Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tech hosts 32 Senegalese professors

Tuesday, September, 20, 2011; 10:30 PM
by Donal Murphy, news staff writer, Collegiate Times

ERA Participants at OIRED
Virginia Tech is hosting 32 research representatives from Senegal to teach them about agriculture, language training and e-learning to help combat food security issues — knowledge they will bring back to their country’s farmers.

Since 2007, food security issues stemming from food price spikes, with subsequent riots, have been prevalent in Senegal, a country in western Africa — although 75 percent of its population works in the agriculture, it imports 70 percent of its rice, according to the Tech Office of International Research, Education and Development.

The same year, led a consortium — consisting of Perdue, Michigan State and Tuskegee universities, as well as the University of Connecticut — to create a proposal for the United States Agency for International Development to help Senegal with the food security issues.

Tech later received a $28-million grant from USAID through the Feed the Future initiative.The representatives visiting Tech are all professors and Senegalese experts in agriculture and education through the Senegal Education et Recherche en Agriculture Program.

Four Tech employees have been working with the Senegalese representatives for about six months to prepare them for the program.

Patrick Guilbaud, a curricula, education and training coordinator in Senegal, is Tech’s representative in Dakar, Senegal, serving as the primary liaison between the university and the 13 participating Senegalese institutions.

“This is really a broad based effort to kind of get all partners to fully understand that agriculture has many levels,” he said. “By putting emphasis on all aspects, we’ll be able to have a greater system for Senegal where food security is more emphasized.”

Guilbaud, who was born in Haiti, but raised and educated in the United States, has been working for OIRED for four years. He moved to Senegal to oversee the program’s foreign aspects.
“Being a person who was born in Haiti, I am very aware about food and food security, and how that affects the population,” he said.

The representatives are split into three groups — agriculture, English as a foreign language, and e-learning and pedagogy. Since the initiative’s concentration is food security, the overall theme is agriculture and biological information.

The agriculture group has been traveling around Virginia, visiting farms, agricultural centers and markets to learn about the American agricultural production and agronomics system of agricultural production and agronomics, said Demba Mbaye, a visiting professor.

The EFL group is training to teach English to students in Senegal, given that much of the material on food security is only published in that language.

“They’ll have content-based classes where they’re going to have to be teaching English and learning content at the same time,” said Amanda Johnson, the EFL coordinator for the program

The courses are tailored to each representative’s English level, as it is a “train the trainers” program.

“For us, it is more learning how to use the technologies to better the teaching and make it more attractive and more challenging,” said Babacar Diop, an English professor at the Universit√© de Ziguinchor in Senegal, who is currently participating in the program as an EFL group member.

Diop was in the U.S. for six months prior to this trip with the International Leaders Communication program in Minneapolis, Minn.

“My thought now, though the program is not yet finished, is that we’ve learned a lot of new things, a lot of new sites we were introduced to,” he said. “(They are) very interesting and important tools to enhance our teaching practices.”

The e-learning and pedagogy group is studying how to use Internet sites and computer software to help with course availability. Many of the participating universities in Senegal are in areas with minimal infrastructure, making traveling to the schools difficult. Therefore, many students opt to take courses online.

The professors are being trained to use Moodle, a learning platform similar to Scholar, and other software programs that make teaching online courses easier. Fan (Luisa) Li, a graduate assistant for the OIRED, is leading the group.

“I feel that it is really interesting,” said Mariama Sene-Wade, a parasitology and biology professor at the Universite Gaston-Berger in Saint-Louis Senegal. “It is very important to meet all these people, to see what they are doing for the school — it’s a good thing.”

Li is participating in the program as a member of the e-learning and pedagogy group.
The program is also addressing gender equity — a major issue in agriculture.

“If you go to do a project with the farmers, you teach them how to deal with the crops, and you have to understand who is actually doing the work in the fields,” Li said.
Because women do most of the agriculture labor in Senegal, information is frequently lost when a husband teaches a wife.

This topic is being addressed through a gender workshop, led by VT Advance. It discusses the issues of gender equity and how it can be used for agriculture. The group is mostly male but has several female representatives as well.

Tech plans to continue this program, possibly bringing a larger group of representatives for a longer period next year, if it is covered under the USAID grant

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