Extension staff are a critical link between agricultural producers and research, education, markets, and other services. To provide the information and training farmers need to sustainably produce food, fuel, and fiber, making a livelihood out of an increasingly risky environment, extension workers must have the right skills and capabilities.
Most extension staff are trained in technical area for their formational training, for instance, animal production or natural resource management. However, to work with people, extension staff also need functional competencies, the so-called soft skills like leadership, communication, program planning, and farmer group development.
The New Extensionist Learning Kit has been promoted by the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) to instill functional competencies among extension staff around the world. The learning kit provides a freely downloadable manual, lecturer guide, workbook, and set of slides for each course. Learners can take the courses online or download and use the materials for self-study or for teaching others. The kit is licensed through Creative Commons, so that anyone is free to use or modify the materials, provided they credit the source. The kit targets individual extension field staff, managers, nongovernmental organizations, lecturers, and training institutions. The New Extensionist Learning Kit courses include:
New modules in e-extension and youth mentoring are forthcoming.
While the kit has been in use since about 2016, learning outcomes have not been measured. In 2021, with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets, we undertook a study to examine awareness of the learning kit topics, importance of topics to users, and user motivations and digital readiness (attitudes and abilities to use digital tools). Users of the kit were invited to fill in an online survey between September and October 2021.
The results showed that the learning kit attracted a wide range of actors, including public sector, nongovernmental organizations, private sector, and education, which indicates that the materials are widely applicable and adaptable. Respondents live in 48 different countries across the world, however there were limited responses from Latin America and French-speaking West and Central Africa, most likely because the kit is not fully translated into Spanish and French.
We reached out to individuals who had registered to take different modules, either directly online or through a series of virtual trainings organized by regional networks. The majority of respondents were managers, subject matter specialists, or educators, and nearly 73 percent had a master’s degree or higher. This is an important discovery since the originally envisioned target audience for these materials are primarily front-line extension staff who often just have a post-secondary school three-year diploma or a four-year university degree. It is likely that frontline officers do not have the connectivity to use the online materials or to respond to online surveys.
Respondents had high levels of awareness of the topics covered by the kit, with most of the topics being rated “high,” around a four. In terms of importance of the topics, Module 2 (extension and advisory services approaches and tools and when to use them), Module 6 (basic knowledge management for extension and advisory services), and Module 3 (management of agricultural extension programs) were rated as the top three topics or modules. It is likely that, based on the respondents’ profiles, these topics were used for teaching in the institutions and nongovernmental organizations that users come from.
In response to the questions about motivation for using the materials, need for particular skills for a new job or project, love for learning, and recognition of peers were the top three reasons.
Other evidence produced by PIM has showed that the New Extensionist Learning Kit has been used in a number of universities’ curricula, including India’s national extension curriculum.
Based on this analysis, we suggest that that GFRAS might need to re-focus the learning kit on teaching institutions and managers rather than frontline staff. The results of this survey show that many users have advanced degrees and do not work in frontline positions. GFRAS could also reactivate the Consortium on Extension Education and Training or form an interest group among training institutions promoting extension skills. GFRAS should also work through their national country forums to get in touch with managers and decisionmakers who would be able to mandate the skills needed in their organizations. To promote further use by frontline staff, the kit should be translated into more local languages and shared via off-line mechanisms.
Read the report to learn more:
Davis, Kristin E.; Joseph, Jeanelle; Barry, Tessa; von Maltitz, Lindie; van Niekerk, Johan; Ngomane, Tsakani; and Rasoanindrainy, Andrianjafy. 2021. Global agricultural extension staff functional competencies. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). https://doi.org/10.2499/p15738coll2.134857
Photo by Munira Morshed Munni. Source: Rice Today