Feed the Future
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EARTH University: A Model for Agricultural Education and Training Linkages

Successful agricultural education and training (AET) institutions approach their missions from a systems perspective by building a variety of linkages. Internally, they link theoretical and practical instruction. Externally, they link their curricula to workforce and community needs, they link to other AET institutions, and they link to extension and other nonformal educational providers. EARTH (Escuela de Agrícola de la Región Tropical Humida) University in Costa Rica exemplifies many of these linkages and can serve as a model for other AET institutions.

EARTH University was established in 1986 through a partnership between the Costa Rica government, USAID, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The vision of EARTH University is:

Our actions are mission-driven to alleviate poverty, promote social justice and build a future where our communities achieve sustainable and shared prosperity.

Modeled after a U.S. Land Grant University, EARTH embraces a three-part mission of education, research, and outreach, all of which are focused on developing sustainable solutions to practical problems.  

Linkage 1: Theoretical and Practical Instruction

The curriculum at EARTH is based on the principles of experiential learning and student-centered learning and is comprised of four programmatic areas: technical knowledge, leadership development, social and environmental awareness, and entrepreneurship. Instruction is balanced between theoretical and practical activities, both of which are embedded in courses taught by the same instructors. There is a deliberate and coordinated linkage between what is taught in the classroom and what is applied in the teaching farm and local community.

Linkage 2: Curriculum and Workforce/Community Needs

EARTH’s curriculum and programs are designed to meet emerging workforce and community needs. Through a variety of advisory boards and committees, EARTH is constantly examining the relevance of their curricula and makes adjustments as needed. EARTH is heavily involved in the local community, and students regularly engage in a variety of agricultural, environmental, and social development projects. Similar to a U.S. Land Grant University, EARTH has an active outreach/extension program. Utilizing both EARTH faculty and students, their programming reaches a wide variety of farmers and rural communities in Costa Rica. In an evaluation of a Work Experience Module (WEM), where students lived and worked with small-scale farmers, Dragon and Place (2006) documented the benefits from these activities to farmers, faculty, and students. The farmers identified many of the traditional objectives of extension as positive; for example, they said the program “aided in efforts in sustainable agriculture, served as a communication link between researchers and farmers, and provided information based on research” (Dragon & Place, 2006, p. 73). Further, the farmers preferred working with EARTH over other extension organizations because of the students’ and faculty’s familiarity with the farms (Dragon & Place, 2006).

Linkage 3: EARTH University and Other AET Institutions

EARTH links with a wide variety of AET institutions and other educational institutions. Their website reports research partnerships with the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica, the University of Florida, and NASA. Further linkages are built with AET institutions through EARTH’s student internship program. EARTH also hosts a variety of study abroad groups, and other educational seminars bring AET instructors and students to EARTH. Finally, through their comprehensive recruitment program, EARTH instructors visit a variety of AET institutions. However, formal linkages with local AET institutions are not apparent and could perhaps be an opportunity for further development at EARTH.

Linkage 4: EARTH University and Nonformal Education/Extension

Linkages between EARTH and other nonformal education/extension institutions are not well documented, but through my personal observations I learned many of their local community development activities have local partners, such as farmers groups and civic associations. EARTH also has a long history of hosting groups of extension agents from the U.S. for international study opportunities, and as mentioned, other linkages happen through the EARTH student internship program when EARTH students work with those other institutions.

EARTH University in Costa Rica exhibits many of the linkages I would advocate for a high quality AET institution. While their formal linkages with other local AET institutions and other local nonformal/extension providers have room for development, their curriculum and linkages to workforce and community needs are exceptional and can be a model for other AET institutions to follow.

This post was written by Dr. T. Grady Roberts, a Professor at the University of Florida and a partner with the Feed the Future Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project.