Practical Subjects in Basic Education - Relevance At Last or Second Rate Education?
Lessons from 40 Years of Experience
by Herbert Bergmann
This paper was presented at the "Aid Agencies Workshop Education for Rural People: Targeting the Poor". (Rome, December 2002)
This paper is an important contribution to the FAO and UNESCO led Education for Rural People initiative. It also complements papers on school gardens which have recently been published by the Education Group. The teaching of practical skills in basic education and school garden practices have been experimented for years in many parts of the world. With almost forty years of direct experience in these areas, Dr H. Bergman provides a brief analysis of the different approaches, lessons learned and suggestions for improving upon the relevance of these activities.
Offering practical skills in basic schools has had mixed results, and, according to the author, most of the time this approach has proven discouraging. One of the most important reasons for the failure of school gardening cited in this paper is that "few teachers were able to teach the practical content correctly,… the school budget could finance neither investment nor running cost, …the ruralised school system was rejected by the rural population [because] it was perceived as a dead end" and, last but not least, the fact that the best basic education is a good general education. This means that the first priority in educating rural people is to teach rural children, youth and adults the essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, and arithmetic); school gardens should not overshadow such key objectives or create unrealistic expectations.
However, teaching practical skills can still enhance the relevance of education to rural life if a series of conditions are respected. The most important of these is that practical skills must be subordinated to the fulfillment of the core functions of basic education such as reading, writing and arithmetic. General education should not be compromised by the introduction of practical skills. If a specific curriculum is offered in rural areas, it must lead to similar quality learning achievements as obtained in urban areas, in order to avoid the perception that practical skills are a second rate learning opportunity for rural people. Furthermore, the new practical skills should be offered in all schools and reflect the local environment. For instance, teaching this curriculum within the basic sciences subjects in the usual classroom setting, the need for costly practical facilities could be avoided.
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