To support and revitalise the agricultural sector in Afghanistan, Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), together with its Afghan partners, work to improve agricultural vocational education.
Rebuilding agricultural education
Over 30 years of war have heavily damaged the agricultural sector and have resulted in hardly any agricultural education provision in Afghanistan. When the ATVET (Agricultural Technical and Vocational Educational Training) project started in 2011, there were about 30 agricultural high schools available to teach grades 10-12 using widely varying materials and outdated textbooks. The project has therefore worked on updating the national agricultural high school curriculum, developing new teaching materials, and training teachers to use them.
The number of schools has in 2017 reached around 160 throughout Afghanistan. These vary in how well equipped they are, so the project is now providing direct support to the schools that require equipment, furniture and other resources.
The Agricultural High Schools (AHSs) are getting an extra capacity boost through training of new teachers and through in-service training, which began in 2016. Potential teachers are trained at the National Agriculture Education College (NAEC) that the project established in 2012 in the capital, Kabul. The curriculum of NAEC consists of two years of teacher training aimed specifically at teaching at agricultural high schools. Students also get extra skills training in agribusiness development, rural development (including a focus on gender issues), animal and plant sciences, as well as IT and English, which give them the possibility to market themselves in other agricultural fields. The core of the teaching staff of NAEC is formed by Afghan nationals who followed a master’s degree programme at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands.
NAEC’s first class of 100 young men from all over Afghanistan led to 80 graduates in December 2013. The second year attracted twice as many students, and included a small group of women from the Kabul area entering Grade 13. In 2014, the number of incoming students grew again grown by 100, to total 300 new students - of whom 30 were women. Teaching is one of the few career options for women, but since few girls attend agricultural high schools, this group needs to be built up slowly over time. As of today (2017), the college has graduated 635 students, 88 of whom were women. The project has financed the construction of new school and dormitory facilities for NAEC to hold a total capacity of 800. The NAEC facilities are found on a compound together with other vocational schools in Kabul. The grounds include agricultural practical learning plots and a greenhouse.
Introduction of new teaching methods
Apart from new teaching materials for agricultural education at the different levels, new teaching methods are being introduced as well. Although agricultural high schools in principal teach practical education, the reality is that a large part of education is still traditional textbook-based teaching by rote methods. This is partly due to a great lack of equipment and teaching material, such as learning plots, tools and water, but cultural factors play an important role as well. Within the boundaries of what seems to be socially and culturally feasible, the emphasis in the new teaching methods is for students to develop independent and critical thinking. Furthermore, students are expected to take action and to apply their recently acquired knowledge in practice.
The new teaching materials for the agricultural high schools (AHS) and the NAEC have been developed by a team in a Curriculum Development Unit (CDU), with both Afghan and Dutch members. The Afghan members of the CDU are now running their activities on their own. They are NAEC faculty members, and staff from the government partner, DMTVET. In 2016, piloting of the new materials was completed, and the Grade 10 subjects finalised, supported by feedback from AHS teachers and students at the pilot schools. The development of the AHS teaching materials starts with a number of inputs from the Netherlands, as a basis for a team of writers in Afghanistan to produce student textbooks and accompanying pedagogical instructions for teachers. These are being published in both of Afghanistan’s official languages, Dari and Pashto. Once teachers have been trained to use the materials, and adjustments have been made based on testing results, the textbooks and instruction booklets will be distributed to all agricultural high schools in the country.
Building capacity at the Agricultural High Schools
Early in 2017, the Grade 10 materials were completed for the AHSs, in time for the new year starting in March in the cold area provinces and August in the warm areas. Building on the last years’ experience of working with ten pilot schools covering both areas, an in-service training programme was designed. There are now almost 1,000 teachers working in the 160 schools, so the programme must be organised well. During the first four-week course, the teachers (and some principals) stay on the NAEC premises during the school holidays. The course covers pedagogical principles of interactive, student-centred teaching, and introduces the new materials.