Organic Agriculture (OA) is a sustainable farming system that promotes environmental protection, increased food safety, quality and security, the preservation of rural landscapes and cultural heritage. An effectively-trained OA advisor or trainer, in addition to being a source of fundamental information on OA technical matters, must be able to communicate the means to obtain and evaluate knowledge, and critical thinking methodologies, to farmers. A number of initiatives to develop VET programmes OA exist in EU member states of which, the standards of training vary widely, and none leads to a recognized, transferable, international qualification as an OA advisor/trainer. At the same time, unemployment levels among young agriculture graduates are high.
The CerOrganic LdV Project was designed to develop a quality assurance (QA) procedure for the vocational education/training (VET) of advisors/trainers in Organic Agriculture (OA), based on European Quality Assurance Reference Framework (EQARF). The QA procedure was developed and was subsequently made available for application to other VETs in OA. Through the development of these products, CerOrganic aimed to increase the quality and attractiveness of European OA-related training systems, and stimulate agriculture extension service employment.
Initially, CerOrganic conducted extensive research to determine OA advisor training requirements and desired outcomes, in terms of key competences to be gained. The CerOrganic Training of Trainers (ToT) programme employs a blended-learning approach with particular emphasis on the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), which the OA community has been slow to adopt. The CerOrganic ToT programme provides a state-of-the-art training that will contribute to the re-invention of agricultural extension and certification in OA in general, and provide a route of entry into an emerging profession. In parallel, the Draft CerOrganic QA procedure was produced by combining key features of the EQARF with specific quality criteria developed for the accreditation and quality improvement of e-Learning programmes in the field of professional training by the Open E-Learning for Capacity Building Check (Open ECBCheck).
The second year saw the further development and refinement of the CerOrganic ToT and QA process, and also the CerOrganic Web Portal, presenting OA VET opportunities, certificates and training resources, and the CerOrganic Course Management Platform. The qualitycertified five-week Pilot CerOrganic ToT programme was successfully implemented, training 33 participants from 8 European countries. The validation events held in Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece and Hungary, were extended in terms of scope and participation, and included the development of an innovative quality-certified ToT course on the use of blended learning techniques in OA advisory.
The final versions of both the QA procedure and the ToT Programmes are now being promoted to governmental education policy institutions, VET/training providers and end users, to ensure the sustainable implementation and on-going development of the CerOrganic products.
Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania - Greece