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22.5 Aquaponics in Vocational Education and Training

4 months ago

5 min read

UNESCO-UIS/OECD/EUROSTAT (2017) defines vocational education programs as "designed for learners to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies specific to a particular occupation, trade, or class of occupations or trades. Successful completion of such programs leads to labour market relevant, vocational qualifications acknowledged as occupationally-oriented by the relevant national authorities and/or the labour market" (UNESCO, 2017).

In order to educate future aquaponic farmers and aquaponic technicians, the training has to include the professional operation of aquaponics. Therefore, the training environment needs to be state-of-art. However, the setting does not have to be large: 30 msup2/sup should suffice (Podgrajsek et al. 2014, Examples 22.5 and 22.6). Such systems should be planned and built by professionals as they require complex monitoring and operation.

Students can be involved in: (i) installation (under professional guidance); (ii) general maintenance and operation (including daily checks and cleaning); (iii) operation of the hydroponic subsystem (planting, harvesting, integrated pest management, climate control, adjustment of pH and nutrient levels, etc.); (iv) operation of the aquaculture sub-system (fish feeding, fish weight determinations, adjustment of pH levels, etc.); (v) monitoring of parameters (water quality, fish growth and health, plant growth, and quality); and (vi) harvesting and post-harvest operations.

The European Union invested in the development of vocational education via the Leonardo Program, and more recently ERASMUS+. These programs have funded several projects that included the implementation of aquaponics, including the Leonardo da Vinci Transfer of Innovation Project (Lifelong Learning Programme) "Introducing Aquaponics in VET: Tools, Teaching Units and Teacher Training" (AQUA-VET)'. The project prepared a curriculum for vocational education in aquaponics and the results are available at The teaching units were tested at three vocational schools in Italy, Switzerland (Baumann 2014), and Slovenia (Peroci 2016). As part of this project an aquaponics unit was constructed at the Biotechnical Centre Naklo vocational school in Slovenia (Example 22.5). Another example is the aquaponic unit built at the Provinciaal Technisch Insituut, a horticulture school in Belgium (Example 22.6).

Example 22.5 Aquaponics at Biotechnical Centre Naklo in Slovenia

The aquaponics (Fig. 22.5a) was constructed in 2013 within the framework of the Leonardo da Vinci project "AQUA-VET" (Krivograd Klemenčič et al. 2013; Podgrajšek et al. 2014). An aquaponics course module was developed and taught to a class of 30 students in the second year of their Environmental Technician program (Peroci 2016). The aim was to investigate the possibility of including aquaponics in the regular program of secondary vocational education in biotechnical sciences, and in the standard curriculum of professional skills needed for the national vocational qualification of an "Aquaponic farmer." The course consisted of six lessons (45 min each), of which four were dedicated to the theory of aquaponics and two to practical training (Fig. 22.5b).

Lesson 1 Aquaponics: definition, introduction to aquaculture and hydroponics, operation of an aquaponics.

Lesson 2 Microorganisms: (i) the role of microorganisms: useful microorganisms, the nitrogen cycle, and the importance of biofilters in aquaponics; (ii) monitoring of selected parameters, monitoring plan, protocols, and evaluation of the results.

Lesson 3 Fish: structure and functioning of the fish body, selection of fish species suitable for growing in aquaponics, feeding methods, fish diseases and injuries, and fish breeding.

Lesson 4 Plant anatomy, selection of plant species suitable for growing in aquaponics, the role of plants in aquaponics, identification of plant diseases, and appropriate plant protection strategies.

Practical work (2 h) Students worked in two groups (observation, monitoring, discussion, presentation) at the aquaponic unit at the Biotechnical Centre Naklo.

The learning activities covered various skill levels, providing welldesigned lessons for both the theoretical and practical parts. Learning progression was assessed by means of several questionnaires (see Sect. 22.7.2).

Example 22.6 Aquaponics at Provinciaal Technisch Insituut, a Horticulture School in Belgium

The Provinciaal Technisch Instituut (PTI) in Kortrijk pioneered classroom aquaponics in Belgium at the vocational education level. The project started in 2008, when fish tanks were introduced into the greenhouse that is used for teaching practical courses to students in agronomy and biotechnology (Fig. 22.6).

Initially, the aquaponics was used on an ad hoc basis in a number of classes, for example, to teach plant and fish biology, water chemistry, etc., but it was only after a couple of years that aquaponics became structurally embedded in a number of course modules. The main challenge was to find the time to translate the governmental attainment goals into the aquaponics course modules. This challenge illustrates the importance of providing sufficient support both in terms of meeting the needs of the curriculum, and in tackling operational and organizational obstacles for new aquaponic initiatives in schools.

From the beginning, the aquaponics at PTI also acted as a pilot in applied research projects with universities (Ghent University, KU Leuven, ULG Gembloux), university colleges (HoWest, HoGent, Odisee), research institutes (Inagro, PCG), and private companies (aqua4C, Agriton, Lambers-Seeghers, Vanraes automation). In effect, the school has become a valuable partner in multiple national and international projects. Pupils at PTI are involved not only in the day-to-day operational work but also in data collection for experiments coordinated by the academic researchers. This collaboration creates a unique opportunity for the students to familiarize themselves with the activities of university colleges and universities, and may stimulate the students to progress to higher education.

Fig. 22.5 (a) Aquaponics at the Biotechnical Centre Naklo in Slovenia. (Photo: Jarni 2014). (b) Practical work at the aquaponic unit of the Biotechnical Centre Naklo. (Photo Peroci 2016)

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Fig. 22.6 A view into the greenhouse of Provinciaal Technisch Insituut (PTI).

Fish tanks (containing Scortum barcoo) are located below the drip-irrigated tomato gullies. In the middle of the greenhouse, Australian crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) are grown in a series of aquaria