The United States-based Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), is running a staff development program for academic staff at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), aimed at building the capacity of staff to provide English Language and Communication Skills studies in Tanzania.
The staff development program is administered by Virginia Tech’s Language and Culture Institute. Virginia Tech is among a consortium of six U.S. universities that form the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a Feed the Future project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). iAGRI is based within the SUA campus in Morogoro.
According to the Institute’s Associate Director, Dr. Elsie Paredes, SUA’s Department of Social Sciences identified a number of skills they wanted to develop, including communicative language teaching methodologies, student-centered approaches, assessment practices, methodologies for large classrooms, and utilizing online resources.
Virginia Tech’s Language and Culture Institute is experienced in providing language-related programs and services for academic and professional development. Their most recent initiative has been teaching educators in Iraqi Kurdistan, whereby the Iraqi Kurdistan Rural University Partnership Program creates vital connections to the global academic community and provides capacity building opportunities for faculty and administrators, promoting higher-education reform in the region.
The Coordinator for the English Language Resource Centre at SUA, Onesmo Nyinondi, says that the staff development program run by Virginia Tech’s Language and Culture Institute is very important for helping SUA students to improve their English language competency. In addition to serving Tanzanian students, the Centre trains foreign students who study at SUA. The newly established Centre is now training 20 Mozambican students. The students’ English induction course will last for a whole year, where the Centre will use the different teaching techniques that they have learned. Apart from teaching English, the Centre also offers editing and translation services.
“This program has been very helpful, as it has helped us in various things, such as doing a curriculum review and being aware of what’s existing in the world. The methods of assessment as well as the tools and technologies used have also made us realize that we are now heading towards the right path, and our students will also benefit from what we have learned,” he explains.
“English is a global language, and it is important to communicate globally. Our graduates are very good, but at times find it difficult to express themselves in English, making it a problem to sell themselves,” explains Nyinondi, adding that graduates need to have the ability to sell themselves globally.
This is a major development for SUA, because it 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, which is spearheading this initiative, is a Feed the Future project funded by USAID that aims 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 U.S. 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 prepares 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 organizations to find solutions to the country’s food security challenges.