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close this bookPrimary School Agriculture: Volume I: Pedagogy (GTZ, 1985, 144 p.)
close this folderPart I: Pedagogical foundations of primary school agriculture
close this folder4. A Science-Based approach to primary school agriculture
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 The relationship between agriculture and science
View the document4.2 Environment-Based school agriculture
View the document4.3 The Political dimension: Self-reliant development, social justice, and the link with traditional culture
View the document4.4 Objectives for primary school agriculture


Agriculture has been carried out most of the time and in most countries of the world by illiterate or poorly educated people. Sometimes, education and the pursuit of knowledge have been set in opposition to agricultural activities. Not too long ago, in Europe, the terms for farmer carried an additional meaning of being uncultured, ignorant, rude, and dirty. In many African countries today pupils who take up farming after primary school are still considered a failure. Rural areas are often labelled as backward, traditional, underdeveloped and closed to new ideas. Would it not therefore seem that agriculture and science are direct opposites, excluding each other? Of course that is not true, and "Scientific Agriculture" is on the syllabuses for primary education in many African countries.

4.1 The relationship between agriculture and science

Since the scientific method and its results were applied to more and more fields of practical activity, it was inevitable that agriculture, too, became an area where scientific knowledge and methods were introduced. This produced a body of applied science of its own, much like engineering. Science is organized according to areas of specialisation, called disciplines. Agriculture, like many other fields of activity (medicine, building, administration), does not fit neatly into any one of them. It presents problems that can only be solved by calling on a number of disciplines. But even the most sophisticated agriculture does not rely on science alone. It draws on a body of long-standing traditional experience and skills which cannot be replaced by science. Today, agricultural sciences are recognized as areas of applied science in their own right. The following subdivisions are known:

- Soil Science dealing with soil formation (geology), its physical and chemical properties, and generally speaking with all factors affecting soil fertility.
- Plant Production dealing with topics such as plant physiology, plant nutrition, plant breeding, weed control, plant diseases, and pest control.
- Animal Production, treating problems like animal breeding, animal nutrition, and animal husbandry.
- Economics and Management.
- Agricultural Engineering dealing with tools, implements, farm machinery, and buildings.

The diagram shows the relationship between agriculture and science.

Relationship between science and agriculture

Although science does not simply replace traditional knowledge, it helps to rationalize it and to make it more systematic. It is when they come face to face with scientific knowledge that certain elements of a given agricultural tradition will be regarded as erroneous or even "superstitious". On the other hand, a well established, experience-based agricultural tradition acts as a check on science running wild: sometimes scientists rush into the open with results that have not yet been really tested in real-life conditions.

Science does not simply replace traditional knowledge, it helps to rationalize it and to make it more systematic.

Having established the link between science and agriculture does not prove that agriculture must be taught using a scientific approach. One would have to prove that a scientific orientation to agriculture is necessary, and that this approach can be used with primary school pupils. Traditional agriculture so far has produced most of the food needed for Africa's population. This in itself is a measure of success. It is a fairly coherent system based on experience, and by no means closed to innovation. If conditions change only slowly, traditional farming methods will probably adjust to these changes. But during and after colonisation conditions have changed more and more rapidly, and traditional farming is not adjusting fast enough to guarantee a steady food supply in the long term (see Volume 2, part I (Farming Methods), sections 4.1. "The need for a new approach", and 3.1., "The meaning of scientific agriculture"). The following are the main factors of change which require traditional agriculture to seek help from science:

- Population Growth
As the population keeps growing, more and more land has to be cultivated. This leads to a shortening of the fallow period (see volume 2, part I (Farming Methods), section 2.1. "Traditional land use systems - from shifting cultivation to degraded bush fallow"). Systematic research into continuous farming, building on traditional agriculture, is important if a disastrous decline in soil fertility is to be prevented.

- Urbanization
In all African countries there are urban settlements. The urban population is not able to grow the food it needs. Towns rely on food produced in the surrounding rural areas. This is only possible if the rural population produces a greater marketable surplus than before. Both land and agricultural labour become scarce, and changes are needed which allow farmers to produce more crops on the same land and with the same amount of work. Here again, one would look to science for possible solutions, new farm inputs, improved farming techniques, better storage facilities etc.

- Industrialization
Many industries need raw materials derived from plants for their work. Sugar cane is used to produce sugar, maize is used to brew beer, cotton is made into cloth, sisal fibres into ropes and mats, cocoa into chocolate, groundnuts and palm nuts into oil. Factories operate on a large scale and need a steady supply of inputs of standard quality. If they use large quantities of food crops (as for instance in brewing), they compete directly with local consumers and may create food shortages. If they use non-food crops these must be grown somewhere, and the areas growing industrial crops are no longer available for food crop farming. Industrial activity will also push traditional agriculture to its limits. These limits can only be overcome if productivity in farming can be raised, and this is one of the main tasks of applied science.

- Financing National Development
Development plans usually require large amounts of foreign goods and services. This has to be paid for in foreign exchange. The main part of the foreign exchange is earned from sales of agricultural products. Science is called on to play a vital part in improving productivity in this area.

There is a widespread belief that science can be taught properly to primary school children. In Africa, there is the well known APSP (African Primary Science Programme), later on the Science Education Programme for Africa (SEPA). Basic science can be taught at primary school. Experience with SEPA-material seems to prove, furthermore, that pupils enjoy it.

Basic Scientific Skills Taught Through Agriculture

It seems clear that all the basic scientific skills can be taught through primary school agriculture. The flow chart above and the next Figure show this in a rather general way, but detailed examples will be given later in the manual.

An important part of school agriculture is school farm work. School farm work deals with plants and the conditions of plant growth. This quite naturally leads to topics taken from different natural sciences, as can be seen from the diagram above. The emphasis in science teaching should be on method rather than on content. It would be possible to memorize a large amount of scientific knowledge. However, without an elementary grasp of the scientific method one might not be able to apply such knowledge to practical problems. On the other hand, somebody who masters the basic scientific approach will be in a position to find out for himself answers to problems in everyday life which he would not find in books. He would also understand that a scientific approach to problem solving is open to everybody.

In order to understand better what is meant by the scientific method let us look at the meaning of science. The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary offers the definition:

"Knowledge arranged in an orderly manner, especially knowledge obtained by observation and testing of facts; pursuit of such knowledge."

Significantly, this does not refer to any content of knowledge but rather to its orderliness and to the methods by which it was obtained. Therefore we are fully justified in stressing the need to familiarize children with elementary scientific methods rather than with a mass of findings.

Science based education, if well done, enhances personal self reliance. It will not only enable a person to take a rational stand in matters concerning traditional ways and beliefs, it will also protect him or her against uncritical acceptance of new methods and proposals.

Thus, in agriculture, a farmer with a basic scientific outlook will retain from tradition whatever seems valuable after comparison with other ways of doing things. On the other hand, the same person will carefully listen to the advice of the agricultural extension agent and ask for proof. Maybe he sets his own little experiments in order to test the innovation under local conditions. In this way he would be better protected from risks than if he accepted the new ideas and methods mainly because the extension man is a government employee.

· The emphasis in science teaching should be on method rather than on content.
· Science based education, if well done, enhances personal self reliance.


4.2 Environment-Based school agriculture

This approach contains the study of the child's everyday-life environment as one of its central ideas. It has been stated as follows:

"Focus On the Local Environment
The didactic centre of the reformed primary school curriculum is supposed to be the local environment, with which pupils, teachers and parents are familiar. The children's learning process will start from that very environment in order to become aware of its problems and try to find solutions. According to this concept the educational activities should be organized around centres of interest or problems which relate to the environment in question. The content of teaching will differ from region to region, even from one locality to another in the same region." (IPAR-Buea, Report on the Reform of Primary Education, 1977, p. 71)

Primary school agriculture can help to achieve this aim. Farming is part of children's lives in most of the country. They usually help to farm from a very early age. The use of the environment is a sound educational principle. In order to make full use of the educational possibilities offered by the environment one would have to observe the following guidelines:

- Local crops should be at the centre of teaching and school farm work.
- Local farming methods should be discussed.
- Good local farmers should take part in teaching and farm work.
- If new crops and methods are discussed in school, they should be related to local conditions.
- Agriculture should not be taught as an isolated field of productive activities. It should be presented as a part of people's way of life and cultural tradition. By following these guidelines one will automatically africanize the content of teaching.

The use of the environment is a sound educational principle.

4.3 The Political dimension: Self-reliant development, social justice, and the link with traditional culture

Public statements related to development have laid much emphasis on issues like self-reliance, the "green revolution", and social justice.

One might very well feel that school agriculture should emphasize production, because this would make schools more self-reliant, less dependent on Government funds. By increasing overall agricultural production school agriculture would contribute to the "green revolution". This is true in the short term. Yet we must not forget that the main aim of school is essentially one of training the new generation for adult life with a much bigger effect on agricultural production later.

A science-based approach to school agriculture will, in the short run, produce less in terms of crops than a production-oriented approach for the following reasons:

Primary schools are not research institutes which produce new knowledge in such a way that today's experimental results can be turned into more productive farming methods for the next farming season. They deal with children who are having their very first introduction to science.

We therefore would want to set experiments the results of which we already know for certain. For the aim is not to find new knowledge but to demonstrate what experimentation can do, and how the method works. There will be a limited set of simple farm experiments which will be repeated many times. This need not stop an enterprising farm master from using experimentation for genuine research. Here is an example of how science orientation would lead to lower yields than an approach geared to maximum production:

Teachers know that weeding is essential for maize growth. If they were aiming at maximum yields, they would make sure that the maize plot was properly weeded, and at the right time. Experiments on weed control are easy to set, and results can be seen early and easily, so that the experiment is very convincing. By allowing weeds to grow on part of the plot, some yield will be lost.

Observation, too, might lead to losses. Observation of a growing crop means measuring, looking at plants closely, and sometimes taking samples and specimens. Taking samples and specimens might destroy or disturb the plants concerned. Measuring might disturb a plant, and pupils walking around almost certainly cause some damage. In order to make observation easy, one might have to provide more paths than usual. This reduces the area for farming and means an additional loss in yields.

But if primary school agriculture succeeds in teaching elementary scientific skills and procedures, pupils will tend to apply these skills to their practical problems in later life, be they farmers or not. The option between a "production approach" and a "science approach" is not an option for or against self-reliance or the "green revolution" but a choice between relatively small immediate benefits and larger benefits later.

The "production approach" has another snag. Since it stresses productivity rather than systematic learning, it will lead towards vocational training. But agricultural skills are more limited in scope than a general introduction to scientific methods. Parents might oppose a "production approach" especially in urban areas. This would lead to a split in the school system - one type of primary school for the urban areas, and another type for the rural areas. Reform attempts in many countries have shown convincingly that a reform fails as soon as suspicions of such a split arise.

The "science education approach" to primary school agriculture is feasible in every envronment and would therefore not in itself discriminate between different classes of people. It serves the political goal of social justice better than the "production approach".

4.4 Objectives for primary school agriculture

Here is a set of potential objectives from which curriculum developers may choose and which could be complemented by other ones.

General Objectives

Knowledge and Skills

1. Pupils should acquire basic facts relevant to agriculture.
2. Pupils shall master basic scientific principles and procedures.
3. Pupils shall be able to apply basic scientific principles and procedures to agricultural problems.


4. Pupils shall accept the need for change and adaptation.
5. Pupils shall develop the self-confidence necessary to survive in a changing environment.
6. Pupils shall develop the motivation to participate actively in the improvement of their environment.
7. Pupils shall develop the social skills and attitudes necessary for co-operation with other members of the community and nation.

Specific Objectives in Science Education Through Agriculture

Most of these objectives deal with study skills. As such, they are valuable beyond their field of application, agriculture. The more they are pursued, the better will pupils be prepared for further education after primary school.

- Basic Scientific Principles

1. Logical thinking.
2. Curiosity and open-mindedness.
3. Intellectual honesty.
4. Acceptance of the fact that knowledge is relative: what is thought to be right today may be proved to be wrong tomorrow.
5. Accuracy in scientific procedure.
6. Insistence on factual evidence.

- Basic Scientific Procedures

7. Pupils will be able to make a simple hypothesis, stating a relationship between two phenomena.
8. Pupils will be able to design a simple way of testing such an hypothesis. "Simple" here means simple apparatus and low or no costs.
9. Pupils will be able to collect information by way of experiment, survey work, direct observation.
10. Pupils will be able to measure properties such as extension, volume, and weight of objects.
11. Pupils will be able to record their observations. Record-keeping may be in written or in graphical form.
12. Pupils will be able to analyse observations. This essentially means grouping of information for comparison, calculating elementary statistics (mean, percentages, simple ratios).
13. Pupils will be able to make systematic comparisons according to initial hypotheses.
14. Pupils will be able to draw conclusions from comparisons.
15. Pupils will be able to report their findings in such a way that the reader can repeat the whole process by himself.

Specific Objectives in the Field of Agriculture

These are objectives which cannot easily be generalized beyond the field of agriculture. The more important they become, the more primary school agriculture becomes pre-vocational training.


- Parts of a plant
- Life cycle of plants
- Crops and their requirements
- Modes of propagation
- Diseases and pests
- Plant improvement: breeding and selection
- Main crop associations
- Sources of improved planting material


- Propagate plants by seeds, suckers, cuttings etc.
- Distinguish suitable and unsuitable patterns of mixed cropping
- Identification of pests and diseases
- Prevention and cure of pests and diseases (elementary)



- Properties of soil
- Conditions of soil fertility
- Dangers to soil fertility
- Improving soil fertility
- Soil types


- Take and analyse a soil sample
- Manuring and mulching
- Simple erosion control
- Compost work, green manure, fallow and cover crops, chemical fertilizer
- Selecting crops adapted to a few soil types



- Common tools
- Maintenance of tools
- Measuring equipment
- Animal-powered equipment
- Main agricultural machines


- Handle some common tools
- Correctly care for tools
- Making and using simple measuring equipment


- Set of operations required for different farm crops
- Sequence of farming operations for different crops
- Time required for different farm operations
- Rejuvenation of tree crop farms

Make a plan for the farming of a given crop

- Laying out a farm plot with right angles
- Doing light tillage as required by the crops farmed
- Preparing nurseries for vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, lettuce), for coffee, cocoa, or oil palms according to area, for Eucalyptus and fruit trees, etc.
- Thinning
- Earthing up
- Weeding
- Harvesting
- Simple methods of drying and storage


- Division of labour by sex and age
- Forms of group work


- Draft the regulations of a mutual help group
- Draft the rules for a contract job


- Notions of profit and loss
- Elements of planning


- Calculate profit and loss of the school farm (the class plot)
- Make a simple time-table for farming a standard crop
- Keep records


- The local market
- Local measures of weight and volume
- The Licensed Buying Agent
- Sale on credit before the harvest
- The Cooperative Society
- The Produce Marketing Board


- Convert local measures into standard measures
- Compare prices
- Use and check a balance
- Establish and check a receipt
- Calculate the interest on a loan


- Agricultural employment
- Information on rural training schemes
- Information on sources of agricultural knowledge