The Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) is supporting the Sokoine University of Agriculture to become a model of excellence in delivering English Language and Communication Skills studies in Tanzania, through the establishment of an English Language Resource Unit. This will be possible through a capacity building programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
According to iAGRI’s Project Director, Professor David Kraybill, the Unit will be a host to innovative programmes in English, with a resource library for self-learning and a computer lab on subjects related to English language. Additionally, he says, more people will be taught proof-reading skills, since the Unit will not only target the SUA community, but a broader audience.
Up to now, a number of activities have already started to make this dream a reality, including a study tour to Ghana and South Africa whereby three staff members from SUA’s Department of Social Studies recently gathered information on the best practices in English Language and Communication Skills programmes in an African environment. The study tour involved visiting some African universities’ environments where many other languages besides English are used in students’ day-to-day communication. This is consistent with the situation in Tanzania, where English is the medium of instruction in a predominantly Kiswahili environment. The universities visited were the University of Cape Coast and the University of Ghana in Ghana, as well as Tshwani University of Technology, the University of Pretoria, and the University of Limpopo in South Africa.
SUA’s Dr Hashim Mohamed, who is the pioneer of the project and former Head of the Social Sciences Department, says that the study tour has helped them to note differences in the way other African universities deliver English Language and Communication Skills programmes. One major difference is that at all the universities visited Communication Skills courses are required in both semesters of students’ first year, and students cannot register for courses in the next semester if they fail. At SUA, Communication Skills I is a guided elective offered to those who fail a Screening Test, and there is no credit for those who take the course and pass. Additionally, Communication Skills II is the only course required for all first-year students.
Another best practice that they learnt from the study tour was from Ghana, where both University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast offer a non-degree English Proficiency Programme on demand to different categories of clients. Dr Mohamed explains that the universities cater to students from Burkina Faso and also offer special English courses on request to in-country clients, such as companies that enroll their employees in tailor-made training for specific language needs, especially speaking skills.
“Currently, for example, the Language Centre at the University of Ghana runs English Proficiency Programmes such as English for AngloGold Ashanti employees, English for Samsung employees, English for PhD students, English for Agriculture students, and English for Law students. SUA has the potential of adopting this model, and it could enhance its language provision capacity and improve the quality of teaching,” he points out.
Dr. Mohamed says that now that they have learnt from other universities, SUA’s Department of Social Sciences is working on a number of things, such as: restructuring the existing courses; building the capacity of staff to implement the new and restructured courses; creating an innovative English Language Resource Unit; establishing an English Language Proficiency Programme that will service the SUA community as well as others outside SUA at an affordable fee; and investing in the collaboration they already have established between them and the visited African universities, as well as other stakeholders.
“I believe that the implementation of these activities will be in place by the 2015/2016 intake of SUA students, and we thank iAGRI for helping us realize this dream, together with the American People through USAID who are funding it,” says a determined Dr. Mohamed.
The establishment of this Unit will contribute towards developing solutions to address food insecurity in Tanzania, as students need to be competent in English to read scientific literature, to publish their own research in internationally-recognized scientific journals, and to communicate with scientists and agribusiness experts throughout Africa and the world.
iAGRI is a Feed the Future project funded by USAID, aimed to prepare the next generation of agricultural and nutrition leaders and strengthen and integrate the core institutions of agricultural research, education, and extension in Tanzania. Ohio State University (OSU) is the managing entity for a consortium of six US universities including Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Tuskegee University, University of Florida, and Iowa State University. Key partners in Tanzania include the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC). The project aims to prepare teachers, researchers and extension practitioners in Tanzania to cooperatively and effectively address needs of smallholder farmers and the growing agribusiness sector, and to strengthen the capacity of Tanzania’s leading agricultural teaching and research organisations to find solutions to the country’s food security challenges.