IRRI Education is the next evolutionary step for IRRI’s training program.
Even though the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has made a name for itself as a research institute, it had always provided a venue to train scientists, extension agents, and farmers. Over the past five decades, IRRI boasts of having trained over 15,000 scientists in rice research. Scholars from IRRI Education, then the Training Center, have become ministers, secretaries, and leaders within national research and extension systems across the world.
“Given IRRI’s history, knowledge base, and technology, it is in a unique position of being able to leverage its expertise in rice science to teach skills and educate those in the agriculture sector within the context of rice,” Peter Brothers, head of IRRI Education, said. These days, the MS Swaminathan Hall, where IRRI Education holds office, is buzzing with activity. Aside from the usual comings-and-goings of rice research scholars who attend the lectures inside, the IRRI Education staff is busy with the active marketing of their courses.
These days, the MS Swaminathan Hall, where IRRI Education holds office, is buzzing with activity. Aside from the usual comings-and-goings of rice research scholars who attend the lectures inside, the IRRI Education staff is busy with the active marketing of their courses.
“IRRI Education is the next evolutionary step for IRRI’s training program,” Dr. Brothers said. “We are proactively reaching out to organizations that have vested interest in agriculture and making them see IRRI Education as the solution to beefing up their capacity development needs.”
IRRI Deputy Director General for Research Jackie Hughes added, “The global environment, the agricultural landscape, and technology—these are all changing and farmers can’t keep up. IRRI Education is the capacity development entity that we have which will bring all the cutting-edge technologies to the farmers and students to help them meet the challenges of this rapidly changing world.”
“We think about the mechanization issues that are really significant in India,” said reflective Jason Beebout, an extension agronomist, when asked about the need to ramp up capacity development in the agricultural sector. Mr. Beebout is a member of the IRRI Education team. “We also need to be able to train women—we need to be able to give them the skills that they need.”
Previously, the IRRI Training Center generally undertook training work in terms of grants received by IRRI that had a training component. This meant that students invited to attend courses were fully funded by the IRRI grant. Now, in addition to maintaining such activities, IRRI Education is also devising a full portfolio of courses that will be offered for students who are self-funded. For instance, they will need to find the costs of attendance from their own funding sources.
In addition, what makes IRRI Education different than from its previous version is that it provides more flexibility in terms of developing courses that people are interested in attending, according to Mr. Beebout. “I’m really excited that people will walk away with a high-quality experience, walk away with specific skills that they can take back to their work.”
The emphasis on flexibility makes IRRI Education attractive to students and organizations because they are able to design courses that target specific needs. The courses may be for self-study (using a variety of distance-learning technologies), face-to-face classroom and fieldwork experiences, workplace learning with mentoring by more experienced scientists, or a combination of these three.
In addition, the offerings may be delivered as one-off block courses, or as regularly-scheduled experiences over a period of time, or self-paced. They may be delivered at the IRRI headquarters in Los Baños, at other IRRI locations around the world, or at any site convenient for a particular group of students.
IRRI Education also designs and creates courses for organizations to use in their own work. Renee Lorica, a scholar from the Philippines, couldn’t be happier with the program she’s currently doing. “The system is really useful because people here are very helpful and, research-wise, you have all the facilities you need,” she said.
“It’s an excellent program,” Hein Zaw from Myanmar said. He stated that the time he spent at IRRI helped him become a lead at his work back in his country.
Mohammad Chhiddikur Rahman, a PhD scholar from Bangladesh, added, “I’m learning a lot here because I get to interact with scientists whose expertise and experience cover a wide range of specializations from different regions.”
Training the next generation of scientists
One of the mandates of IRRI Education is to train the next generation of rice scientists, a mandate that Dr. Brothers takes seriously.
“IRRI Education’s portfolio focuses on three crucial areas: technical, scientific, leadership,” he said.
The portfolio contains course offerings in rice science (aimed at emerging scientists), technical (best practice in farming, aimed at people who work directly supporting farmers, such as agriculture extension agents), and leadership, aimed at policy makers and those who undertake analysis in support of policy makers.
For Sampriti Baruah, the courses she is taking at IRRI have clear real-world applications for her work. “I’m trying to understand how IRRI’s science can be taken to the field.”
“I am involved in research and also in training future students who are going to study in my field,” Cote D’Ivorie student Amani Kouassi said.
“IRRI is the best platform to interact with different people from the scientific community, young and trained,” Nitika Sandhu, a student from India, reiterated. “IRRI is the premier institute in the world where you have access to the newest technology and resources.”
It is important that training future rice scientists should be unified with a purpose, according to Dr. Hughes.
“If we give a lot of random training courses which are not consolidated, there is a risk that (a) we won’t target their needs and (b) the quality control may lag,” she said. “In IRRI Education, we will pool it as one entity for the students. The big plus is they will have access to our network of other trainees and all the contacts and collaborators that we have to help them build their future.”
Mr. Pineda is a communication associate at IRRI.