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The virtual kickoff seminar for the PBL-BioAfrica was held on November 4–5. PBL-BioAfrica is a collaborative project for strengthening bioeconomy education through promoting PBL (problem-based learning), entrepreneurship, innovation and digital learning methods in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“PBL-BioAfrica is for reforming bioeconomy curricula and improving graduates’ work-life relevant competence. We aim at strengthening the students’ ability to tackle global sustainability issues”, said Project Manager, Dr. Eija Laitinen, Principal Research Scientist at the Bioeconomy Research Unit at HAMK.
Digital learning and teaching enables reaching a large number of young Africans. The reformation is launched in the five partner HEIs in Kenya and Zambia. “Best learning practices will be disseminated to wider Sub-Saharan Africa through our network of agriculture universities”, said Florence Nakayiwa, Deputy Executive Secretary at RUFORUM (Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture), which has 129 member HEIs from 38 African countries.
Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury, Finland's Ambassador in Lusaka, noted in her greeting that cooperation between academic institutions is a highly important part Finnish–Zambian relations.
“It really seems to me that it is doing all the right things. It has a strong business and entrepreneurship link, it promotes climate-smart agriculture, job creation, innovation and women's role. It also promotes student mobility.”
Erik Lundberg, Finland's Ambassador in Nairobi, shared his colleague's belief PBL-BioAfrica's purpose.
"Through high-quality education and life-long learning, we have the best chances to influence how the world will look tomorrow. By giving our youth the tools to solve real-world problems, using their own skills and knowledge, we will be able to foster important new technical and social innovations."
Dr. Benson Chisala, Dean of the School of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Zambia, and Prof. Kavwanga Yambayamba, Dean of the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Mulungushi University, emphasised the importance of the agricultural sector to the Zambia’s economy and of education in improving productivity.
“For the agricultural sector to move forward and to grow, the role of education is very important”, Dr. Chisala said. “PBL-BioAfrica touches the core elements in universities: teaching methodology and preparing students for the future and for working life.”
“Majority of people in Zambia depend on agriculture”, Prof. Yambayamba said. “What has been lacking is the skills and the competence to increase productivity. Therefore, we are very happy that our students will be exposed to methods that will contribute to the enhancement of agriculture.”
One of the partners in Kenya is Egerton University, where all agronomy students take an entrepreneurship course. Dean Abdul Faraji stated that “through PBL methods, graduates will turn from job seekers to job creators”.
Students are indeed in the very core of PBL-BioAfrica. Issah Rahman, student at Egerton University, is excited about the upcoming field courses. ”You learn much better from real challenges from real companies than in a classroom”, he said. Student challenges will be solved in multidisciplinary teams, with students from African and Finnish partner HEIs.
The four-year project has received a fund of nearly 1,5 million euros from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and is part of the HEI ICI programme (Higher Education Institutions Institutional Cooperation Instrument) for building higher education capacity in the developing world. Beside the HEI networks, project partners are RUFORUM, UniPID (Finnish University Partnership for International Development), MFA-funded AGS programme (Accelerated Growth for SME’s Zambia) and local operators in Kenya and Zambia.