Transforming Higher Education by Harnessing Problem-Based Learning

Prof. Victoria Ngumi delivers her speech during the AgriSCALE workshop

JKUAT in partnership with 8 universities from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Italy and Finland recently culminated a four-year project named AgriSCALE. This initiative aimed to equip lecturers and mentors with the skills necessary to implement problem-based learning (PBL) approaches effectively. By adopting this method, the project aimed to better prepare graduates to address the dynamic challenges of the industry.

Through AgriSCALE, the selected students undertook various industry-related challenges, and in the quest for solutions were able to hone their communication, research and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in the dynamic agricultural landscape.

Speaking during the closeout workshop held March 4 – 8, 2024, the project’s local coordinator Prof. Losenge Turoop, explained that the focus of this project was to reform agri-entrepreneurship education by equipping graduates with working life-relevant and entrepreneurial skills.

Prof. Losenge Turoop left receives a token of appreciation from Dr. Eija Laitinen HAMK

“The PBL approach emphasizes on cultivating a positive attitude in students, therefore inspiring them to seek more knowledge in their chosen field. It also focuses on trainers and mentors who can then champion building competency-based learning skills in agriculture, and subsequently other courses. This leads to innovative and entrepreneurial graduates who have the competencies to create jobs and improve the sustainability of agriculture,” explained Prof. Turoop who is also the Director, Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) domiciled at JKUAT.

In the period 2020-2024, AgriSCALE was able to review curricula in three Masters programs, and training of staff and mentors (mostly postgraduate students) in the eight Universities.

JKUAT’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi commended the initiative emphasizing the institution’s commitment to supporting the agenda of the Ministry of Education in Kenya, which promotes internationalization through partnerships with universities worldwide.

Dr. Donah Asiimire from Bishop Stuart University and Dr Eija Laitinen launch the PBL Network

“I am delighted to note the participation of professors from various universities within Kenya and beyond in this project. It underscores the importance of building capacity across disciplines within universities to effectively address emerging challenges such as climate change and pandemics, as exemplified by the COVID-19 experience,” remarked Prof. Ngumi.

The closeout workshop, which featured other speakers such as Dr. Eija Laitinen, project lead from Hame University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), and Prof. David Owiny, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs at Gulu University, resulted in the launch of the PBL Teachers Manual and the inception of the PBL Network Africa. With a vision of fostering continental excellence and transforming higher education in Africa, this initiative ensures the sustainability of the AgriSCALE project’s achievements.

Moreover, the AgriSCALE project facilitated significant opportunities for industry partners such as Kenya Biologics, Koppert Kenya, and Real IPM to contribute to market-driven solutions generated by students through data-driven research and innovation platforms. These platforms facilitate engagement among stakeholders – both researchers and beneficiaries – to diagnose problems, identify opportunities, develop solutions, and collaboratively pursue shared goals.

Prof. Victoria Ngumi appreciates one of the industry partners

During a panel session, mentors expressed gratitude for the enriching experience of field trips. These excursions provided valuable opportunities for hands-on interaction with locals and industry professionals, enhancing their communication skills and public speaking abilities significantly. Furthermore, mentors gained insights into effective planning and time management, fostering collaboration with colleagues, and establishing connections with students as active seekers of information.

They were also appreciative of the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) through online platforms such as LMS, Moodle and Mentimeter which, although necessitated by the 2020 pandemic are still instrumental in course content delivery.

In contrast to traditional learning methods, with PBL, students communicate their expectations to lecturers at beginning of the course, participate in multiple student challenges that they identify, and then trained mentors and lecturers assist them in applying what they have learned.

This, according to Dr. Annah Indeche a lecturer at the Department of Horticulture, and a beneficiary of the training, is preferable to recalling information during exams

Other project participants from JKUAT included Dr. Patrick Juma and Mr. Noah Karan, both from Horticulture, as well as Prof. Justus Onguso and Dr. Mercy Kidaha from the Institute of Biotechnology Research, (IBR).

It is expected that this Student-Centric Approach will revolutionize Higher Education Learning.

AgriSCALE Project Participants together with JKUAT VC Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi during the closeout Workshop

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