Posted May 1997
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In many countries, especially those which have recently become independent and those that had centrally planned economies, agricultural education and training was designed mainly to prepare officers for the administrative and technical services for rural and agricultural development, state farms and training centres. This situation of close dependency on government led to a rigidity in programmes and teaching methods, staff recruitment and mobility.
Dependency on governments also affects operational budgets. Teaching resources, technical equipment and out-of-school activities are often cut back as national economic problems arise. Agricultural education institutions may not be allowed to obtain additional resources through advisory or commercial activities, although this situation has changed in recent years in some countries.
In general, the technical and vocational level institutions are the ones most closely tied to government policy and control. In contrast, agricultural faculties which are part of comprehensive universities usually enjoy the greatest level of freedom regarding government policy. The disadvantage this often brings is their difficulty in establishing and maintaining links with research and extension.
Universities, especially comprehensive ones, base their objectives mainly on two goals which may be contradictory. They try to meet both government directives (or national needs) and the institution's own desire for national and international recognition, especially in the fields of research and educational excellence. This problem was mentioned particularly in English-speaking Africa where universities try to balance both objectives, but where the latter can rarely be realised due to the constant "brain drain" of scientists. In Latin America, by contrast, international recognition often seems to have precedence over meeting government directives and national needs.
In Central and Eastern European countries, agricultural education institutions during the communist period depended heavily on government direction. The programmes were characterised by relatively rigid organization and methods, outdated programme contents and limited opportunity for student initiatives. Faculties of agriculture were frequently separated from universities and became small units often with very narrow specializations.
Institutions of higher education in some of the more advanced developing countries (e.g. some countries in Asia and Latin America) demonstrate relative independence from government authorities concerning their teaching and research policies. Even so, many of them still depend on public services for administration and budgetary resources. Although many countries give universities constitutional guarantees of autonomy, this is often not upheld in practice. The need to redefine the main functions of agricultural education and training, and to design new frameworks for the relationship with government authorities as a whole, was a major concern at all the round tables.
In Central and Eastern Europe, where countries are in a state of transition leading to market economies, agricultural education institutions face budgetary reductions and redefinition of their educational objectives now that the public sector offers much more limited employment opportunities to graduates. The institutions of countries in these regions also need to have their place and role in national agricultural development clarified. Many governments in these countries are now preparing alternative agricultural policies, and the time is opportune to address the role of agricultural education systems.
A key feature of the curricula is the importance accorded to practical training (20 hours per week of theoretical classes and 24 hours of laboratory training). After the ninth semester, students receive training in technical and administrative decision-making. Other characteristics of the training include a multi-disciplinary approach and research programmes oriented to the problems of poor, small-scale farmers.
- Jorge Roman, Characteristics of Agricultural Education and Training at the Pan-American Agricultural School, Latin American Regional Round Table, 1991.
Participants at the regional round table for the Near East considered the agricultural education systems in the region to be overly traditional and inadequate. They felt that environmental issues and social, economic and cultural development processes are not sufficiently linked with agricultural education. They also stressed the need for involvement of potential beneficiaries in the education process.
The representatives of Central and Eastern European countries also expressed the necessity for a reorientation of teaching and research programmes to meet the needs of local communities, for the participation of these communities in the formulation of the learning programmes, and for improving the level of communication among institutions.
According to the participants at the Anglophone Africa meeting, agricultural education and training strategies need to consider the implications of rapid population growth and the consequent increasing food requirements.
Participants at the meetings considered that institutions should have governing bodies with educational, administrative and financial autonomy to allow them to conduct their teaching, research and extension responsibilities with the greatest flexibility and efficiency.
It was also felt that autonomy should include the recruitment of teaching staff and the appointment of heads of the institutes. Furthermore:
Important issues which need to be addressed include:
In response to these problems, some universities are adjusting their training objectives, making them more relevant to the current needs of agriculture and rural people. For example, they now are including in their programmes subjects such as marketing, biotechnology, computerisation, development communication systems, and non-agricultural rural land use.
In Latin America, the Latin American Association for Higher Agricultural Education stressed that this urban origin of agricultural students is now so dominant, with students having so little knowledge and experience of rural areas, that it is becoming difficult to teach them. Introducing such students to rural life and village people often requires special education programmes.
The increasing number of students with urban backgrounds has led some institutions to look for ways to ensure that these students gain a practical understanding of the realities of rural and farm life. The round table for Latin America stressed the necessity for an early integration of students in rural life through practical training before final admission and a series of practical training periods during the course of study. The round table for the Near East stressed that agricultural universities and colleges should take into consideration the aptitude of students to adapt to rural conditions and assess their willingness to follow an agricultural career before admission to programmes of study.
Two examples of successful implementation of these practices are:
Rural young women have a particular disadvantage in gaining access to agricultural education and training. Even when they receive a good basic education, they have less access to the secondary and higher education levels. In some cultures, increased numbers of female graduates are needed since only female extension agents are allowed to work directly with women farmers.
The low standards of general education in rural areas of developing countries make it difficult for rural young men and women to obtain the entry level qualifications for access to agricultural education, particularly at the higher levels. Ways to improve access by rural youth include short courses to up-grade students to the required standards, the provision of continuing education and specific 'bridges' between the various levels of education.
The round table for French-speaking Africa suggested that admission standards should be defined jointly by a number of groups according to the various types of training (formal education, up-grading or continuing education). These groups should include the agricultural education and training institutions together with the services responsible for development, the professional organizations and local communities.
The round table for Latin America considered that access to agricultural education for students from rural areas should also emphasise their experience and knowledge of the rural environment as opposed to only their academic qualifications. The round table for the Near East suggested identifying qualifications for students entering agricultural education according to their origin (i.e. rural areas or urban areas). It was also suggested that governments give students a better preparation by introducing agriculture into general education systems at the primary and secondary levels.
In spite of recent initiatives, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are the regions which have the lowest adult rates of functional illiteracy. Part of the problem is the lack of relevance to rural life of much of what is taught in rural schools. Teaching of basic literacy should be combined with teaching practical skills for rural employment and agricultural production.
The following are examples where integrated programmes have linked basic literacy with practical skills training are:
Since 1975, Guinea Bissau has conducted Senior Primary Education Courses for young people aged 12 to 16 years through Integrated Popular Education Centres (Centros de Educaÿao Popular Integrada). The approach relies on observation and experience of village life. Teaching is structured into four themes: agricultural production; health; handicrafts and processing techniques; and the rural community and its culture.
For more than 30 years, Burkina Faso has conducted a special education programme for young people from rural areas who have never been to school and, due to their age, will never have an opportunity for formal rural schooling. This system of Training Centres for Young Farmers links basic literacy courses with practical technical training. Training of three years duration is given in the villages and relies heavily on the rural community. The instructors are trained in a special institution. Two upper level centres then receive the best graduates from the 350 centres. The system has become so successful that some parents now prefer this programme to conventional schooling, and are pressing for even younger youth to be admitted to the centres. Some also consider these centres as a remedial system for admission into secondary level conventional institutions.
Senegal has Medium Level Vocational Training Centres which train about 45,000 students annually from the primary education level. The centres were established following a study of the needs and potential of the surrounding areas. Business and community leaders, as well as the parents of trainees, participate in the education programmes. The training is practical and oriented towards agriculture, handicrafts and household management. The centres are managed by a training co-ordinator who helps the instructors in the teaching of knowledge and skills. These co-ordinators are trained in a special three-year programme.
A number of countries include an introduction to agriculture at the primary school level, particularly in English-speaking Africa. The practice of school gardens, sometimes supported by World Food Programme (WFP) projects, is widely practised in rural areas, but generally without technical support from extension officers or agriculturally trained teachers. This fragmentary approach is rarely sufficient because of a lack of resources and the inadequate training of teachers. It also does not meet the full need for a 'ruralization' of basic education in those countries or areas where there is a large rural population that has different educational needs from those of urban residents.
The round table for French-speaking Africa linked ruralization with the orientation of the education system towards self employment, distinguishing between two groups and the purpose of their training for employment, future opportunities, and place in modern society:
Agricultural education in secondary schools has been debated in many countries. Should it be seen as a vocational subject, or part of the mainstream educational curriculum? In both cases, the difficulty in finding and training competent teachers was mentioned by participants. Very interesting programmes of secondary school agriculture can be found in Kenya and Swaziland.
This situation calls for more interaction among academic staff of institutions of higher education in agriculture and members of the farming community. The development of mechanisms and channels of communication which institutionalize the process of developing, transferring and utilizing knowledge is of vital importance for the training of extension workers. Periodic curriculum review and revision keep the knowledge-base relevant and ensure that there will not be a "cultural gap" between extension workers and the ultimate beneficiaries of the knowledge base of farmers and rural dwellers.