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
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