Education Knowledge

Posted May 1997

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


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3. Internal issues in agricultural education

Internal coherence of the agricultural education system

One of the issues of concern to participants at the round table for Central and Eastern Europe was the creation of a sufficiently flexible and diversified system of technical agricultural education. The system, it was felt, should allow the adaptation of courses to local needs as well as to students' professional career interests. Technical-level agricultural education and training has two major objectives: These two objectives, however, can only be reconciled with difficulty. The number of graduates who manage to move up the higher education ladder are few compared to those who come from the general education mainstream.

Countries where technical agricultural education is provided in separate colleges or high schools (French-speaking Africa, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe) often have weak links and exchanges among institutions resulting in isolation and frequent duplication in basic science teaching. Co-ordination between technical and higher levels of agricultural education is generally very poor.

Various possible solutions to this problem were mentioned by participants:

Continuing education and in-service training

Institutions which have continuing education systems have generally designed them to update farmers' and technical officers' knowledge, or to qualify staff at various levels for promotion. Although often set up to respond to identified needs on an ad hoc basis, continuing education should nevertheless be integrated into a clearly defined strategy for agricultural human resource development.

Benin
Continuing Education programme at the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences, Cotonou, Benin: A programme of continuing education for "agricultural entrepreneurs" has been created. In addition, a system is being developed to provide continuing education through seminars, workshops and training schemes in collaboration with government institutions and regional organizations.
- French-Speaking Africa Round Table 1990.
Portuguese-speaking Africa (São Tomé and Principe) has a continuing education system oriented towards farmers, field officers, technical specialists and farmer association leaders. In Central and Eastern Europe, continuing education is used for the training of teachers and agricultural technicians.

The participants of the round table for Portuguese-speaking Africasuggested that continuing education should, wherever possible, make use of partner organizations such as farmer associations, graduate associations, NGOs, commercial enterprises and research and extension centres.

When formal education is structured in modules, it allows the use of some modules with students and trainees engaged in continuing education. The cases in which continuing education is structured according to modules are extremely rare, with Agropolis in France being one of the exceptions.

The participants at the meetings recommended that all levels of agricultural education institutions should organize continuing education activities in order to make more efficient use of staff skills and resources and to contribute to improved human resources for national agricultural and rural development.

Improving educational methods

All the participants at the round table and expert consultation meetings agreed that the many recent changes in expectations from and demands on the agriculture education system require a re-examination of teaching methods. Without abandoning conventional formal teaching completely, the participants mentioned the following learning activities to consider integrating into programmes: The use of varied and participatory methods of teaching involving a range of activities with students working either alone or in groups, and the increased number of specialised options, make it necessary to develop new methods of evaluation. Evaluation of students can be through the implementation of a special project, intensive coursework and final exams and conventional graduation thesis. There is scope for both objective evaluation, which is the more traditional approach, and subjective evaluation, which may allow learners themselves to evaluate their satisfaction with the training received. However, considerable care should be taken to maintain compatible standards between different methods of evaluation.

Imported programmes and methods

The participants at the various meetings mentioned that many agricultural education institutions have adopted programmes and teaching methods imported from Western industrialized countries without adaptation. This is often due to the employment of expatriate teaching staff or nationals trained abroad who lack both local teaching experience and sufficient knowledge of the agricultural and rural development conditions of the country. The shortage of locally-adapted textbooks and teaching materials worsens the situation.

A continuous programme of curriculum development and adaptation of methods and materials to suit current and local needs are required. However, a major difficulty in doing this lies in the internal rigidity of the educational systems and institutions. It was observed at the round table for Central and Eastern Europe that if the changes are introduced due to government pressure, then they are not accepted by the universities, and if they originate in institutions of higher learning, they are fragmentary. However, the role of government is very important since it not only brings to bear the necessary pressure, but also the funds indispensable for introducing change.

Budgetary and financial issues

In most developing countries, the source of funding and financial support for agricultural education, is the national (or regional/provincial) government. Tuition fees and other possible sources of income (donations and institutional revenue) are usually of limited significance. In many cases, income from farm production or provision of various kinds of services by the institutions have to be paid into central government accounts.

In most countries, agricultural institutions operate on the basis of an annual budget and follow standard public accounting regulations. The budget depends to a large extent on the number of students, previous funding level and government capacity (and willingness) to support the institution. The economic crisis of the last ten years, and recurrent structural adjustment measures, have imposed severe budgetary restrictions in many countries that have negatively affected support to agricultural education.

The analysis of 20 case studies of institutions, carried out for the 1991 expert consultation, showed that institutional budgets barely cover teachers' salaries. Up to 85 percent of the total budget is often used for salaries, with very limited funds remaining for teaching aids and materials.

Agricultural education and training is expensive since it requires teaching aids, scientific and technical equipment as well as adequately equipped training and experimental farms. The initial expenses to provide buildings, teaching equipment, text books and teaching materials, agricultural machinery, etc. have been provided, in the past, by governments and/or external assistance. The maintenance and replacement of these facilities is generally not guaranteed, however, and are beyond the resources of many institutions in developing countries. In some cases, institutions may own sophisticated equipment, such as electron microscopes or mainframe computers, but lack the means to replace simple items such as microscope slides and computer disks, or to repair agricultural machinery. Participants at all the meetings mentioned the cost of keeping up-to-date with scientific documentation through research and teaching libraries and through subscriptions to international scientific journals.

The technical agricultural education institutions (medium-level and vocational) in many developing countries face great difficulties in ensuring a properly equipped, maintained and functioning school farm. In some countries, the machinery buildings of these school farms are 'cemeteries' and the barns are empty. As a result, the school farms rarely achieve their objectives in experimentation, teaching or agricultural production.

General staff issues

Higher education. During recent years, some institutions of higher education have made great efforts to recruit teaching staff with top university qualifications and to improve the qualifications of existing staff. However, budget cutbacks, have made it difficult to maintain teaching standards due to reductions in staff development programmes, especially those involving training abroad.

The limited budgetary resources of many institutions often do not allow teachers to obtain the scientific and technical publications necessary to keep their knowledge current, or to conduct research or extension activities. This has resulted in a decline in the standards of teaching, research and extension in many countries. Budgetary limitations and lack of resources were also mentioned as obstacles which prevents teaching staff trained in Europe or the USA from adapting their theoretical knowledge to local conditions. One recommendation was that opportunities for teaching staff exchanges should be explored and further developed as part of an incentive plan to provide a higher level of satisfaction.

Technical education. As technical/vocational institutions have a closer dependency on government authorities than universities, they are more deeply affected by budgetary and administrative constraints. The quality of staff at technical institutions was described as appallingly inadequate (Anglophone Africa round table meeting). At the Francophone Africa round table meeting, teaching staff were described as poorly qualified, lacking in enthusiasm and not prepared for their job. In Latin America, the emphasis was on the huge differences in preparation, quality and resources between university education and technical/vocational education.

In the Near East and Portuguese-speaking Africa, this lack of balance is such that the agricultural education system was compared to an inverted pyramid with the level of knowledge and teaching skills falling very rapidly from the university level at the top to technical schools and below.

While the quality and quantity of support staff vary considerably from one country or institution to another, depending on budgetary constraints and the traditional standards of technical education, the main problems faced by intermediate-level teaching staff are:

Staff turnover. The low level of salaries and lack of facilities for research activities often lure university staff to employment in private or parastatal organizations, or to work in foreign countries due to higher salaries and better professional conditions. The result of this is either a rapid turn-over of teaching staff, as mentioned in Anglophone and Francophone Africa, or a high average age of staff due to the low intake of younger candidates, as in Central and Eastern Europe. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the difficulty in building up a cadre of teaching staff has led to a high proportion of part-time teachers who split their time between various commercial activities at the cost of teaching quality. This may also have positive implications, however, if the commercial activities are relevant to the teaching and research activities.

The lack of professional recognition of teaching was a concern expressed by many of the participants at the meetings. Issues to consider in order to improve professional status include:

Staff education, training and status

Higher agricultural education. At the higher education level, in contrast to the technical level, staff generally appear to have a sufficient basic level of education. However, governments and institutions need to encourage staff by providing adequate resources for them to keep informed of advances and developments in their specific disciplines. Involvement with research activities and development projects is also needed for staff to keep in contact with practical developments in their fields.

An example of agricultural teaching staff benefiting by a special programme is Malaysia, where the staff attachment programme provides temporary posting to relevant government agencies for continuing practical training.

Either during their initial education, or through staff improvement programmes, university teachers from developing countries often receive part of their training abroad. Although such training represents an enrichment of the institution, they also encourage a "brain-drain". Young teachers, who have graduated abroad, often need to readapt themselves when they return to their countries. Various methods have been tested to avoid training abroad resulting in a "brain-drain".

Some countries, such as China and Thailand, require students after a period of study abroad to either return and work in their own country for the same period (or longer) that they have spent abroad, or to repay the full cost of their training.

When training medium-level agricultural teachers in France, Cameroon, uses a different approach. A training contract is drawn up between the two institutions concerned. This contract consists of a commitment by one institution for part of its training programmes to be carried out in the other institution. The results of the students' work are evaluated by a joint committee and the diploma awarded is from the institution of origin. A similar programme is used by the Colegio de Postgraduados in Mexico in conjunction with some universities in California (USA).

The best long-term solution to this problem involves improved organization of the education institution, improved status of teaching as a profession and the creation of appropriate staff incentives.

Evaluation of staff is an extremely important element in their career development. It should not be limited to their knowledge alone, but also consider:

Technical agricultural education.. The initial education, continuing education and refresher courses for teachers of technical agricultural education, whether they teach at upper secondary or at vocational levels, should be of particular concern. According to participants at the regional round tables, vocational agricultural instructors need to: As with teachers in higher education, technical agricultural teachers need to receive incentives and be evaluated according to their work so as to allow for promotion possibilities and/or change to other activities at the same level.

Training and management of teaching teams. An efficient educational system requires the formation of coherent teaching teams that are able to work together. Teaching staff often come from a variety of backgrounds making team management a concern these include, for example:

Such mixed groups have difficulty in acting as a team without assistance. Refresher seminars and workshops are needed to develop teaching teams that can work together efficiently.

Specialized centres. Participants at the meetings suggested that specific institutions should be created to address research and training in the field of agricultural education. These institutions could be at national or regional levels. Research in agricultural pedagogy as well as the organization of exchanges of teaching experiences could benefit from the establishment of such specialized centres.

The participants at the round table for French-speaking Africa strongly supported the creation of an Institut Supérieur de Pédagogie Agricole (Higher Institute for Agricultural Pedagogy) in charge of agricultural pedagogy, documentation, research and training for West Africa. The round table for Asia and the Pacific, recommended reliance on regional institutions at each level for research and training. They suggested that such activities should receive assistance from bilateral, regional and international agencies. The National Academy for Agricultural Research Management (NAATM) at Hyderabad already plays this role for university education and research in India.

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