Gardening is one of the most popular leisure pursuits for all ages, across the U.K., Europe, Australia, N.Z. and North America. Adult education courses in gardening can be a great way to not only develop gardening skills, but also meed others with shared interests

Most educators today need to be results driven, rather than driven by the urge to teach - this is because the amount of students that pass courses often directly affects further funding. If your school or training organisation shows low pass rates, you may not receive further funding. This may seem like a sound approach at first glance, but there are two immediate problems associated with this:

  1. Students may pass their course but may not be competent or well-educated.  In fact they may do very little work at all towards their studies, or attend very few classes - but still be awarded a pass in order for the organisation to retain funding.
  2. Educators spend so much time complying with administration and bureaucratic tasks set by funding bodies, that there is little time left to offer a quality education to its students.

This is a ‘catch 22’ situation:

  • Use your time to give students a sound education and leave little time for bureaucracy and administration - and your funding is cut!
  • Spend less time on educating your students but comply with administration and bureaucratic requirements of the funding body – your students probably won’t pass, your results will likely be down - and so your funding is cut.

For the horticulture industry though the worst scenario is:

Pass your students indiscriminately (irrelevant of their results or attendance records), do all your administration and bureaucratic tasks competently and retain your funding - however you have produced mediocre employees as a result! All losses are absorbed by the students and the industry in general – skilled workers become even scarcer. 

How Things Have Changed

Four decades ago a 'Diploma in Horticultural Science' may have required 4000 hours of study covering plant sciences, plant identification, and general horticulture and at least 2000 hours of hands-on work (spread over many sectors of the horticulture industry). An apprenticeship took 4 years to complete. Upon qualifying from your diploma or apprenticeship, you were able to work as a horticultural assistant, not as a horticulturist – it took several years of experience before you were considered a ‘qualified horticulturist’.

Today, a diploma is awarded (in many cases, by many government-funded institutions or organisations) after just 6–12 months study (often comprising no more than 700 hours - or sometimes even less) with little hands-on experience and backed up with very little science, but often accompanied very high expectations of the students upon graduation!
This trend is not helping the industry. The horticulture industry is undergoing a revolution, it needs employees that are able to meet the challenges; people that can grow and develop as the industry does and become the developers and leaders of the future.  It needs people that are passionate about horticulture and very knowledgeable - those that can meet the demands of the industry and drive it forward. It does not need people that have been forced into studying horticulture to meet social service demands (e.g. in order to retain their social security payments) or through parental pressure.  Horticultural education should not be seen as a ‘place of last resort’!

Educational Expectations

Education is a foundation that assists you to make educated decisions. It teaches you how to think things through, to analyse what is presented to you, to make informed decisions using the skills and the knowledge you have gained, and how to build on your basic education - to enhance your career.

Although education is a great foundation to starting a career, don’t expect a course to teach you everything! Good education should only ever be seen as a foundation. You cannot retain everything you learn in a course. You also do not learn everything you need to know by doing a course – this takes time and experience as well as education.  However, a good course will provide you with underpinning knowledge and skills and should help you to develop research skills i.e. ways to find out the things you need to know in the future - once you have finished your course.

If you have thorough learning in the fundamentals of horticulture, you will have the ability to adapt those fundamentals when you encounter a new plant, product or process. The plants we grow and the way we grow and market them is changing faster than ever. It is impossible to predict what cultivars or products will be most popular in 5 years’ time. However, a person who has ALL the fundamentals will encounter new things and have the ability to understand them and remember them faster than someone who has not acquired the same foundation. Staff who have broader based and more in-depth foundations will see the possibilities (and be more likely to rise to the challenge) every time something changes in the workplace. Good education makes the employee more productive and adaptable - whilst qualifications may be little more than something to put in a frame on the wall, rather than a grounding to build on for a future in this career area.

Things You May or May Not Have Thought Of or Realised About Education

Good education goes into long-term memory.
Politically motivated education can sometimes be abused by testing short-term memory.
You cannot fast-track learning. Most people only retain and properly understand things by encountering them repeatedly, and in different ways, over a period of time.

You can show someone something, test them and declare them competent all on the same day, in a short space of time, and that may be all that is required to award someone an accredited training package qualification.

The traditional way of planning for and providing education is fundamentally flawed.
Traditional education (e.g. Vocational colleges and Universities) commonly take many years from identifying a need for training to when they commence delivering on that need. Commonly, after determining the need, committees are set up, research is conducted, funding is sought, curriculum is written, tenders are called, course notes are written and finally funding is arranged to deliver a course and students are recruited. Often the course being delivered is based upon a need that was seen many years earlier. Does this make any sense in today’s rapidly changing world.

Diversity IS REALLY important 
Individual people with diverse educational backgrounds can bring diversity to the workplace. A group of people that have all studied at various (different) institutions also bring diversity of ideas and differing ways in which to approach tasks to the workplace – with combined impact. This is good for a business and good for the industry. If, on the other hand, you employed a group of people who had all studied the same course, you would discover that the range of ideas and approaches shrinks – this is not good for the workplace or the industry.  It may be attractive to politicians and bureaucrats to create “standardised” “national” training but it is diversity that drives the world today. We need a lot of different courses teaching different things, through different educational providers - to produce graduates who approach problems in different ways.

Distance education is more cost effective and flexible than classroom based education.
Although this wasn’t always the case – consider the following:

  • A classroom-based course requires physical infrastructure (e.g. buildings, equipment), a dedicated teacher etc. and must be timetabled to occur at a particular time. Students have travel costs.
  • A distance education course doesn’t need the above - and with modern technology it can connect students and teachers over the internet. Students can watch videos, take virtual tours of nurseries and farms all over the world, conduct research using the internet, conduct specifically formulated practical set tasks, submit assignments in a flash, and receive marked work back as soon as it is marked. AND they can study at any time of day or night that suits. 
  • Each student is treated as an individual.  Distance education used to be chosen because it was more convenient; but today people are choosing it because it is better and provides more one on one interaction with their tutors. Many students wonder how they will cover practical skills (horticulture being so practically based) when they study through distance learning.  Institutions that understand the horticulture industry (and how students learn) spend decades developing and redeveloping set tasks that cover practical skills – better distance educational providers have a proven record of producing graduates with well-developed practical as well as theoretical knowledge.

Traditional horticultural education is in crisis, but other alternatives are growing.

  • Horticulture courses have been shrinking at Vocational colleges and Universities over recent times. Funding has come under pressure. Colleges are expected to produce more graduates with no extra funding.
  • Education driven by politicians and bureaucrats more than teachers - we now talk about outcomes, licenses and lifelong (formal) learning, where we used to talk about learning to provide a foundation to start learning on the job.
  • People expect courses to give everything that is needed to walk in and start doing the job, but that shows a fundamental misunderstanding….What should employers expect?  The value of an educated staff member is rather not that they know it all, but that they will learn it faster.

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