Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

I have found the discussion so far very interesting and welcome the opportunity to give the point of view of an educator who has some experience of curriculum development and work-related learning.

It seems self-evident that agricultural officers and extension workers should know how to grow a good diet and be able to help others to do so. The potential impact of such capacities in the field has been described and so have the difficulties of achieving it (e.g. by Fanzo et al. 2013).  There are therefore moves to introduce nutrition into the pre-service curriculum of agricultural colleges and degree courses.  This seems to me to raise some important preliminary questions about the conditions necessary for successful work-related learning in this field.  

Question 1  Is it worth doing?  

Curriculum space is often jealously guarded and the status of a new subject may have to be fought for.  One danger is the offer often made to new entrants of “integration across the curriculum”, i.e. distribution across existing core subjects.  This generally means fragmentation, loss of coherence and importance, especially if the subject is not allowed its own staff, exams and assessments.   

Evidence of nutrition impact in normative agricultural extension activities is thin, hence it may be important to be able to produce evidence, cases and models of successful action, a strong rationale and a promotional plan (even plans for future assessment of impact) when arguing for a proper place for nutrition in the agriculture curriculum. 

 The evidence is important also in the curriculum itself.  If agricultural extension services (AES) are to carry advisory weight in their communities, staff and graduates need to believe in the value of action to promote good diet.

Question 2  What kind of syllabus should it be?

Nutrition learning for agricultural officers must be an applied subject if it is to have any effect on dietary practices.  The syllabus will certainly have a large knowledge component (topic-based), including understanding of the food environment and familiarity with the nutritional values of many foods.  However, since “nutrition” in the work of the AES largely refers to educational activities such as enquiring, communicating, explaining, advising and demonstrating, the syllabus must also aim to build working competences (task-based) relating to behaviour change and maintenance. 

Topic-based and task-based syllabuses have very different objectives, activities and assessments: for example, task-based learning requires considerable hands-on observation, practice and field application.  Many experts and institutions do not recognize the difference:  in nutrition, a common error is to assume that the syllabus (a) consists mainly of facts about nutrition, and (b) can therefore be delivered through a few extra lectures.  This cannot produce an effective change agent!  All those involved will therefore need to agree what kind of syllabus is needed, and may need to consider including specialists in work-related learning and nutrition education/behaviour change in the curriculum development team.

Question 3  Who else is involved? 

The team must ensure that all the players in the institutional environment are consulted and are active in support of the new initiative, for example, that

  1. the MoA has adopted nutrition objectives in line with national nutrition aims and that the curriculum is in line with any national nutritional strategy.
  2. AES services are prepared to collaborate in formative research into work practices, outlook and knowledge of extension practitioners
  3. the institution has agreed to a curriculum review to incorporate nutrition and nutrition education objectives, and will allow time for field work
  4. the institution and the AES agree to actions necessary to create a supportive service for nutrition-focused activities (e.g. training of supervisors, revision of TORs, adaptation of existing tasks)
  5. the capacity is available to develop a curriculum which will be effective in helping to improve diets.   

There are plenty of other questions, but these three already seem to magnify the scope of the curriculum exercise considerably.  I would very much like to hear comments from participants in this forum, including institutions which are contemplating such a curriculum change.

Jane Sherman, Nutrition education consultant, FAO