What are the elements of effective teaching? How do you teach entrepreneurial attitudes and skills?  How do you build capacity to spur innovation?

A team of 11 Virginia Tech faculty addressed these questions and more during a six-day training workshop in India for Afghans working on the Catalyzing Afghan Agricultural Innovation project.

Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) manages the five-year, $8 million U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project aimed at improving agricultural education and promoting new roles for educators and researchers with the private sector.

Using a “train the trainer” approach, Virginia Tech presented strategies for improving teaching and other skills and building relationships with a range of clients in Afghanistan’s agricultural system. The Afghan staff members will share these approaches and tools with local agricultural researchers, educators, and extension agents so they can better respond to challenges faced by farmers and agribusinesses in their country.    

Technical and vocational teachers in Afghanistan often lack the proper equipment and access to the latest instructional methods. As a result, students are unqualified for available jobs. Lack of coordination between educators, researchers, and the private sector exacerbates gaps between training and employment.

Virginia Tech and the Afghan team also began developing communities of practice — networks to encourage dialogue and resource sharing — focused on topics such as pedagogy, inclusive education, and positive youth development. Through the communities of practice, Virginia Tech will maintain collaborative, mentoring relationships with their Afghan colleagues.

CIRED Executive Director Van Crowder said, “This project focuses on innovation in agricultural value chains, or the range of people, goods, and services involved in food production. Traditionally, the public and private sectors have not worked together. Often, the private sector finds that public research and education does not effectively address their needs for new or improved technologies and for skilled agricultural graduates. The Virginia Tech team did a great job addressing these issues. They will now backstop the Afghan team as they deliver training to university researchers and educators, instructors at agricultural technical schools, and extension agents.” 

The training topics and the Virginia Tech faculty who participated in the workshop are:

  • Pedagogy: Bill Price, associate professor of education, career, and technical education, and Joseph Mukuni, visiting assistant professor, career and technical education.
  • Extension:  Pavli Mykerezi, director, Agricultural Technology Program, and John Ignosh, advanced Extension specialist, biological systems engineering and Virginia Cooperative Extension.
  • Value-chain assessment: Lance Matheson, associate professor, business information technology, Pamplin College of Business, and John Ignosh.
  • Entrepreneurship education: Pavli Mykerezi, director, Agricultural Technology Program; Lance Matheson; and John Ignosh.
  • Inclusive approaches in education: Daniel Sumner, CIRED assistant director of women and gender in international development.
  • Positive youth development: Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Daniel Sumner.
  • Communications: April Raphiou, CIRED director of communications,

and Jessica Muller, CIRED assistant director, provided training support. Keith Moore, CAAI training facilitator and CIRED consultant, conducted trainings on monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

Pavil Mykerezi, director of Agricultural Technology Program, holds strands of raw spaghetti together to form the base of a spaghetti tower, while a man stands above him holding the tower up
Pavli Mykerezi, director, Agricultural Technology Program, works with a project team member to build a spaghetti tower as part of an experiential learning exercise.

Workshop participants learned various teaching and information-sharing approaches, from hands-on exercises to group discussions and case studies. One exercise focused on working collaboratively with limited resources — 25 spaghetti strands and tape — to see which team could build the tallest tower.

Pavli Mykerezi, director of the Agricultural Technology Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Science, said, “The training was a learning experience for both Virginia Tech faculty and the Afghan team. We received valuable feedback about the agricultural, social, and cultural environment and shared our ideas about how to improve teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and other areas. Going forward, we will support and mentor them as they promote Afghan agricultural innovation.” 

Part of Outreach and International Affairs, CIRED has a record of managing USAID projects focused on building capacity in education and agriculture, including the Innovation for Agricultural Training and the Education project and the Youth in Agriculture project in Senegal.   

Written by April L. Raphiou