Posted March 1996
Extension, as an educational input, can make an important contribution to sustainable agricultural production and rural development. FAO data show that there is a critical need for a large number of well trained extension workers in many developing countries. The data collected for the 1990 FAO Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension show that in the USA, Canada and Europe one extension agent covers about 400 economically active persons in agriculture, even before counting the services provided by the private sector. However in the four developing regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East, an extension worker covers on average about 2,500 such persons.
A definition of extension indicates the need for agents who have knowledge of the teaching/learning process and can effectively communicate information to clients. Extension has been defined as "an on-going process of getting useful information to people (the communication dimension) and then in assisting those people to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to utilize effectively this information or technology (educational dimension)."
Preparing students to carry out this process requires not only technical agriculture instruction but also courses related to the communication and education dimensions of the extension process. Furthermore, it requires experiential learning that provides students with opportunities to relate to rural people in an interactive process that combines scientific technical knowledge with local indigenous knowledge in client-centred problem-solving activities.
According to FAO manpower need projections for the year 2000, the ratio between professional agricultural staff (BSc and above) and technical staff (2-3 years post secondary training and secondary school) should be 1:5. However, often there is an imbalance between enrolments at the college level and the secondary school/mid-level training institute level. The result is that there is a tendency towards training in agriculture and extension staffing at the professional level disproportionate to training and staffing at the technician level, implying a bias towards the supervisory/managerial staff level as opposed to the field staff level.
This raises issues regarding employment of college graduates in a diminishing public-sector employment market as well as the capability of extension services to address farmers' needs at the field level. It suggests the need for more attention to manpower planning that takes into account the number of trained agricultural personnel required by level of training as well as by subject-matter areas and in relation to employment opportunities and subsequent duties to be performed.
In many agricultural education institutions there is a need to assess programmes of study based on:
Even intermediate level schools, whose primary function is to train students to work as field extension agents, often neglect practical "hands-on" training and "real-life" exposure to the socio-economic aspects of rural development in favour of training in technical agriculture subjects. Extension methodology is often bypassed in an effort to insert specialized technical agriculture in the curriculum. The problem is compounded by the predominance of urban students who have never farmed and know little about rural life.
Upon graduation, students may have subject-matter knowledge in agriculture, but they seldom have obtained the background needed to function effectively as extension or rural development "specialists." Further complicating the situation is the lack of experiential learning based on students' investigation of problem situations in the field.
To effectively address agricultural and rural development problems, curriculum content needs to be applied rather than theoretical. Learning needs to emphasise inductive reasoning skills so that students can interpret problems and devise solutions. Furthermore, curricular revisions need to take into account a number of factors - the decline in public sector employment, the deterioration of the natural environment and the changes in the roles and responsibilities of women.
Various benefits are envisioned from the case studies. First, the case study institutions will benefit from an assessment of their extension training programmes, and as a result will be in a position to strengthen them. FAO staff in their advisory work in member countries need to be able to offer support and advise on curricula, courses of study and field work that can be the basis for exemplary curriculum development and teaching in extension education. The outcomes of the case studies will be examples of curricula, courses of study and field work that can be used as the basis for developing model or core programmes of study in extension methodology. These model/core programmes of study can be introduced or integrated into schools, colleges and faculties of agriculture nationally and regionally.
Once the case studies have been completed, FAO will prepare a comparative summary report and conduct workshops to share the results with colleges and universities, intermediate-level agricultural education institutions, faculties of agriculture, agricultural teachers, extension services and others. The intended outcomes will be country plans of action to put into effect improved training and curriculum development in extension education.
The specific case study objectives are as follows: