Cross-border-connected learning for skills development of Syrian agricultural engineers. (English)
Prior to 2011, public universities and private institutions in Syria were the main sources of knowledge and skills training for industry and agriculture. Due to the ongoing conflict and ensuing humanitarian crisis, however, the country’s education system has been decimated at all levels, with disastrous effects for the nation’s knowledge base and training provision. To address this, new and effective strategies and methods for re-skilling and up-skilling the agricultural workforce inside Syria are urgently needed, given that traditional face-to-face models of education are difficult to implement due to conditions of conflict. This action research project centers on a participatory e-learning course on ‘Soilless Cultivation Systems’ delivered by Syrian academics in exile to learners inside Syria, and their evaluation of the course. It also sought to understand the challenges associated with distance learning in the Syrian context, in order to inform the development of approaches to surmount the challenges, which might in due course be extended into other areas beyond agricultural engineering. The course was developed to constitute a meaningful educational experience for learners, facilitate the trial of a range of pedagogical approaches, and allow for the collection of evaluative data to inform subsequent learning design. Findings highlighted the challenges of achieving applied relevance without laboratory or field access, of meeting the needs and expectations of diverse learners, and facilitating sufficient interaction between learners and the lecturer. Possible strategies to address these issues include use of high-quality video and images and planned use of routine social media technologies to facilitate parallel networking and resource sharing.