Education Knowledge

Posted May 1997

Agricultural Education and Training:
Issues and Opportunities - Part II (continued)


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2. Introducing new topics into the agricultural curriculum

Although agriculture education has generally kept pace with scientific progress in the past, the pace of change is much faster today. The extent of scientific advances in the fields of biotechnology, computers and communications allows shorter assimilation periods. In a global economy, food processing, storage and marketing are aspects of the production process that have become increasingly important to agricultural producers, and thus to agricultural education. As stressed by participants in all of the meetings, agricultural education and training needs to take into account new subject areas and their socio-economic consequences.

The increasing concern with environmental protection and the preservation of natural resources makes research and teaching on subjects such as crop protection and integrated pest management, rational use of fertilisers and soil and water conservation more pressing. Programmes of study have been concerned largely with intensive, high-input production techniques. Students need to have the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for sustainable agricultural and rural development.

Environmental issues

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stresses in its International Strategy for Action in the Field of Environmental Education and Training for 1990's, the pressing need to integrate environmental issues throughout all agricultural training courses.

In those regions which remain principally agricultural, environmental issues are related to inappropriate production techniques and farming systems. The least developed farming systems often cause deforestation and soil degradation while more advanced systems, which seek productivity at all costs, often result in soil and water pollution through excessive use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Furthermore, despite the numerous interactions with agriculture, problems of urban and/or industrial pollution often are not included in agricultural education in industrialized countries, and are rarely mentioned in developing countries.

Nigeria
Environmental Education and Sustainable Development Policies at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry in Ibadan, Nigeria: Environmental education is an integral part of the various agricultural degree programmes and research activities at the faculty. A pilot programme on rural development covers 31 villages, 20 focusing on forest ecology and 11 focusing on savannah ecology. Training is given to staff of governmental and NGO institutions on environmental issues related to the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Individual teaching staff conduct outreach relevant to environmental issues and problems as part of their research by giving expert advice to farmers through demonstrations, distribution of bulletins and other activities.
- Expert Consultation on Integrating Environmental and Sustainable Development Themes into Agricultural Education and Extension Programmes, 1993
The rapid growth of cities and urban-based industries has resulted in increased stress on the rural environment through air and water pollution, soil degradation, occupation of the better lands, scoring of slopes, and the dumping of liquid and solid wastes. These concerns are common to all regions, regardless of their level of development. There is a danger, however, that such problems will become even more serious in developing countries (where urbanisation is less controlled and industrialization at its beginning) than they have in developed countries. For example, since the collapse of the socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the extremely high levels of urban, agricultural and industrial pollution have become matters of serious public concern.

Institutions of higher education in agriculture play a vital role in bringing about changes in peoples' attitudes and practices so that they are more environmentally responsible. Developed countries have for some time been including environmental concerns in their teaching curricula, research activities and outreach programmes. For example, the safe use of chemicals has been part of curricula in most agricultural education programmes for more than a decade. However, this integration of environmental aspects has been almost exclusively concerned with production agriculture.

Developing country institutions have also included some environmental aspects of production agriculture. Some of the critical threats to small-farm agriculture, such as soil erosion, safe input use and water conservation, have been addressed. Overall, there is a generalised appreciation for environmental and sustainable development issues and a willingness to include it in current educational programmes in both developed and less developed countries.

Current practice does not, however, demonstrate widespread integration of environmental and sustainable agriculture themes into academic programmes. Rather, these themes are added piecemeal to existing demands. There is, therefore, a pressing need for substantial change in many agricultural education systems in order to fully integrate environmental concerns.

Agricultural universities should focus directly on attitudes and practices for the conserving use of natural resources, expand the agro-ecological knowledge base and educate the general population (not just students) about the environmental effects of their actions. The ultimate goal should be a contribution to the fullest possible awareness of and commitment to environmentally responsible behaviour in all segments of society.

The 1993 expert consultation identified three main issues affecting the challenge of integrating environmental and sustainable development themes into agricultural education and extension programmes. First, such concerns are complex and diverse. They involve social, cultural, political and economic aspects as well as technical and scientific information. No blueprint solutions are available for all situations. Hence, an interdisciplinary approach is essential.

Secondly, agricultural education and extension organizations are not always structured to deal with the complexity of these issues. Substantial institutional reorientation may be necessary. Thirdly, new paradigms of learning and knowing which incorporate the knowledge of local people are necessary as alternatives to top-down approaches. The classical approach of technology generation and transfer of 'correct' messages should be reconsidered in favour of empowerment of local communities to solve their own problems. An ultimate aim should be to make environmental issues inseparable from the production goals of farmers, the objectives of industry and manufacturing and the needs of society for a safe and secure environment.

The participants observed that both specialized and broad-based education will be required in order to sensitize students to environmental and sustainable development issues, depending on educational level and the specific environmental problems of the areas in which the graduates will work. In order to achieve such changes, the training and redeployment of teachers may be needed along with the greater involvement of students and younger staff in the design of new curricula.

There is a recognised need for strengthened university research programmes and better linkages with national agricultural research stations. With universities being the training grounds for research scientists, it is imperative that faculty members be well trained and prepared to deal with issues related to sustainable development. There is also scope for co-operation between institutions of agricultural education and communities in addressing environment and natural resource subjects.

Population education

Participants at all regional meetings emphasized the importance of population issues in relation to development problems. The round table for English-speaking Africa stressed the relationship between population growth and food production. Overpopulation in African countries results in land pressure and destructive agricultural practices. African leaders have assigned population considerations a high priority in rural development planning.

Population education in the agricultural development context is a learning process aimed at developing awareness and understanding of the nature, causes and implications of population growth and distribution as they relate to agricultural productivity and rural development, and how these issues affect, and are affected by, farmers, their families and society as a whole. One of the best ways to help achieve widespread population education is through agricultural education and training institutions, of which there are over 600 in Africa.

Population education can be integrated into training institutes through three main approaches:

An FAO/UNFPA project in Malawi has taken the route of integrating population issues into existing courses of study at the Natural Resources College and the National Forestry College. The project is a response to escalating concerns about the relationships between rapid population growth, food security, land use, environmental stress and poverty in Malawi. The country has one of the highest annual population growth rates in Africa and its population density is one of the highest on the continent.

The basic strategy of the project is to enable extension agents to include population education, as it relates to agriculture and forestry, in their extension work with farm families. To effect this strategy, the project has two extension training components, pre-service training for students and in-service training for agents in the field.

While decisions on family size remain the domain of individual families and couples, there is increasing support for enabling farm families to make informed population-related decisions that affect them, their communities and the nation. Bolstering this position is one of the objectives of the project: to enhance farm family understanding of the effects of rapid population growth on agricultural and forestry resources and of the actions required to balance population growth with resources.

A basic goal of population education within the curriculum is to increase student knowledge of the substantive content of the field of population education as it relates to agriculture and forestry, and basic demography and gender issues as they relate to population, agriculture and forestry.

Gender issues

In recent years there has been increased awareness of the crucial roles that play in agricultural production. A major factor contributing to the process of women becoming more responsible for farm management is the migration of men to urban centres in search of employment. However, in spite of the predominance of women's labour in many farming systems, and of a significant and rising proportion of female-headed farms, gender bias remains widespread. This bias is evident throughout the world's agricultural systems.

The Caribbean
Data on the distribution of male and female students for seven institutions in the Caribbean region in 1993/94 showed that, on average, there were twice as many male students as female ones (67.4 % men, and 32.6% women). There were, however, significant regional variations. The lowest percentage of female students attended the Belize College of Agriculture (11.6%) whilst the highest percentage attended the St. Vincent Technical College (70.6%).
- Background Report, Caribbean Round Table 1994.
The 1991 expert consultation urged that special efforts be made to recruit and support female students from rural areas who could become extension agents, agricultural researchers, teachers and policy-makers. One of the reasons why there are few women extension workers, researchers and other agricultural professionals is the small number of female graduates from intermediate and higher level agricultural education institutions. Yet, there are various countries where the enrolments of women are proportionately high. On average in Africa, FAO data show that there has been a 10 percent increase from 1983 to 1993, from about 15 to 25 percent female enrolment in agricultural education institutions.

According to a 1994 publication commissioned by the Working Group on Higher Education, constituted by the Donors to African Education (DAE) and under the auspices of the Association of African Universities (AUU), "Gender is the single most important basis of inequality" in education. The 1991 expert consultation acknowledged that it will not be easy to address the issue of increasing the enrolment of women in agricultural education institutions. However, it said affirmative action can be taken. Talented young women can be identified and institutional admission policies can be modified to encourage the enrolment of more female students.

Gender bias, however, is not just apparent when considering female enrolment rates. Agricultural education programmes and training curricula also need to become more gender-responsive by taking into account women's roles in agricultural production, harvest, storage, processing and marketing. Similarly, agricultural extension services have not effectively served women farmers. Extension information also needs to address the production and consumption technology needs of rural households from a gender perspective.

These concerns were addressed in a paper (Agricultural Education and Training to Address Gender Issues) presented at the round table for Asia. The paper stressed the importance of taking both men's and women's roles into consideration in planning training programmes and provides some examples which could be used to adapt curricula appropriately. The role of agricultural education in training extension workers to respond to the needs of women farmers was also discussed.

In taking gender into account, three interrelated components need to be considered: the activity profile, the resource benefit profile and the constraints analysis.

Agricultural education institutions should incorporate these components into the training of students and extension officers. Gender surveys and research on the roles of rural men and women in agriculture should be carried out in this perspective and periodic in-service training for teaching staff offered as techniques and knowledge in gender are improved.

Training programmes also need to help students who will work in extension become aware that reaching women farmers requires special efforts. When women are physically present at public discussions, they often do not participate, or only ratify the opinions of men. Moreover, in many cultures, male "outsiders" are not permitted to contact women. Specific efforts must be made to involve women in the extension process, although this will depend on the circumstances in each country and will vary by region, religion and ethnic group.

The participants of the meetings observed that in many countries there is a trend for increased involvement of women students in agricultural sciences at the technical or higher levels. However, this often has not resulted in improved technology transfer to women farmers because few female graduates are employed in extension work.

The round table for Near East observed that in spite of the increasing role of women in agriculture, Tunisia is the only country in the region which has established an agricultural secondary school for women. Institutions may have gender-blind admittance policies, but due to traditional barriers female graduates have problems finding employment in agriculture.

Gender blind policies have, at best, resulted in activities or training courses in which men and women are treated equally. The results have always been inadequate. It is not only the equal treatment of men and women that is important. It is equal benefits that are important. Equal treatment does not necessarily lead to equal benefits for both men and women. Indeed, the treatment may have to be different in order to take into consideration the different needs, time constraints and activities of men and women.

It is, of course, unrealistic to expect female professionals to be exclusively responsible for overcoming the constraints of women farmers since men will continue to dominate extension work for some time. Therefore, colleges of agriculture need to develop training material to prepare all extension agents, both men and women, to help women farmers. Agents already in service will need to be retrained through seminars and workshops on the roles of both men and women in agriculture.

The duration and specialization of education programmes

The introduction of new subjects and concerns into education and training programmes has been dealt with by increasing the length of training and/or by earlier specialization of students. In some cases, this has led to specialization of institutions themselves. Both these trends, however, have their limits, which are being rapidly reached due to the pace of increase in new knowledge.

Rapid developments in science and technology, make it impossible to acquire, in a single learning period, all knowledge and skills which will be useful during professional life. The participants at several of the meetings expressed concern that an excessively long initial training period keeps students away from the reality of professional life and makes it harder for them to solve real problems when they eventually begin work.

For this reason, some of the participants suggested that the higher agricultural education cycle should be discontinuous. Admission to an upper level should only be possible after some years of professional activity following graduation at the immediately lower level. Such professional periods could be required after Diploma, or more often after the B.Sc. level, and before post-graduate education.

Most countries that have experimented with this type of training structure, however, have done so only with regard to the promotion, or upgrading, of civil servants. The conventional pattern of training has continued, at the same time, without a professional break. Two cases of discontinuous training for civil servants are the Institut National de Promotion Supérieure Agricole (INPSA) in France, which trains at B.Sc. level, and the Colegio de Postgraduados, in Mexico, which trains M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. In both cases, a requirement of two or three years of professional activity is required for admission.

Post harvest loss prevention: a case study
The round table for Asia and the Pacific discussed a case study on post-harvest loss prevention as an example of a new subject area for teaching at university and intermediate levels in the regions. Post-harvest food losses are very important in this region and can often be as high as 30% or more of production. The real challenge to educational programmes is to apply an integrated systems approach to food production, harvesting, storage, distribution, processing and consumption. Individual courses can then be more usefully developed within this overall framework.
- Asia and Pacific Round Table, 1990.
The extension of this discontinuous pattern to the agricultural education system as a whole is close to approval in Cameroon's National Institute for Rural Development (Dschang). The system is, however, expensive and needs financial assistance to support students, and could therefore be difficult to organize on a wide scale.

The alternative to increasing the total duration of training in order to cover the increased amount of subject matter is early specialization. There are obvious advantages to all students receiving a general background in foundation subjects before specialization. Participants felt that higher education in agriculture should, therefore, be structured according to a common general curriculum incorporating basic sciences and techniques in which interdisciplinary issues are considered. Diversified training would then follow, leading to graduation in specialist options.

The model adopted by Poland is structured in this way. Students make three choices about their programme at the beginning of the third year and, if they continue, they make further choices for their Master's and Ph.D. theses. This is similar to the system which is widely used in the UK. Hungary is organizing a programme in which elective courses, associated with compulsory basic courses, are presented as options which students may choose.

Although it is desirable that every university offer a range of specializations, it is impractical and inefficient for all to offer every speciality. Smaller and poorer countries cannot generally afford to offer a comprehensive range of specializations. For specializations, it is often better and more efficient to co-operate with other national or international institutions in order to provide the complete range needed.

A systems approach

Rapid changes in agricultural and food systems have increased the pressure for either longer courses or further specialization as students often experience difficulty in integrating the information they receive in different courses. At some stage of their training they need an overview of the agricultural and rural systems of their countries. It was noted that in industrialized countries there is a shift in emphasis to an holistic systems approach to agriculture which stresses the relationships of the individual parts to the whole.

Thailand
The Faculty of Agriculture at Chiang Mai University, Thailand aims to promote sound environmental practices and sustainable agriculture through teaching, research and extension. In particular, its "systems analysis" approach integrates the biophysical and socio-economic aspects of environmental management. A great deal of research is done by the faculty. Of 71 studies listed by field, 30 were in agricultural systems, an outgrowth of the interdisciplinary research conducted by the faculty's Multiple Cropping Centre.
- 1993 Expert Consultation on Integrating Environmental and Sustainable Development Themes into Agricultural Education and Extension Programmes.
The systems approach is an holistic and interdisciplinary approach that considers the interactions between physical and biological factors and their effects on the farm household and its environment. The concept covers cropping systems, livestock, fisheries, and agroforestry as well as socio-economic and commercial issues. Integration within the larger systems in which the farm/household is embedded is also considered.

Participants at the meetings stressed that training in the systems approach to development is now needed for agricultural education as a whole. This point was made many times and involved concerns such as the increasing complexity of the agricultural, food and rural systems, the problems of environmental protection and management, women farmers and household issues and the needs of small-scale farmers. The core elements in teaching a systems approach to development and interdisciplinary work apply to training students at every level of education.

Teaching the farming systems approach is important in order to provide students with knowledge and skills to understand the different components of farming systems, their interdependence and effects on the decisions of farmers. Training in the systems approach requires a teaching methodology using case studies, problem solving approaches and practical exercises.

A farming systems teaching programme might include the following elements:

Conventional subject matter teaching should take place within an inter-disciplinary framework of agricultural systems rather than as isolated subjects. Interdisciplinary work can take place in many ways. Each institution will need to build up its own methods, according to its resources and issues to be solved. However, it is important that staff and students master some elements of the 'language' of other disciplines. This should be seen as part of the broad initial education of students before specialization, or carried out through specific training workshops. Mastering interdisciplinary working methods and a systems approach may be easier for students who have farming backgrounds than for students from urban areas who are not familiar with agricultural environments.

Relationship of agricultural education and training with research

With few exceptions, the round tables and expert consultations noted that relationships between agricultural education and training institutions and agricultural research services were inadequate. In many countries, this is the result of the deliberate separation of research and education. Agricultural research is generally conducted in research stations and laboratories, the majority of which are not linked with universities, although cases of collaboration between staff exist.

China
Close relationship of agricultural education and training with research in China: Students and teachers of agricultural colleges and universities in China play active roles in applied research. The results of research are an important criteria in students gaining qualifications from an institution. Research programmes for underdeveloped areas are carried out under close co-ordination with local authorities.
- Asia and Pacific Regional Round Table, 1990.
Research activities are often carried out as part of postgraduate programmes in institutions of higher agricultural education in spite of limited and often decreasing resources. However, these activities are often not directly related to national research programmes since the choice of research priorities and items depends more on the initiatives of the teaching staff. Professional prestige and promotion are frequently seen as more important than solving local agricultural problems. Furthermore, the amount of work related to teaching and administrative responsibilities often does not allow teaching staff enough time for research.

The most significant exceptions to this separation of education and research are those countries which have adopted the North American Land Grant University system. In India, for example, agricultural universities carry out an important part of research activities and are integrated within the programmes of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). Some specialised centres of ICAR (termed University Centres), in turn, offer postgraduate MSc or Ph.D. training programmes.

Japan's universities have two official aims, namely to conduct both basic and applied research and to train students on the basis of the research findings. This has resulted in very close links between the universities and research services, although there are fewer links with extension.

Other examples are:

In order to help ensure that research activities reflect farmers' needs, the round table for Latin America recommended that education institutions produce research results themselves and maintain contact with research centres to gain an understanding of agricultural development needs. This research should be carried out in association with producers and researchers, and the results should be introduced into teaching programmes.

The participation of higher education institutions in research activities needs to be planned as part of the regular activities of the teaching staff and their students. The credibility of these activities, and the possibility of obtaining necessary resources, depend on the activities being of interest to farmers and integrated into the programmes of the national agricultural research system. In some cases, institutionalised relationships have been established between research and university systems to conduct research. In many cases, however, the importance of conducting research relevant to farmers' needs is overlooked because greater importance is attached to professional prestige and funding possibilities. For agricultural education institutions to participate more fully in research, the role of research should be clearly defined in the policies of the institution, including the research responsibilities of staff and relationships to the national agricultural research system.

Relationship of agricultural education and training to extension

Close relations between agricultural education institutions, the extension system and the farming community were considered indispensable by participants at the meetings in order to maintain the relevance of agricultural education.

As with research, however, the current involvement of higher agricultural education in extension and rural development is often limited. Even in those countries where extension and education are not separated into different ministries, the lack of resources and linking mechanisms greatly limit joint outreach activities. As with research, notable exceptions are those institutions which have been organized with outreach/extension responsibilities and are provided with the necessary means to carry them out.

The round table for Asia noted some strategies for increasing the involvement of educational institutions in agricultural and rural outreach/extension activities:

In India, the responsibility for extension falls to a large extent on universities. They provide training and technical support to extension subject-matter specialists and maintain direct contacts with significant numbers of farmers. The universities often maintain their own units of extension and communication for this purpose. For example, they have been active partners in the "Green Revolution" in cereal research and extension.

The Colegio de Postgraduados in Montecillo, Mexico has established a Centre for Development Studies with four regional units, one in each ecological zone of the country. These units provide a link between academic activities and rural producers and organizations.

Technical training institutions often have closer links with extension and development activities than do universities for the following reasons:

Examples of such institutions presented at the round table for French-speaking Africa are Matourkou in Burkina Faso and Kolo in Niger.

A suggested way for universities and technical institutes to implement development outreach activities is by follow-up and technical support for graduates after they are established in agri-businesses and/or their own production enterprises. This support can be provided by means of individual advice or short courses of continuing education.

The use of community-based resource persons in training and education

The participation in education and training activities by resource persons and organizations from outside the institution was mentioned by participants at some round tables as offering the advantage of: Such participation, however, depends on instructors making time for contacts with the outside world and on programmes and training activities being closely monitored.

Very few institutions are organized in this way at present. Examples mentioned were Centre d'Enseignement Moyen Pratique (CEMP) in Senegal, a medium level vocational training centre, and at the higher education level, the Institut Agricole de Bouaké in Ivory Coast and Agropolis in France. Many institutions, even if they have not adapted their programmes according to this strategy, often include representatives of the agricultural industry in their governing bodies.

In discussing the above problems, the participants at the meetings stressed that agricultural education and training need to be considered as a single system. Vocational/technical education, university education and continuing education short courses should be a coherent system, allowing students to enter at various points and with programmes complementing each other at different levels.

Independence or attachment

Various arguments were presented at the various meetings to justify the existence (or creation) of a separate agricultural education system under the technical ministry or ministries in charge of agricultural and rural development, rather than the Ministry of Education. These included: Such a system, to remain flexible and efficient, would necessarily be of limited size.

Integration with the general system of education of the country was also recommended, with the following arguments:

The procedures followed vary according to tradition and the level of education being considered. At the higher education level, it is common for institutions to be dependent on the Ministry of Education, or sometimes a specialized ministry such as a Ministry for Higher Education and Research. However, even in these cases, some participants expressed their preference for agricultural universities rather than faculties of agriculture within comprehensive universities. This preference was mentioned by representatives from countries as different as India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Peru, and Russia.

Nigeria reported that there exist 15 federal and 10 state universities with faculties of agriculture and that the difficulties of integration were so great that in 1988 the government created two federal agricultural universities, one for each agro-ecological zone of the country, under the Ministry of Agriculture. Agricultural universities in India and China also come under the responsibility of technical ministries.

Institutions below the degree level are generally dependent on technical ministries, for example, vocational technical schools and the high schools of the French system. In some countries, however, they depend on the Ministry of Higher Education (Cameroon, Madagascar). Although these institutions have difficulties in obtaining a sufficient degree of autonomy under the technical ministries, this arrangement was generally considered preferable at this level.

Joint programmes of education at university level

Most participants at the meetings thought that agreements between general education and agricultural education institutions would be beneficial. Some examples of how this has been done successfully are the use of visiting, part-time professors, or resource persons from general education institutions, and agreements which allow students of agricultural higher education to receive their education in basic sciences in the faculty of sciences of general education universities.

More frequently, however, a common education of one or two years is organized within the agricultural education institution itself and students then specialize in agronomy, zoology, veterinary sciences, forestry, or other specializations.

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