To help enhance the delivery of aquaculture technical vocational and entrepreneurship training (TEVET) in Zambia, WorldFish, in partnership with Blue Planet, a Norwegian not-for-profit company, and the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) Zambia, has developed a Tilapia-based Aquaculture online training platform. The platform will be made available to NRDC students and commercial smallholder farmers and is used as an additional resource to classroom training at the institute.
Blue Planet Academy aims at increasing aquaculture production through sharing knowledge and skills on digital platforms, and NRDC offers, among others, a three-year Diploma program in Fisheries, were engaged by WorldFish in improving the aquaculture TEVET system in the country. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) funded the idea through a project titled "Aquaculture Technical Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training for improved Private sector and smallholder skills project" abbreviated as the AQ TEVET Project.
The AQ TEVET project is being implemented in selected parts of Zambia to develop the aquaculture knowledge and practical skills of students and smallholder fish farmers in the country. Development of the online training platform is one of the many milestones that WorldFish and partners have achieved since implementation began in late 2018.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted students away from the classrooms around the world. The adoption of online learning has been crucial not only to ensure that training continues but also to relay information around COVID-19 preventative measures with aquaculture students. As online learning and becomes the new normal for education, the Blue Planet Academy platform offers a great solution to meet the demand for professional development in the field of aquaculture.
Subtitle 1: The Aquaculture (Tilapia) online training Platform
The online training platform provides an enabling environment for learners to quickly grasp the idea around Tilapia biology, production, nutrition, health, and many more essential topics. All of which are taught under distinguished courses, via self-explanatory animations and real-time videos. At the end of each case, several questions are asked to gauge the learners' understanding. The platform will also be able to generate certificates to students that complete a given course. Although the platform will be hosted by Blue Planet, students and smallholder farmers will be able to access it through NRDC.
Tilapia has traditionally been the key cultured fish species in Zambia, that is the main reason why the platform focuses on its production. Students and smallholder farmers that will partake in this learning course will be able to immediately apply the knowledge and skills acquired into the Zambian aquaculture industry. Likewise, student's acquisition of aquaculture knowledge and skills from this platform and other ventures that WorldFish and partners are piloting will help increase the chances of students finding employment within the private aquaculture sector.
Subtitle 2: Blue planets role in the creation of the platform
Morten Bergslien, Chef Executive Officer (CEO) of Blue Planet, has been the mastermind behind the software and the structural content development of the training platform. Blue Planet has been developing and delivering online learning platforms for salmon production in Norway and other European countries in the past. Their involvement in the Blue Planet Academy initiative for Zambia marked their first undertaking in Africa and with a whole different fish species.
Morten Bergslien says partnering with WorldFish and NRDC has been crucial and has enabled them to expand their mission to Zambia. "As, Blue Planet, we have seen digital platforms work incredibly well in sharing skills to wider populations of students, smallholder farmers, private companies, etc. We are, therefore, looking forward to seeing this work for Zambia. As knowledge and skills sharing remains vital to the sustainable growth of the sector," he said.
Blue Planet worked out the software and structural content development. In contrast, WorldFish and NRDC played a fundamental role in the provision of materials, including videos and subjects, and also fine-tuning the contents to local contexts. Lake Harvest, an aquaculture enterprise operating in Zambia, was part of this initiative and contributed with on-site video recordings to enrich the online course materials.
Subtitle 3: NRDCs’ Students and training officer’s experience with the Platform
Close to 100 students and a few lecturers some months ago engaged in some selected courses as a way of trying out the platform, many of which found the platform to be exciting and educative.
"The presentation of the platform is incredible. I was thrilled to see animated illustrations of some of my favorite topics, such as Fish anatomy. I was also happy to see videos of some of the things we learn in class. This gave me a deeper understanding of the topic," said Yolanta Chibwe, one of the students that tried out the platform.
Mastauso Sakala, a training officer with the NRDC, also found the platform to be handy and a step forward to making training more accessible and available. "The platform is a great indication for the institution as besides facilitating training. It will help reduce costs by cutting out the need for purchasing materials for practical lessons for topics already explained in the platform," he added.
The purpose of online learning platforms is to increase the accessibility of information and training. Internet infrastructure and tools such as personal computers and smartphones are a must for these platforms to be effective. Zambia has been witnessing a steady growth of ICT usage in the past year, with 7.1 percent of the population owning a computer, as observed in 2015, to an impressive increase to 8.1 percent in 2018*. However, having adequate technological tools and infrastructure will continue to be the main challenge for accessing the platform outside of camping grounds for both students and the private sector aquaculture employees that pursue continuous learning programs.
To overcome the challenge, measures that included the renovation of an old computer laboratory, close to 18 thin clients (a computer that runs from resources stored on a central server instead of a localized hard drive), and many computer accessories were purchased and installed for to make sure the platform was accessible on campus.
WorldFish, NRDC, and Blue Planet are fully committed and will continue to collaborate on similar breakthrough digital platforms for scaling aquaculture training not only to universities but also other aquaculture TEVET institutions in Zambia and the region.
The project mentioned in this blog is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) Agreement ZAM-18/0002. This work is being undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH) led by WorldFish. The program is supported by CGIAR Funders.