Online Agro-technology Diploma Programme for farming community in Sri Lanka

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Registration Name : eINDIA2011/AN/250
Project Category : digitalLEARNING::Best ICT Enabled Skills Development Initiative of the Year
Project Name : Online Agro-technology Diploma Programme for farming community in Sri Lanka

Details of Applicant
Name : Kshanika Hirimburegama
Address : Weligatta Hambantota
City : Hambantota
State : Hambantota
Country : SRI LANKA
Zip Code : 64

Details of Project/Implementing Agency
Name of Organisation : University of Colombo Institute for Agro-technology and Rural Sciences
Address : Weligatta,Hambantota,
City : Hambantota
State : Hambantota
Country : SRI LANKA
Zip Code : 64
Name of the head of Organisation : Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama
Website :,

Brief description of the programme/project/Initiative :
The online Agro-technology Diploma offered by the University of Colombo Institute for Agro-technology and Rural Sciences is designed and delivered in local language for farming community in Sri Lanka for providing, promoting and developing further and higher education in Agro-technology and Rural Sciences among persons presently engaged in Agriculture and Agro-technology to uplift farming as a prestigious occupation. Agriculture is the mainstay of the rural sector that occupies almost 75% of the total population in Sri Lanka. Farmers are resource poor and face tremendous constraints in gaining access to information and knowledge that could improve their livelihoods. Therefore, Online Diploma in Agro-technology program in Sri Lanka is designed in a local language allowing farmers to enter a new mode of education using modern ICT tools. Open and distance learning with appropriate information and communication technologies serves as a means for effective transfer of knowledge, information on technology, while being engaged in their cultivations, This would enable them to apply the knowledge directly to solve the problems faced in cultivations thereby improve the products. This program provides education to the farmers at their doorsteps. Computer skills gained through orientation program enabled the farmers to learn on-line. Learner performance improved rapidly with time. Extensive learner support was provided through dedicated online tutors and mentors of the Institute. The knowledge gained through the course is immediately applied in their cultivations. In the inaugural program, sixty farmers from 13 districts were selected through an open Newspaper advertisement and an admission test, to follow the course and now 250 farmer students are following the course. Since it was envisaged at the beginning of the course that farmers may have difficulties with online education, especially in the English language, the course was developed in the local (Sinhala and Tamil) languages. Learning Management system (LMS) was developed using “Moodle” in local Languages and online discussion forums and chat sessions are also designed in LMS. The course provides the facility to discuss the day to day issues farmers face in their cultivations with their colleagues and resource persons/teachers through discussion forums in local language. When farmers are faced with problems in their cultivations, such could be discussed through forums in local language. The comments and problems they have posted in the forum could be seen by the course followers as well as resource persons/teachers thereby the farmers receive solutions/advices to the problems. This has been a very effective mechanism to solve the issues face in their cultivations and thereby improve the products. Online Agro-technology Diploma program caters to the changing individual and social needs by taking education through a blended learning mode to the doorsteps of the farming community who have never dreamt of entering the portals of higher education. However, they have aspiration and potential to pursue higher education but could not utilize the opportunities for personal, family, economic, language and other barriers. With the flexibility in the entry requirements and choice of courses and language, the Institute demonstrates that it is possible to impart quality higher education using modern information communication technologies to learners of the farming communities to pursue education at a pace and place convenient to them and realize their academic, professional and social aspirations. Since the university system in the country could provide opportunity for university education only for three per cent of students who complete secondary education, such online programs gives the opportunity for the remaining majority who select agriculture as their profession, even at a later stage to pursue higher education. The Institute was able to introduce ICT in the local language for the rural farming community as a method of gaining information and knowledge. Farmer student of the course are applying their ICT knowledge and knowledge gained through online lessons to solve their day to day issues in cultivations. The only option the farming community had in the past was to go an Agriculture Research Institute far away from their place to solve their problems when having a serious problem in their cultivations. But now they could send a photo of the symptoms and other relevant details via an email to the relevant places and an immediate advice is received from them to solve the problem. After following the course, their income generation, entrepreneurship thinking and ability, marketing capacity, social mobilization and agri-business creations have increased. At present they are involved in their farming in a professional manner.

Why was the project started :
Sri Lanka is an agricultural country with an enormous potential to develop the agriculture sector where farmers, especially of the rural sector plays a major role. However, Sri Lankan farmers do not get the maximum profit from agriculture products mainly due to lack of updated knowledge on new techniques and lack of information to develop better production. The face to face teaching and days workshops have not been effective. Therefore, introduction of a new method is required where farmers while being engaged in their cultivations could also pursue knowledge. Farmer education through e-learning would fill up the knowledge gap between modern world and the farming community. This will help effective transfer of knowledge, information and technology to the farmers. Even though many internet based on-line courses are available, due to incompetency in English language, the local farmers are unable to follow them. This was the major reason to develop an online Diploma program in Agro – Technology in local language. It is also envisaged to introduce the course in Tamil language. The institute was started as a center for agro- technology transfer to rural farming community in the year 2000. The technology transfer was very successful and there was a continuous demand for the technology. Working directly with rural sector farming community proved that the rural sector community is interested to gain knowledge and pursue further education. This lead to the development of the certificate course and through a survey it was revealed that rural farming community is also keen to learn ICT and they would like to pursue knowledge while being involved in their cultivations. Therefore the certificate courses leading to a Diploma was converted to an online program.

Objective :
? To provide opportunity for people who are involved in agriculture to have higher education together with ICT to enhance their skills, so that they could be involved in knowledge and skill based agriculture. Then farming community to become agro entrepreneurs to be on par with international farmers.
Target group :People who are involved in agriculture and agro-based industries
Geographical reach :All over the country
Date from which the project became operational : 30 October 2008
Is the Project still operational : YES

10 points that make the programme/project innovative?

  1. Entire course is offered through online.
  2. Lessons are newly developed to suit the local needs and learner needs.
  3. Very first attempt in the country where farmer education is through a novel mode and farmers could be engaged in knowledge based cultivations.
  4. First ever attempt by the university system in country providing an opportunity for farmers to pursue further education while being engaged in cultivations and transform themselves to professional agri-business men and women.
  5. First online course for farmers in their local language as well as in English to gain knowledge and information.
  6. Opportunity to the rural youth to have access to meaningful education using alternate media of delivery.
  7. No any fixed learning times of the day.
  8. Possible to reach people who have never dreamt of following a course through online.
  9. Avoid young rural youth moving away from agriculture.
  10. More knowledge could be disseminated.

List the 5 achievements of the programme/project?

  1. First batch of 60 students for 13 districts and now number of farmer students is increased into 250 and we are able to introduce ICT for grass root level rural farming community.
  2. The program was won a National Agri-business Award 2011 organized by National Agri-business Council, Sri Lanka for the services given for the farmers.
  3. The programme is upgraded into a Degree after completing the Diploma.
  4. They have immediately applied the knowledge gained by the course to their cultivations to improve agro-production and solve their farming problems thereby increasing their income in several fold.
  5. After following the course, their entrepreneurship ability, marketing capacity, social mobilization and agri-business creations have increased. Now they are doing their farming in professional manner.

List the 5 key challenges faced while implementing the programme/project/initiative

  1. Heterogeneity of farmers: age, schoolings and majority of them did not have computer skills – It was a big challenge to introduce ICT for people who never touch the computer. Orientation course for ICT and strengthen learner support starting from the beginning to avoid this.
  2. Ability to learn only with local language- Learning Management System (LMS) and lesson contents were developed in local language.
  3. Lack of connectivity in remote areas- The courses can be accessed through any one of the NODES (National On-line Distance Education Service) Access Centres (NACs) located in all districts or through student’s home computer.
  4. Ability of interaction with others was very low – on-line learning have been facilitated. Students are supported through on-line discussion forums with tutors /mentors.
  5. Distance from the home to institute – . Students can access to the course through NACs The students will also be supported by dedicated on-line tutors / mentors.

List the 5 points how can the programme serve as a model that can be replicated or adapted by others?

  1. This model can be applied not only agricultural people but also other fields such as medicine and other professions who cannot give their full time to pursue for further education.
  2. This can be replicated for other courses that could be developed in Local languages for the grass root level people in the country for easy accessing to the people.
  3. The model was self developed and successfully tested for rural sector development through agro-technology innovation system for Sri Lanka. So the model with location based modification is successfully implemented in all part of Sri Lanka.
  4. In Northern region of Sri Lanka undergoing past war development, there exist a high potential for agricultural development. Therefore this can be used to introduce sustainable modern agro-technological methods together with Information Communication Technologies to resilience rural community in this area.
  5. Model e-Learning course developed and distributed can be given as free materials to promote e-learning.

List 5 points to elaborate on the scalability of the programme/project/initiative

  1. Planning to expand the course increasing the number of intake because of the high demand for the course (Beginning 60, now 250) among farmers.
  2. At the commencement of the course there were about 9 Nodes Access Centres (NAC) for students to access to lessons but now there are about 25.
  3. Introduction of m-learning including live lectures video conferencing will convert part of the course to m-based learning to make available course to more people as at present almost all the people posses a mobile phone.
  4. The Institute first started certificate level courses leading to a diploma is now in the process of extending it into a Bachelor of Agro-technology (B Sc) degree.
  5. This has demonstrated how it can change using ICT infrastructure in different groups of community. In order to face the challenges of 21st Century, Sri Lankan universities should be able to expand its scope based on this requirement.

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4 Responses to Online Agro-technology Diploma Programme for farming community in Sri Lanka

  1. C RAJA REDDY says:

    essential for the eco friendly environment awareness to the future of our generations to come.

  2. Prof. KIM, Jae Ho says:

    The program is an innovative approach for farmers to access to the university systems. In Sri Lanka, public university education is reaching only 2-3% to the high school graduates. Therefore in rural area, it is rather a dream for farmers to learn from university system. To solve this problem, the program used two distinctive methods with which rural farmers can easily access to the higher education system.

    The two methods are :( 1) use of ICT, and(2)use of local language for the rural young people. ICT is less costly, time and place neutral. By use of local language, farmers have come to be aware of the university as their belongings. Thus it was successful for farmers to use university system now in Sri Lanka. It is a highly recommendable way of university extension and valuable to improve rural income and living standards.

  3. RanjithBogoda says:

    As a student I am so happy to follow this online course. It provide not only the knowledge of agriculture but also improve our IT skills. Practically I am applying this course output for the development of my agriculture purposes. It is so interesting when doing it with appropriate knowledge. University system intervention is remarkable for the student like us because it was become a dream as a village level farmer. But Now I have good self confidence because it is sure when ever I become a skillful farmer with new technology based.

  4. Sepalika Mayadunna Senanayake. says:

    This digital course given by the University of Colombo gives us, the Young rural farmers, the confidence to bring modern technology into our farming practices. It also gives young farmers a more prominent place in society. I found the hands on training program and methods extremely helpful and informative. You can be sure I will use this knowledge and skills to improve my farm, and become a young entrepreneur in the field of agriculture.
    The Diploma will attract more young people to look at the field of Agriculture as a livelihood…It also gives them a knowledge of ICT and English which will be helpful in their personal growth.