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Part four: Conclusions and next steps

Part four: Conclusions and next steps

Chapter 18: Next steps in curricular reorientation

18.1 Enabling Rural Households to Overcome Constraints

From what we have learned so far, it is clear that rural households, and especially rural women, face a number of interlinked constraints that reduce their productivity and their ability to use natural resources sustainably. These constraints can be summarized as:

We have also reamed that rural households are not uniform in their constraints or in their opportunities. The nature of these constraints vary considerably from one country to another, from one village to another, and across households. Natural resource endowments can also differ widely within a single country. The challenge for educators is to become far better informed about the dimensions and nature of these constraints and endowments, in order to better address them through more appropriate extension messages.

The key point is to focus on the pressing needs of rural households that we can help to solve

The key point is to focus on the pressing needs of rural households that we can help to solve (Firebaugh, in Seltzer 1980). Therefore, the major tasks in reorienting home economics curricula are to better understand the specific environmental opportunities and constraints of rural households across various regions of the country, and to develop strategies to assist households in overcoming those constraints and maximizing their opportunities. Such strategies should be targetted at both the household and the institutional levels. At the household level, strategies should seek to:

At the institutional level, much work needs to be done to:

These are intended to be used as general pointers or guidelines, in reorienting home economics curricula and programs. Educational planners and trainers should adapt and revise these guidelines as needed to fit national and local circumstances.

18.2 Challenges and Potentials For The New Home Economics in Reaching Rural Households

Challenging Old Paradigms and Boundaries

The theoretical and conceptual changes taking place in home economics hold considerable promise for the future. While many other disciplines are struggling with applying the notion of sustainability to existing doctrine and paradigms, the new home economics is challenging old paradigms, questioning deeply held assumptions, and redefining its role in relation to rural households around the world. As Lewis Thomas notes:

"The degree to which we are all involved in the control of the earth's life is just beginning to dawn on most of us, and it means another revolution in human thought." (Lewis, in Dankelman and Davidson 1989).

While the new home economics is still evolving and many different viewpoints are contributing to the debate, it is clear that the discipline is undergoing a revolution in thinking. No doubt that home economics programs, extension, and curricula will also evolve as time passes, and that new and innovative messages, technologies, and delivery systems will be adopted and adapted.

A point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environmental on which our life and well-being depend. Conversely, though fuller knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve for ourselves and posterity a better life in an environment more in keeping with human needs and hopes.

UN Conference on the Human Environment, 1972

In reality, home economics is a discipline with several specialized fields addressing the problems of household welfare (FAO 1991w), and is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in nature. This corresponds to the realities of rural households, which similarly face problem of resource use that are also interdisciplinary in nature. This clearly emphasizes the need to work much more closely with researchers, extensionists, and staff from other disciplines, such as agriculture, forestry, community development and rural sociology, and so on.

Home economics curricula and educational programs should be problem-oriented and not discipline-oriented, and not be constrained by conventional disciplinary boundaries. Home economics will need to reach out to other disciplines that have a role to play in the new household economics. Home economists will also have to reach out to donors and implementors of development projects to convince them of the contribution that home economics can make to people-centered development (Seltzer 1985).

18.3 Reorienting Extension and Training

The home economics extensionist operates with the general extension philosophy of "helping people to help themselves" (Weidemann 1976). Most women extension workers are in home economics, rural or community development, and other areas; a very small proportion are in agriculture. In addition, home economics extension personnel often lack training either to identify agricultural production problems or to advise in agriculture and related areas that assist women farmers (FAO/WCARRD 1988 and FAO 1991w):22). Women comprise only 3.4 % of the trained agricultural workforce and only 17 % of the students enrolled in intermediate and higher level agricultural degree programs. Given the scarcity of national resources in most developing countries to invest in education and training, there is little prospect of significant expansion of the cadre of female service providers (ILO 1989).

Home economics extension and training programs should be problem-oriented and not discipline-oriented, and not be constrained by conventional disciplinary boundaries.

The central objective of agricultural extension service is to help farm families acquire new knowledge and skills along the lines of their current interest and need which are closely related to increasing farm production and to improve the physical level of living of farm families (Mosher in Seltzer 1980). Extension training aims to develop human resources for increased productivity and to accelerate rural development (FAO 1991w). Both agricultural extension service and training programs in the country should be assessed, and reoriented along the same general philosophic lines as curricular reorientation. Ultimately, home economics extension and training programs should be oriented toward problem-solving, and toward assisting rural households to deal with changing environmental and resource conditions.

18.4 Appropriateness and Relevancy Concerns

Whatever its final form, new home economics approaches must be relevant to local needs, economic realities, and the natural resource constraints of rural families. Trainers should carefully consider the interrelationships of the family, other systems, and the environment of the systems (Firebaugh, in Seltzer 1980). One fundamental consideration is to adapt any potential solution to fit the local conditions and resources (Commonwealth Secretariat 1992).

Similarly, extension messages that are developed should recognize the diversity that exists in rural households, and not offer narrow "one-size-fits-all" strategies that are useful to only a portion of rural households. As Firebaugh notes, family units in diverse forms are surviving throughout the world -- a fact that pays tribute to their resilience and adaptability despite a declining resource base. The transition increased choices must be paralleled by a range of social and economic contexts that support the functions of the family and reduce the vulnerability of family members to adverse environmental effects (Firebaugh 1991).

Therefore, as the structure of families change, so must home economics programs be responsive to their changing circumstances, especially in areas of natural resource scarcities and environmental degradation. Flexibility in building curricula or extension programs is an important attribute, and makes future revision and reorientation easier to handle.

Every country pays a high price for environmental unsustainability and degradation.

Curricular planners, too, may need greater contact and communication with the rural households that they serve. After decades of service as civil servants with an extension service, mid-to-high level civil servants are often posted to large cities where they have limited contact with rural households, and may be unaware of the dimensions of environmental degradation that exists in various parts of the country since their earlier years of service as a field extension worker. It is therefore imperative that those planning the new home economics curricula have direct knowledge and understanding of the changing nature of rural families and of the environment, in order to create relevant curricula

It is also important to provide practical learning laboratories that go beyond the conventional kitchen in a farmer's training center, furnished with western-style cookers and sewing machines that will likely never find their way into the home of a poor rural woman. Learning laboratories should be created that give hands-on experience in improved agricultural production and storage methods, energy conservation technologies, horticultural production, tree production and forest-based industries, and other areas that are of interest to rural households. In addition, the technologies demonstrated at training centers should be within the economic reach of rural households, and be locally available.

18.5 Changing the Attitudes of Decisionmakers

Finally, changing the awareness of people in positions of responsibility and authority about environmental and gender concerns will also require a virtual revolution in attitudes (Dankelman and Davidson 1989). Despite the significant role of women in farming and natural resource management around the world, the attitudes of decisionmakers remain virtually unchanged. Considerable effort will need to be invested into the conscientization of the leaders of governments and international organizations.

Changing the attitudes of people in positions authority will require additional resources, new approaches to information dissemination to decisionmakers, and close coordination between home economists and representatives of other concerned disciplines. Decisionmakers must understand that the benefits of training women, and of involving them in the development process, will also benefit the country on a much broader basis (see Box 18.1). Restrictive stereotypes of rural women as gardeners or "just housewives" do not serve the economic interests of rural families or of national economic development.

Box 18.1 Positive Impacts of Including Women

Women and men do not use resources in the same manner, and women have a much higher impact on family and community health and environment. A USAID evaluation found that "attention to gender issues in agriculture can result in the elimination of bottlenecks in production, successful transfer of technology, and willingness to adopt new technologies. Other benefits can also be reaped with regard to:

    · Productivity

    · Income-generating activities

    · Meeting nutritional needs

    · Children's (especially girl's) education

    · Availability of and reliance on biomass sources

    · Out-migration, especially of men

    · Community and national institutions

Women's education can also lead to added benefits in many sectors. In the 1992 l World Development Report, the World Bank states that "investments in female education have some of the highest returns for development and for environment."

Source: Ofosu-Amaah, 1993.

Summing Up

We have seen that gender, the rural household, and the environment are closely interlinked, and are the foundations for improving the sustainability of natural resource use in developing countries. Curricular training activities can strengthen traditional skills, build upon indigenous technical knowledge and empower rural households. The evolving role of the new home economics in achieving a sustainable environment is potentially very significant, as educators and home economists begin to prepare new strategies, programs and curricula to assist the rural poor.

Whatever its final form, new home economics curricula must be relevant to the local needs, economic realities, and natural resource constraints of the rural families it serves.

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