, Assistant Provost and Executive Director of Michigan State University's MSUglobal.

The initiative at India specifically seeks to contribute to its agricultural education system, bringing systematic changes through strategic coalition of regional, national and international partners. The MOOCs is a recent development in distance education in the country, which has now been boosted by the One Agriculture – One Science consortium through the pooling of international expertise, experience and resources.

“The strength and ultimate success of this initiative and all MOOCs rests upon the usage and usefulness of what is provided. Our MOOCs are focusing on applied science that can readily be helpful to our audiences that log on. We are actively engaging partners that can bring this approach to the MOOC agricultural community,” said Dr Mary Holz-Clause, Dean, College of Agriculture at California Polytechnical University in southern California.

Offering free online agricultural courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the internet, MOOCs will have traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, as well as interactive user forums to help build a community for learners (students, professors and teaching assistants) within India.

“In the words of our honorable Prime Minister, bringing the best of education to the remotest areas could be difficult, but using technology will make it possible. Our Government has listed online education as a priority and will be launching India’s open online platform six months from now. Next year at least 50 centrally funded universities will be operating courses online,” said Mr Praveen Prakash, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development and Mission Director, National Mission in Education through ICT, India.    

“ICT in agriculture has given us exciting results. It helped us reach millions of farmers. The era of ICT is the golden era in agriculture. We should advance ICT-related activities like the MOOCs for better results in agriculture,” said Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General (Education), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).    

“Addressing the necessary changes and adaptations in agricultural education is critical today to ensure food security and sustainable agricultural production in developing countries. The One Agriculture – One Science initiative hopes to support agriculture with the latest advancements in technology and knowledge flow strategies,” said Dr Dileepkumar Guntuku, Global Leader, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, ICRISAT. “This new global partnership seeks to bring various disciplines in agricultural education such as crop, livestock, fisheries, natural resource management, etc. under one roof by providing a common platform to address pressing global food security, accessibility and affordability challenges,” he added.

The launch of the ‘National  Virtual Academy for India Agriculture to promote MOOCs for Agricultural Professionals’ under the One Agriculture – One Science initiative was attended by select experts from India’s National Academy of Agricultural Research and Management (NAARM) and MANAGE, ICRISAT’s key national partners; University of Florida (UF) and Michigan State University (MSU); leaders in the Indian agricultural education system; Vice Chancellors of five selected universities; CEOs of private organizations and foundations; and senior officials/staff of ICRISAT. It was witnessed by about 80 senior officials from national and international organizations.

 

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