|Primary School Agriculture: Volume I: Pedagogy (GTZ, 1985, 144 p.)|
|Part I: Pedagogical foundations of primary school agriculture|
|3. Approaches to the teaching of agriculture|
In this section, a few approaches to the teaching of agriculture
in primary schools will be presented so that the reader may compare them and
judge the merits of each. On the evidence of two particular cases, we shall then
briefly examine the gap between educational theory and what actually goes on in
3.1.1 Agriculture as a Vocational Subject
This approach is followed, for example, in Kenya. Practical work
and a high level of production are important. The emphasis is on modern methods
of agriculture. Textbooks are structured according to crops with detailed
information as to the methods used in obtaining high yields. There is no
reference to other subjects. Specially trained teachers are required who ideally
have the qualities of a good farmer or farm manager. The assessment of pupils is
based on their performance in the garden and on the farm. This approach is also
the one being followed in the current educational reform in Rwanda. It was
prevalent in colonial days and is used today in most post-primary
3.1.2 The Concept of Rural Science
In the anglophone provinces of Cameroon and in countries like Nigeria and Ghana, agriculture is or was incorporated in a broader subject labelled Rural Science. The plan of A.F. Ndenge's book "Science for the Beginner" neatly exemplifies the structure of the subject:
- the soil
- farm and garden management
- crop husbandry
- animal husbandry
- ventilation and overcrowding
- first aid
- organs of the body
- body systems
- classes of food and drinks; food preservation; diet
- common worms
- dead and living material
- money and trade
- engines and machines
- clubs and societies
- some important Cameroon industries
The syllabuses and schemes of work provide for experimentation and observation. Practical activities take place on the school farms. The scope of this subject is not confined to pre-vocational training but is more general and therefore acceptable also to those who will not become farmers. It is a compromise between a pure science curriculum structured according to the internal progression of the natural sciences, and a purely vocational training approach with recipes showing "how to do it". The methodical emphasis is on flexibility and on a timing that ensures immediate applicability of what is taught:
"The topics should be taught at suitable times of the year in relation to the changes in seasons. It is important to establish links between the topics in this book. They should neither be treated separately nor dealt with in the strict order in which they occur." (Ndenge, A.F., Science for the Beginner, Victoria 1972, preface)
The approach tentatively advocated by IPAR-Yaounde, Cameroon,
splits the teaching of agriculture into two components and keeps them separate
as far as the time-table and schemes of work are concerned. One component is
actual farm-work where pupils are supposed to acquire a certain amount of
practice. Building up a positive attitude towards manual work as such seems to
be as important as the acquisition of skills. The other component is called
"Observational Science" (sciences d'observation). It covers roughly natural
science and social studies. Being entirely classroom work it is supposed to
follow a rigid scheme of work which links up only occasionally with work on the
school farm. It is to be feared that such an approach severely limits the
pupils' opportunities for learning.
3.1.4 The Integrated Approach
Agriculture is seen as part of a much larger subject called "Environmental Studies" within primary education. It covers the topics included under Rural Science but extends to Social Studies. Furthermore, it is integrated as far as possible with teaching in the general subjects - language and mathematics - following a project-centred approach. The aim of agriculture is to develop basic agricultural skills and to teach, in a practical way, elementary scientific principles and procedures. As for agricultural skills, the emphasis is on basics. A six or seven year primary school course cannot and should not turn out professional farmers. The aim is to teach basic scientific skills through primary school agriculture. This approach seems to have been first advocated in Africa by a curriculum development project at Namutamba in Uganda. It was recommended as part of the reform of Primary Education for Cameroon. Apart from supplying background information, heavy emphasis is placed on teaching methods, since the approach requires new teaching skills not demanded by the old approach. Much of the curriculum development activities will have to go on at local, subdivisional and provincial level in order to produce teaching content suited to local conditions. Within a general common syllabus' teachers will have to determine teaching content based on local situations. While documentation is needed to back up teachers' efforts, they must do their own fact-finding. This, in turn, is one of the skills pupils are supposed to acquire through the integrated approach. Systematic inclusion of African farming methods is part and parcel of the approach. Integration in this context has assumed two meanings. One is unifying a number of separate subjects in a larger one. This greatly simplifies the timetable and gives teachers more scope for organizing their teaching according to areas of interest. It also makes project-centred teaching possible. The other meaning is that content in one subject is used in other subjects, too. Lessons in language and mathematics use content taken from agriculture instead of examples from contexts unrelated to the child's experience. One step further in integration would be to use agricultural content as it comes up during school-farm work. It would be good, for example, to practise reading and writing with texts about soil and tilling when the school farm is being prepared for planting.
The Integrated Approach
- The main teaching method employed is chalk and talk. It is rare to find experiments or nature walks. There is hardly any observation. Thus the many opportunities for the pupils to be active and to make discoveries are lost.
- Pupils' textbooks and teachers/guides are relatively poor. There is not enough background information on agriculture, nor are there sufficient guidelines on teaching methods and work organization. Therefore, wrong things are sometimes taught and work organization on the farm is less effective than it could be.
- Classroom teaching and farming/gardening are most of the time unrelated. This again means the loss of valuable learning opportunities since one would think that, for example, teaching a lesson on soil would be most effective if the pupils actually tilled the soil.
- Linked with this is the mechanical application of a common syllabus. For example, certain crops have been termed "school farm crops" - yams, beans, and maize. Most teachers try to farm these crops no matter whether they ape suited to their area or not. Instead of taking the syllabus as a general guide and adapting it to their respective environments, they try to carry it out to the letter.
- Examinations are exclusively in writing and usually come in the form of multiple-choice items. Therefore there is no important incentive for good practical work.
- Most school farms perform less well than local farms using traditional methods. This is going to defeat the very purpose of school agriculture, exposing it to the ridicule of illiterate farmers.
- School agriculture has little influence on farming outside the school compound. Teachers and ex-pupils use traditional farming methods. At best, they try a mix of "scientific" and traditional methods. The pupils know very well what is going on on the teachers' private farms. They therefore get a firstclass demonstration of the teachers' own lack of faith in "scientific" agriculture.
- In many schools, pupils are sent to work on the school farm as a punishment, especially since physical punishment is forbidden by law. This is bound to create or reinforce a negative attitude to farm work rather than foster positive attitudes. It highlights the hardship of farm work and portrays more than anything else the real attitude of teachers towards manual labour.
- Also, unfortunately very common is the misuse of pupils' labour, of crops grown at school, and of money from the sale of crops by teachers and headmasters. During farm work lessons, some pupils are sent to work on the teachers' farms or in their compounds. The teachers often take part of the harvest from the school farms, either free of charge, or at a price below current market prices, or on credit that is difficult to recover.
In conclusion, one could say that
- learning effectiveness is far below the level of what is possible;
- farming and gardening often degenerate into mere child labour;
- as for attitude formation, current practice is counterproductive;
- pupil's efforts are exploited, often in a dishonest way which brings the whole subject into desrepute.
The following extract describes an inspection tour to schools doing agriculture in an East African country.
Agriculture Programme in Schools and Collegesby J. Wesonga
My familiarization trips to a few schools and the questionnaire which I sent to all schools and colleges teaching Agriculture reveal some problems in teaching Agriculture. The Ministry has made significant steps to try to introduce as many schools as possible to the teaching of Agriculture; with the major objective of boosting our Agriculture as one of the major earners of income and Foreign Exchange. At this juncture it is needless to mention that Agriculture plays a vital role in our Economy both for international trade and the internal market, as the industry on which more than three-quarters of the population of the country depend for their livelihood. It was with this in mind that Government decided to reintroduce Agriculture in the Curriculum in both Secondary schools and colleges, and soon we hope in Primary schools and High schools. This is to comply with the principle that Education is for the benefit and needs of the country. One of the needs of not only this country but the world at large is to produce enough food to feed its people. Thus when Agriculture was started in schools, the aim was to make it a vocational rather than a theoretical subject. This is clear from many official documents of meetings and Conferences concerning the development of Agriculture syllabuses in the sixties and early seventies. This point is further emphasised in the aims of the Agriculture syllabus itself, i.e. 'To teach in a practical manner, basic principles and skills in Animal Husbandry, Crop Husbandry, Agriculture Economics and Agricultural Mechanics'.
Despite all this, most schools have turned the subject into a theoretical one. It is not unusual to find poorly kept crops or animals in the school garden just - because of the failure to put theoretical knowledge into practice; e.g. poorly spaced crops, coffee that is not pruned, cabbages that are not weeded; no rotational cropping or grazing, no records kept of what cropping is being done on the farm.
This type of education is not only useless but also a waste of Government money and man power. There are many reasons why this subject in some schools lacks the practical aspect but I will discuss them broadly under three headings; i.e. Agriculture teachers, the role of the Administration, and Financial Limitations.
Agricultural teachers: Many problems in school are due to the laziness of some teachers. While some teachers are doing a very commendable job there are others who are trying to frustrate the aims of the subject. They are too lazy to initiate a project in school; so they resort to theoretical teaching and place most of the blame on the Head Master or the Ministry. An Agriculture teacher is somehow different from other teachers because his work and abilities can be easily seen on the school farm apart from the usual class-work. He is lucky that he can convert all that is being taught in class into practice on the school farm. This farm not only helps to teach pupils but also becomes an example to be copied by people around. Yet in many school farms the practices used are either below the standard of an ordinary surrounding farmer or are just the same. in this way most students don't see any difference between school agriculture and traditional methods of farming. A good number of schools I visited personally had projects established such as coffee, tea, dairy etc. but surprisingly enough instead of the Agriculture teacher grabbing this opportunity to use these projects, he neglects them, and does not seem concerned with what happens on the farm. The farm is the laboratory of the Agriculture teacher, thus he should strive to improve anything on the farm. Lack of maintaining the school farm in good conditions is just as lack of maintenance of a laboratory for a Science teacher, as such a teacher cannot call himself a scientist if he is not able to demonstrate experimentally some of his theories and laws of science.
I feel it is better to have, nothing on the school farm at all than have something of very poor quality. This type of project does not achieve the aims stated in the syllabus, i.e. it can never change the attitude of students and make them think that farming can be a dignified occupation. Instead it fortifies their already negative attitude towards farming. High-quality projects do not necessarily mean grade-cows instead of our local breeds, or hybrid chicks, or any other exotic breeds of animals. What I mean is that even if you have local breeds, try to improve their quality e.g. through good feeding, or if possible through cross-breeding, and any other animal husbandry procedures. All these will lead to increased yields and to better farm-projects. It will create insight and arouse the interest of the students, whereas keeping tick-infected cows which are poorly fed is more of a liability to the school than an asset.
Crop-production should also lead to high standards of crops. All the theories of good husbandry should be followed i.e. selection of good crops according to climatic conditions and marketability, practices like spacing, weeding, pruning, pest and weed control, seed selection. It is very frustrating to see the demonstration plot demonstrating some of the worst practices such as no correct spacing, poor weeding, monoculture practices etc., so that the end result is the lowest yield in the whole neighbourhood. All this happens because the Agriculture teacher does not plan these projects. He has no concern for what is happening on the farm; Many complain of lack of funds. This is not true. It rather is a question of a lack of technical competence and diligence. A demonstration plot should be big enough to provide a real farm situation rather than just a plot of a meter by a meter, but at the same time the plot should be small enough to be well-looked after without straining the teacher and students, and allowing teachers and students enough time to discuss problems and exchange ideas. In schools where there is enough land, commercial farming can be practised by employing workmen to run the farm, and if possible a Farm-Manager. However, an Agriculture teacher should still be involved in decision-making both in long-term and short-termplans.
While I agree that students should not be overworked on this commercialized farm I feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with students helping during peak periods such as planting and harvesting time. This gives them the basic skills needed for farming. It has been proved that some students can write excellent essays on how to grow this and that crop, yet they are not able to raise a cabbage if given land. The question then arises why the Ministry should spend money on building workshops, buying equipment or even tractors. If the intention is to teach Agriculture theoretically there should only be books for Agriculture.
It has come to an unfortunate state where even an agriculture teacher gives the impression that work on the school farm by students is a sort of exploitation, or hard labour, a punishment to the students. I wonder whether this helps in any way to obtain the objective of stimulating interest in Agriculture. Working on the farm should be incorporated in the scheme of work. Students should be made to feel that practicals are not at all a punishment but experiences that make them understand better the theories taught in class. They should feel proud that working on the farm is just as dignified an occupation as any other, that it is not a dirty job only fit for the uneducated. The experiences gained from the garden should glamorise Agriculture and not be the drudgery they had hoped to escape by coming to school in the first place.
- It is better to have nothing on the school farm at all than to
have something of very poor quality.
- Students should be made to feel that practicals are not at all a punishment but experiences that make them understand better the theories thought in class.