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Swiss Academy for Development

The landscape of agricultural development has changed dramatically in the past two decades, calling for transformation of the curricula of programmes, courses, and training related to agricultural extension and rural advisory services (RAS) in terms of what is taught, and how. Many higher learning institutions and training providers recognise the need to review and change their existing curricula and/or to develop new ones that are responsive to current market demands. However, there is often limited know-how and capacity to implement successful processes of curriculum development, especially in the extension and RAS community.

This note describes a structured process of curriculum development in the context of extension and RAS. The experience of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) in developing the New Extensionist Learning Kit is presented as an example of this process at global level. Other cases are used to bring out the national-level experience consolidating the lessons learned.

Philosophy and principles

Philosophy provides a framework for decision-making and organising the curriculum development process. It is about asking questions around the purpose of learning, how the students learn, what methods and materials to use, and the process of teaching and learning, among other issues.

Although traditionally many curricula have been predominantly technical, today there is a call for the integration of technical and functional skills.

  • Technical skills – also known as hard skills – are associated with the abilities and knowledge needed to perform specific tasks. They are practical and often relate to mechanical, information technology, mathematical, or scientific tasks.
  • Functional skills – also known as soft skills – comprise a broad category of personal attributes and interpersonal skills that enable us to interact with others. Functional skills can be related to self-management in the sense of helping an individual manage their own emotions, perceptions, and reactions. They may also include the people skills required to interact with others in a given field or workplace. Functional or soft skills are cross-cutting as they are relevant across different fields and sectors.

In the 21st century, the RAS curriculum should be influenced by contemporary and progressive philosophies that emphasise the integration of functional skills to address more complex issues of a social nature (Box 1).