The party’s over – and what a party!


Written by: Richard A. Powell – RUFORUM Communications Consultant

Prof. Adipala Ekwamu, Executive Secretary- RUFORUM

Prof. Adipala Ekwamu, Executive Secretary- RUFORUM

Following a week of intensive networking opportunities that attracted nearly 700 participants from 45 countries, and celebrating the achievements of postgraduate agricultural students across Africa, the fourth highly successful RUFORUM biennial conference ended last week in Maputo, Mozambique.

Conferences have a reputation among many who plough their circuit for being exercises in talking, with minimal practical positive outcomes to show after the deliberations have been concluded. But this meeting could have been a game-changer for RUFORUM specifically and agriculture generally on the continent.

“After 10 successful years influencing higher agricultural education in specific regions of Africa,” announced Professor Adipala Ekwamu, the Executive Secretary of RUFORUM at the launch of the official conference communiqué, “we now have a wonderful opportunity to not only influence its future direction strategically but also across the continent as a whole.”

The conference welcomed multiple honoured guests and speakers, including H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Mrs Graca Machel, Member of the International Panel of Elders and Former Minister of Education, Mozambique, two AU Commissioners, ten Ministers, 34 Vice Chancellors, and university Principals and Deans.

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Africa – defining its own path moving forward


Written by: Richard A. Powell – RUFORUM Communications Consultant

2Expressing his gratitude at the conferment of an honorary doctoral degree from Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, for his dedication to medical and scientific philanthropic activities in economically developing countries, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke of his commitment to the African continent, its responsibility in developing itself and the pivotal role played by agriculture.

“The real fuel for development will be the resources of African nations themselves – whether that’s in the form of government funding, private-sector investment, or just plain human creativity at all levels of society. This is where the idea of ‘African countries learning from each other’ becomes so important. If you want to spend your national budgets as effectively as possible, there is now a clear path for doing exactly that – and Africans themselves are defining that path, for others to follow if they choose.”

Talking of his first visit to the continent with his wife. Melinda, two decades ago, he remarked that in addition to being in awe of the land’s natural beauty, “we were no less awed by the poverty we witnessed. Children were dying from illnesses we’d never even heard of. This struck us as deeply wrong – and totally unnecessary.”

It was an experience that impelled the couple to initiate the not-for-profit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been active supporting critical and diverse projects in Africa ever since, with a growing personal optimism held by Mr Gates that “this continent is now in an incredible position to shape its own destiny for the better.”

Supporting this increasing optimism with strategic financial investment has also been evident in the field of sustainable agriculture and agricultural higher education. Last year, with their backing of “programmes developed by Africans, for Africans”, the Foundation provided a five-year grant to RUFORUM, with Mr Gates observing “If you want your country to rise from low-income to middle-income status, emphasize two things: health and agricultural development. If you get health and agricultural development right, the gains are exceptional, and they reverberate through the rest of your economy for decades to come.”

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Redundant bricks, wrecking balls, and architects of the virtual


Written by: Richard A. Powell – RUFORUM Communications Consultant

1For many years, pedagogues have been fixated on the bricks-and-mortar approach to knowledge transfer and learning: the goal primarily being to increase ad nausea the number of students living on a physical campus.

But advances in technology mean that the model of teaching has been re-evaluated. E-learning – the ‘e’, according to Bernard Luskin, a pioneer of the field, being interpreted as “exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, and educational”, rather than simply “electronic” – is the use of electronic media, educational technology and information and communication technologies (ICT) in the process of education. It entails the numerous types of media that help deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video, and includes technology applications and processes such as audio or video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, and computer-based learning, among others, and can be asynchronous self-education, synchronous and instructor-led (i.e., in real time), or a blended hybrid of the two.

The possibilities offered by e-learning are considerable. For those students with pressing personal or family problems or obligations, or whose lives do not lend themselves to attending a traditional university, the flexibility offered by a self-paced, asynchronous course can prove highly attractive. Indeed, the popularity of e-learning among such students is clear. In the USA in 2006, approximately 3.5 million students participated in on-line learning at higher education institutions. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) continue to prove popular, offering classes to global audiences.

However, as Nodumo Dhlamini and Lisbeth Levey observed in their side event at the 4th RUFORUM biennial conference – entitled “A new architecture for learning: looking into the future of ICT for teaching and learning” – for many years in Africa such pedagogic ambitions for the continent were entirely fanciful in nature. In 1996, Ms Levey recalled, there were only three African countries with more than 64 Kbhs of bandwidth, with dial-up modems emitting idiosyncratic noises into the night. However, four years later the internet had begun to take root on the continent and currently there is a recognition of the critical role ICT can play in teaching in many African higher education establishments. But as Ms Levey noted, agricultural colleges often lag behind the rest of their university counterparts.

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