Improving Access to Postgraduate Training in Crop Protection for Agricultural Practitioners Through Distance Learning at the University of Nairobi, Kenya
Muthomi, J W
Mwang’ombe, A W
Olubayo, F M
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The Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection of the University of Nairobi launched the first postgraduate training by distance learning in 2010. Development of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode of delivery was based on client-driven demand for a flexible mode of learning by agriculture graduates who had specialized in Crop Protection at final year at undergraduate and holding management positions in horticulture industry. This demand was necessitated by the requirement by public and private sector employers that professionals at management positions should have advanced training and skills in order to satisfy the increasingly competitive job market. However, the employers are unable to grant study leave for workers to pursue postgraduate training. Therefore, the ODL mode of delivery was developed to open up opportunities in postgraduate training in Master of Science in Crop Protection. The ODL programme was initiated in 2008, starting with review of curriculum to accommodate open and distance learning mode. Academic and technical staff were sensitized on the need for ODeL mode of postgraduate training. Many feared that it would not be possible to deliver a science-based programme by distance learning due to the practical component involved. The new training approach focused on distance learning based on provision of hard copy manuals because many of the potential students worked in the agriculture sector and most stations were located in rural areas without stable cell phone and internet connectivity. The first ODL intake was launched in October 2010 with a class of 13 students. Every year the programme admits over 15 students and at the beginning of each academic year, the new students are inducted in to the ODL mode of training. The main medium of instruction is the print in the form of self-instructional modules. These serve in the place of the teachers as they contain the subject content and instructional devices to guide learners. To support the printed modules, academic support services are provided by face to face tuition sessions held during the semester. The face to face on campus sessions are dedicated practicals, tutorial sessions, continuous assessments, presentation of term papers and consultation with supervisors on thesis research. Through the ODL mode of delivery class sizes have increased from five to about 20 students per intake every year. The approach has maximized the use of limited physical and human resources and significantly reduced the unit cost of postgraduate training. The new frontier is to convert the programmes to full e-delivery since internet connectivity has improved in many parts of the country.
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