Education Knowledge

Posted May 1997

Agricultural Education and Training:
Issues and Opportunities - Part I


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A changing world

The decade of the 1990s emerged with wide-ranging political, social, economic and technical changes that have had dramatic impacts on the world. Most countries are seeking market-oriented economic policies and the political structures and institutions to promote and support them. The methods and contents of agricultural education and training need to change to take into account current trends and influences if they are to meet the needs and realities of rural societies. Many of the problems identified by the round tables and expert consultations are due to the failure of education and training to adapt to a changing world. Intermediate and higher education in agriculture are, and will continue to be, of critical importance in bringing about sustainable agricultural growth and national development, but at present they are largely failing to meet new societal needs and demands.

Rapid advances in communications technology (e.g. electronic mail and Internet) in recent years have made collaboration and co-operation between institutes of agricultural education increasingly possible and desirable both within and among countries. At the same time, reduced funding for specialized research programmes and courses make inter-institutional collaboration increasingly necessary. New global developments in science and technology have profound implications for agricultural education institutions. For example, developments in molecular biology make possible the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another, opening up new areas of research and teaching in plant and livestock improvement. If institutions are to keep pace with rapid changes in science and technology, continuing education for faculty members is required through scientific meetings, inter-institutional exchanges collaborative workshops, among other activities.

Major factors that affect the teaching of agriculture at all levels are:

The marginalization of agriculture and rural life

As they develop, virtually all countries of the world have decreasing proportions of the economically active population dependent on agriculture. In the more industrialized countries as a whole, the percentage of full-time farmers has fallen below three percent and the proportion of the population economically dependent on agriculture is less than nine percent.

Despite increasing rural populations in most parts of the world and increased demand for food production, the percentage of the population which makes a living directly from agriculture continues to fall. Intensification of production through improved technology and increased inputs is responsible in most cases, for increased production, rather than increased numbers of producers.

Jamaica: Extension outreach at the College of Agriculture
"This requires the faculty to move from the research and teaching environment into the world of the agricultural producer and the agri-businessman who are in urgent need of technical solutions to their production and agricultural problems. This activity provides the opportunity to practice agriculture as the application of science and technology to our food and agricultural systems".
- Vera Badresingh, "Agricultural Education and Training Strategies for Higher and Intermediate Level Institutions in the Caribbean Countries: The Jamaican Situation". Caribbean Regional Round Table, 1994.
Rural population growth and increased efficiency in production lead to increased levels of unemployment and underemployment, and a consequent migratory drift to cities in search of work and better standards of living. National resources tend to be directed to satisfying the needs of urban centres due to their political and economic influence at the cost of resources for rural areas. This urban bias and rural exploitation has led to decreasing levels of real income in the rural areas.

The result is an increasing marginalization of agriculture and rural life. Funds and resources for agricultural education are reduced as national budgetary restrictions are applied. Reduced funding for general education in rural areas means poorer standards and, consequently, fewer rural young people formally qualified to enter higher agricultural education. This in turn means fewer agricultural students with an in-depth understanding of rural life and development problems. Increasingly, urban-based graduates, with little practical knowledge of rural socio-economic and bio-physical factors, are working in rural areas as development advisers. Often, curricula are developed at the national level and based on knowledge and skills which are more relevant to urban centres than rural areas.

The most important sources of knowledge relevant to development in agriculture are rural people themselves. Their systems of life and of production embody this knowledge. Consequently, the description and analysis of these systems should be a necessary starting point for research, training, extension and other actions intended to help rural people become more productive. This requires that agricultural education institutions play not only an academic role, but also a developmental role that combines knowledge of local rural production with modern agricultural science.

Population growth issues and population education

Population projections suggest that the world population will continue to increase from the present figure of around 5.5 billion to a population of between 11 and 14 billion by the end of the next century. Although the last doubling of human numbers was only about 37 years, average population growth rates are declining world-wide. For the present, however, populations continue to rise in developing regions where efforts to reduce fertility levels have met with limited success so far. Unless rapid population growth can be reduced, additional pressure will be put on increasing agricultural production in order to guarantee food security. Increasing population pressure can also contribute to the deterioration of natural and environmental resources.

Institutions of agricultural education need to incorporate population education concepts and principles into curricula since many agricultural graduates will become managers, planners, and policy/decision-makers who need to understand the dynamic inter-relationships between food, population, the environment and national socio-economic development. Students need knowledge of the substantive content of population education --for example, the impact of population growth on agriculture and natural resources, basic demography and gender issues as related to population and agriculture. Furthermore, students being trained to work as extension agents need to be able to engage farm families in dialogue about population issues and to effectively communicate population messages to rural people.

Rapid scientific progress and the pace of change

New developments in science and technology have increased the number and the depth of subjects important to an understanding of agriculture. Food processing and post-harvest technologies, biotechnology, agri-business management and farming systems development are some of the new areas which need to be incorporated into curricula. These areas may attract increasing numbers of students as new employment opportunities are created. Although agriculture and agricultural education have generally kept pace with scientific progress in the past, the pace of change is much faster today, requiring continual updating of curricula. Scientific knowledge is changing very quickly as modern communication technologies facilitate the sharing of information among scientists. It is, therefore, important that students develop the skills and attitudes that will allow them to continue to learn effectively and to develop their own competencies during the rest of their working lives.

Changing employment opportunities

Reduced aid flows, negative balances of payments and increasing pressure on government spending have led to increased commercial concerns for agricultural education and training. Curricula need to become better related to employment opportunities. This requires a continuous analysis of market needs and employers' requirements in order to plan and develop appropriate curricula.

In developing countries, the dramatic reduction in employment by government services has meant that students need to be taught knowledge and skills for the private sector. As student enrolment in agricultural education is very much related to employment opportunities, a continuous assessment is required of labour market needs and employers' requirements for the purpose of planning and developing agricultural curricula.

The message of sizeable reductions in the public sector workforce should not be lost on university and college administrators and teaching staff members; it certainly is not lost on students who are demanding curricular changes that will prepare them for employment opportunities in the private sector. Whether the slack can be taken up by the private agricultural sector depends on the overall rate of economic. Consultations with prospective private sector employers are essential for curriculum reform and to obtain estimates of the numbers and types of positions that are likely to be available for graduates.

Gender issues

Women play a major role in the world's agricultural production systems. In the less developed countries an estimated one third of all rural households are managed by women. In Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean women produce 60-80 percent of basic foodstuffs, while in Asia they perform over 50 percent of the labour involved in intensive rice cultivation. In spite of women's significant roles in agricultural production, especially in the food sectors of developing countries, gender bias is reflected in most characterizations of farming communities. This bias is also evident within the agricultural education and extension programmes of both the developed and developing countries. "Farmers" are usually seen as either genderless or male.

In recent years there has been increasing recognition of the vital roles played by women in all areas of the agricultural sector and the need for women to have access to the knowledge and skills related to agricultural production, processing and marketing. Women require training and information on specific farm practices as well as on farming systems development and economic management. Agricultural students need to be educated and informed about rural women's problems, potentials and aspirations. The issue is not one of equal treatment, it is an issue of equal benefit. In most cases, male and female audiences will need different treatment and approaches within a given formal or non-formal educational programme. Time constraints and family responsibilities are not the same for men and women, and educational programmes must take into consideration these "differences" in order to have equal benefit from educational offerings.

The question of how to attract more female students to agricultural disciplines should be linked to the issue of encouraging students from rural areas to enter higher education. The number of female students has increased over the past ten years and this trend should be supported and encouraged. More role models for young women to emulate are needed, including teachers in agricultural education institutions.

Raising the number of women in agricultural education and extension programmes is important as a means of reinforcing the commitment to understanding and changing the status of women. However, increasing the number of women professionals and practitioners will not in itself "resolve" gender bias, since women as well as men are bearers of these stereotypes.

Women practitioners must also become aware of the socio-economic and gender factors which contribute to environmental degradation and unsustainable forms of development. Once they are conscious of these relations, they can more readily act as role models for rural women and support them in their efforts to improve their status.

Environmental concerns

FAO's definition of sustainable development denotes natural resource management which conserves land, water, and plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable, and socially acceptable.

Agricultural productivity needs to be increased to meet the needs of expanding populations without sacrificing the availability and quality of non-renewable resources. Increased agricultural productivity has often been accomplished by resorting to expensive inputs, including extensive use of fossil fuel products which can damage the environment.

In many parts of the world, the increasing needs of growing populations for food, fuel and fibres has led to deforestation, severe soil erosion and loss of water resources, and eventually declining crop production. Clearly, natural resource scarcity and environmental degradation affect food security. Institutions of education in agriculture can play a leading role by clarifying issues and by helping to develop environmentally-friendly production technologies.

Agricultural education institutions need to incorporate sustainable development issues in their curricula. A holistic approach should be applied when incorporating the concept of environmental and sustainable development since it relates not only to technological concerns, but also to economic, social, cultural, ecological, and public policy matters. It will necessitate a change in attitudes, practices, policies, goals and resource allocations. In particular, an open-mindedness and willingness to innovate should be fostered with attention paid to bringing in all participant groups (students, men and women farmers, agri-businessmen, researchers, youth and others) at all relevant levels (local, regional, national and international). There is a growing belief that one of the more effective means of protecting the environment and agricultural resources is to empower local people and others directly involved in the management of natural resources to make their own analyses and decisions of what should be done.

Environmental problems clearly require an interdisciplinary research and teaching approach. Students and teachers need to observe first-hand the physical and social environment through learning activities that are problem-focused. Agricultural education needs to incorporate new skills, such as environmental economics and appraisal, as well as recognize the validity of different kinds of knowledge, including the site-specific and time-tested knowledge that farmers have of the environment.

Extension education

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. However, the extension methodology portion of the curricula and programmes of study of many agricultural education institutions is inadequate and in need of review and revision to make it more relevant to current needs. In many institutions there is a need to assess programmes of study based on: There is a tendency among many institutions to place emphasis primarily on providing students with scientific and technical knowledge in the various agricultural disciplines. Often too little attention is paid to providing the types of courses that are important for preparing students as agricultural extension workers and educators. There is also insufficient effort to provide an interdisciplinary perspective into which a wide range of different disciplinary components can be integrated. Experiential learning is missing in many course offerings.

To effectively address agricultural and rural development problems, curriculum content needs to be applied rather than theoretical. Learning needs to emphasize 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.

The Philippines

The agricultural education system in the Philippines generally lacks quality and relevance due to the rapid proliferation in the number of institutions and expansion of enrolment. As a result of this unplanned growth, coupled with financial constraints and shortage of qualified teachers, the institutions tend to be substandard, overcrowded and under-equipped. Consequently, graduates are usually poorly trained and have difficulty qualifying for employment in their respective fields. The one exception is the College of Agriculture of Los Baños where most graduates are employed in their field of study.
To address these problems, a macroplan called the "National Agricultural Education System" recommends a strategy which involves stratification and differentiation of the roles of agricultural education institutions as centres of excellence as well as collaboration among them. Under the plan, one National College of Agriculture, at least 13 Regional Colleges and 75 Provincial Institutes for Agriculture (one per province supported by the national government) are to be established with each one assigned a specific role.
- Ruben L. Villareal. "In Search of New Directions in Agricultural Education in the Philippines". Asia and Pacific Regional Round Table, 1990.

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