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Sri Lanka's Colombo University to teach farmers online
15 Sep, 2008 14:06:36
By Riyad Riffai
Sept 15, 2008 (LBO) – Sri Lanka's University of Colombo is starting an online agro technology degree program for rural farmers, with a pilot project already showing spectacular results, a senior academic said.
The university had started a pilot program in the village of Weligatte in Hambantota in the deep south of the island teaching farmers tissue culture, agro technology, farm management techniques and marketing.

A laboratory has been set up, staffed with young girls from the areas, who were now producing 15,000 banana plants a month for sale to farmers, who were now getting higher yields and revenue.

"These farmers' incomes have increased ten fold, we can definitely see the difference, over the past five years," Kshanika Hirimburegama, vice chancellor of the University of Colombo told LBO.

Farming has to be approached in a scientific manner to increase yields, improve quality and win markets.

Most Sri Lankan farmers were still using traditional methods which were not very effective, but a scientific grounding in farming can transform their lives, says Hirimburegama.

The university will first start a certificate level course leading to a diploma and eventually a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree.

Each level of the program will take one academic year.

Sri Lanka's university system can only absorb about 3.0 percent of students who complete secondary education.

"We have done a small survey amongst farmers and we have seen most of them have three C’s," says Hirimburegama.

"The basic requirement for university entrance is les than that."

The new agriculture course will use a combination of e-learning, printed materials sent through he post, compact discs, face-to-face teaching and lab work.

But most of the course work will be conducted through e-learning.

Farmer will access e-learning modules through a network of internet communications kiosks, known as 'Nanasela's, promoted by the island's ICT Agency.

The program is part of the Sri Lanka government's Distance Education Modernization Project (DEMP) initially funded with a five million rupee Asian Development Bank grant.

Students are expected to contribute a part of the costs, though it is subsidized.

"I personally believe that nothing should be free because if its given free they won’t take it seriously," says Hirimburegama.

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