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Designed for the rural poor

by John Higgs and David Moore

The rural poor are usually considered to be lacking education, though what this means is seldom indicated. Viewed through Western eyes, and indeed through the eyes of many government officials in developing countries, educational opportunity has meant the chance to attend primary school and go on through high school. Yet, at best, the rural poor may get one or two years in a village primary school, becoming only partially literate.

A recent study of the Afar tribe in Ethiopia indicated that, out of a population of about 34 000, only 40 children were in primary school and less than 10 in high school. In India, a child born in a community of more than 5 000 persons has 7.5 times more chance of receiving a university degree or college education than one born in a small rural community.

However, even when children are able to attend a primary school, they are likely to receive an urban-oriented education that tends to alienate them from their rural background. Both they and their parents, and probably their teachers, will regard schooling as the gateway to privilege, as the chance to escape from rural poverty. If they reach high school, they will perforce have to go to town and will probably stay there. Even with a modicum of primary education, they may wish to chance their luck in the towns rather than in the rural areas.

One factor that has severely sapped the vitality of the Gezira scheme in the Sudan has been the impact of widespread education. The 96 000 tenants have regarded sending their children to school as a first priority. The education their children have received is unrelated to the economic activities of the Gezira. Both parents and pupils would consider a return to agriculture as a "waste" of the educations Over the years, the young have left the scheme in thousands. It is believed that some 80-90 percent of today's tenants are over 50 years of age, and some 70 percent of them are illiterate.

The consequences of these attitudes and of the alienation from rural life created by education are to sap rural communities of their brightest youth. As Lipton puts it, "Many of the educated urbanizers are rural literates trained, and attractively rewarded, only for urban work."

The "intelligence factory"

One Indonesian scholar has attacked the whole ideology of what he describes, satirically, as the "intelligence factory." "Possibly the most striking aspect of our educational system is the lack of balance between the infrastructure we call school and the world which exists outside... the real world has been developing at a pace which almost overtakes events as they unfold. Cities have been expanding rapidly... Our cities have been drawn into the global culture... all kinds of new information, absolutely new information, has reached here and spread... Belying their stable appearance, the villages have also experienced drastic change. Through the transistor radio, the local military presence, family members living in or commuting to the cities in greater numbers, new and strange kinds of information have been reaching the villages and spreading. What happens to an Indonesian 'schoolchild'? What is his daily 'educational experience'? He finds himself in 'two worlds.' In school he studies without equipment the structure of the human body, of animals and plants. He studies geography by memorising lists of cities, rivers and commodities like he was being trained to be a bus conductor or a good product seller. He studies history by memorising dates, events and dynasties. He studies civics and sociology through glorification of national heroes... Outside, he finds that concrete, real situations never occur in isolation but are always interrelated . . ."

This is, of course, an aspect of the wider crisis in education. But if educational provision is hardly relevant in the cities, how remarkably irrelevant is it in the villages of the poor?

The grand design

Other forms of modern educational opportunity such as extension services and adult education courses are available in rural areas but, with few exceptions, these do not reach the small farmers and rural poor.

There are abundant examples of programmes that have completely missed the poor farmers for whom they were designed. In Northern Nigeria, for example, some World Bank projects intended to help the poorest groups have been criticized for favouring medium-sized farmers. The Tetu Extension Project in the highlands of Kenya, aimed specifically at poorer farmers, was found to have recruited the more progressive.

A major reason for "missing the target" can be found in the background and attitudes of those who design and execute the programmer. However realistic the grand design may be, there is often a total failure to connect or relate at the local level. Planning is rarely done in consultation with the beneficiaries, and it may be questioned whether such planning can possibly take account of real as opposed to theoretical needs. Those responsible at ground level often find it difficult to relate to poorer farm families because their education and training simply do not prepare them for the task of helping small farmers to help themselves. It can, therefore, be argued that a major reason for failing to reach the target groups stems from educational deficiencies among those who serve the rural community, as well as among the small farmers themselves who are unable, on account of educational disadvantage, to make effective use of the programmes that are offered to them.

Geared not to liberate

Education has rarely been viewed as an integral part of the whole rural development endeavour and, when it is, it tends to be seen as a tool to be used in promoting particular parts of a programme. The liberating potential of education as an essential part of development has been little recognized by governments. Or perhaps it has, for much of the education provided has been carefully geared not to liberate. Even where, as is gradually happening, governments are beginning to try to come to terms with such issues, they rarely see all the educational inputs in the round. There is little thought, for example, about the relationship between formal schooling and the various non-formal activities. Nobody considers the combination of learning arrangements which may reach a community. Each learning arrangement or delivery system tends to exist in a vacuum-the responsibility of its own sponsors or, in the case of informal learning systems, the responsibility of no one. As a recent Kenyan study has found, "Normal rural development educational activities of field officers can be seen as a series of farm visits by different officers representing different agencies. For example, in one day a farmer may be visited by a health officer who advises on the need to reduce his cash crop acreage and increase his food crop acreage to reduce certain forms of malnutrition in the family. The same day he may be visited and reprimanded by the crop specialist for not moving into a new cash crop... Such conflicts arising from uncoordinated activities often confuse farmers to a standstill."

But the problem goes much deeper. Rural households operate in an integrated manner. To household members, convenient segregation by officialdom conflicts with their integrated view of reality. Households respond to conflicting demands such as the need to pay rent or debts, send children to school, buy seeds, participate in the community and so on, in an integrated and coherent manner. Thus, the poor farmer's reaction to his situation may be quite different from that assumed for him by authority. He may reject sending his children to school to avoid the cost of clothing or reject buying new seed because of indebtedness. Practically all the learning arrangements to which he might have access are designed in a manner quite external to his own way of rationalizing his position. Few systems consider the management pattern of poor rural families. In reality all change at the farm level requires a learning process, for education is the key to using new technologies just as it is the key to people grasping their own potential.

Education is rarely seen by governments in this way; neither is it seen as a participatory process from which all can learn.

Stereotyped and isolated

In most of the Third World, primary school systems have been developed in the towns and suffer from "urban bias." The whole concept of the teaching, and very often the training of the teachers, has been along lines suited to the needs of a certain class of urban dwellers-or certainly more suited to their needs than to those of rural dwellers. This arises from the conventional view that the principles underlying education must be the same regardless of whether it is provided in towns or the countryside. The belief has grown that a range of signals from an urban environment are more exciting than those from a rural locality, and so the school turns its back on the rural area in which it is situated and fails to help the child to grasp the reality of rural community life.

The concept of non-formal education has likewise become stereotyped and isolated in restricted types of programme. There has been little appreciation of education as a continuing process with a relationship between the various programmes that are available. Literacy drives are a prime example. Most have been taught in a classroom and are unrelated to the needs of daily life and agricultural production. Agricultural extension exists in one form or another in most countries but has failed to reach the great majority of small farmers. The extension services bring production oriented education to adults, normally to adult male farmers. The target audience is totally different from the primary school. There is thus no link between age groups or subject matter. The needs of production-oriented education for the community as a whole are not considered, and thus various learning arrangements hit- or miss -specific target groups without any inter-connection. There is a real need for extension services to consider the needs of the small farm families as a group, young and old, male and female. There has indeed been opposition to having two kinds of extension service, one for the farmers in the commercial sector and one for those still below the threshold, but the needs of the latter group are so different that there are compelling arguments for considering the possibility.

Improved educational opportunities and arrangements alone will not lead to a better life for small farmers and the rural poor. There is no doubt, however, that educational provision of the right kind, in the right place and at the right time is a very necessary catalyst to effective rural development. The educational base of the small farm family has to be broadened over a wide front if its members are to take a full share in rural progress.

A study in Brazil compared the impact of two rural settlement projects sponsored by non-governmental organizations, each of which included a schools at Gurupi, the "school was built with no direct, personal effort from the settlers. In spite of this, or because of it, parents have very little interest in the school, a situation that is reflected in their children." In the other project, "the school was born out of the decision and effort of the inhabitants, interest in learning seems to have been greater than in Gurupi where the school was created by the project free of charge and effort, and where the project prepared the land and paid the teachers." In the second project "the relationship with an institution created by a group which chooses learning as one of the elements of its own development gives rise to personal (student) and community obligations (improvement of collective effort). The decision from the bottom upward, just as any other, is full of implications that affect the other aspects of local life." The writer quotes a conversation which, he says, "illustrates the educational process incorporated into the type of assistance given to the village." When the school building was finished, Padre Victor (the project "manager") was approached by the Schooling Committee:

"Padre, now the school is ready and we want a teacher."

"How much can you give to pay her salary?"

The salary was 100 cruzeiros and the students were 30. The group decided that parents would pay one cruzeiro per child. A big sacrifice. The rest would have to be found elsewhere. One of the parents was unable to pay the first month. The local school group studied the case and decided to expel the child but, uneasy at this decision, they called on the Padre.

"Padre, we decided to pull the child out of school. What do you think?"

"Did the group decide this?"

"It did."

"Then it's all right. It is for you to decide."

The next day, the boy's father came with the money and his son went back to school.

Education is not a separate sector

A recent case study of an endeavour to help me rural poor in the Indian State of Rajasthan through the Social Work and Research Centre reached the following conclusions:

Education should not be treated as a separate sector of development but rather should embrace the full gamut of rural clienteles and their reaming needs, as well as the full spectrum of different available methods of education.

Provided their method, content and structure are realistically adapted to these needs and to the convenience and living environment of the learners, schools can effectively meet certain of the essential reaming needs of rural children and youths-such basic studies as the "three-Rs" and elementary science. But schools should not be expected to meet all the essential needs of these young people.

The bulk of organized educational provisions for meeting the important functional learning needs of various subgroups in rural communities must necessarily be "non-formal."

Planning of such activities should begin with an identification of the important reaming needs and motivating interests of the particular group as the reamers themselves see them. Only when these reaming needs are clarified should the most promising and feasible methods for meeting them be selected from among the possible alternatives.

Conventional adult literacy classes in poor rural areas face a high probability of failure. A much more promising approach is to direct literacy efforts at selected individuals and subgroups in me community who have a specific and substantial functional need for literacy in their daily life and who are likely to be highly motivated and able to make good use of these new skills. Even then, the conventional classroom style of teaching literacy to children by rote memory and in abstract form should be avoided in favour of a more "natural' approach in which literacy is reamed functionally in conjunction with other matters of substantial interest and use to the reamers.

Whatever arrangements are chosen to meet particular reaming needs should be sufficiently low cost to be affordable and replicable on a larger scale. This is one good reason for making creative use of all types of potential educational resources available in the area. An equally important reason is that using these familiar local resources will often be more effective than using unfamiliar outside resources..

Situation specific

A quite different kind of situation is described in an article in the Indian magazine Economic and Political Weekly. This concerns a separatist movement that is fighting for a Santhal tribal state in Bihar. One of the leaders, 32 years of age and poorly educated, stated that he had no regard for political parties. "I don't want to have anything to do with politics. All we want is to live like human beings... We must eat all the year round. So far the Santhal has worked for twelve months, and starved for twelve months, and the money lender has reaped the harvest. This must change... Our people are illiterate and ignorant. They cannot see beyond their noses. All these leaders from the cities talk to them about 'economic progress,' when they do not know the concept through their own experience. They have never learnt to plan, not even the next crop. All this has to be changed, and we are doing it right now...".

Their action includes taking over land in the possession of moneylenders, although they have been allowed to keep the land if they cultivate it themselves. All agricultural equipment is used collectively, although land has remained in private ownership. Cropping has been diversified to include wheat as well as rice. Seed is being kept for the next season, through collective grain storage. In some areas, farmers are strictly forbidden to sell grain to city merchants. It is planned that every village will have a teacher who will be paid in paddy from the collective store. The article stresses the importance of education in the eyes of the movement: "without it nothing is possible; even prohibition, imposed and enforced by the leadership in these villages today, will have a lasting effect only if the people are educated and understand the need for it."

These are examples of effective rural development activities. Education is a crucial element in each, but the nature of the learning processes involved is situation specific. The Santhal movement, growing out of a long history of deprivation and oppression, illustrates the way in which good leadership and an integration of diagnosis and action at several different levels can generate development. A major problem is that "solutions" are seen to be different when viewed by different people, and, as a result, the diagnosis of problems is far from easy.

Planners may produce quite a different prescription from that produced by extension or local government officers, and these may be different from that which the farmers would suggest. To quote a recent paper, "a problem of low grain production may be seen as due to low prices at the village level, poor road communications at the provincial level, and of import tariffs at the national level. "i' If a rural development programme is to be effective these various views must be blended. The most fundamental change required is in the "ideological" views adopted by those in the position to initiate the process of change.

A centre of learning

The components of the educational system designed for the rural poor in a given country should be considered from a number of aspects. Primary schools, for example, though a critical step in preparing young people for the future, are rarely considered in relation to the agricultural or rural development knowledge system. In some countries the primary system scarcely affects the rural poor. Even where primary education does exist, children of the rural poor often do not attend or attend only for a very short period.

What can be done to change this? There is plenty of experience of primary-school teachers who have played important roles in rural development. In recent years, however, education authorities have turned the emphasis away from this. Agriculture is taught in some rural primary schools but rarely in a way that integrates it with rural life as it will be lived by the pupils. Yet, there is reason to suppose that, if the primary school aimed at developing rural aspirations rather than inculcating urban ones, rural youth would gain more of a real benefit from the schooling experience. Also worth examining is the extent to which the primary-school system relates to the other learning arrangements that may exist or be introduced to the community. What is the connection, for example, between the school and youth programmes, or the school and the extension service? How much can the services of the teacher be used for teaching other people in the community who have missed out on education? There is now quite a lot of experience of older people and parents attending school with children and expanding both their own and the children's learning opportunities. The school might become a centre of learning for the village or community rather than simply a place in which formal schooling takes place. The costs of this need not be very great once it is accepted that you do not need a teacher's qualification to take part in teaching. Obviously, every school needs a qualified teacher but his or her services can be greatly expanded by the use of local people with local wisdom. The main cost for most countries would be creating schools where none exist or expanding schools that are inadequate.

A change in emphasis

Secondary agricultural schools embrace many kinds of institutions. Basically, they are high schools with an agriculturally based curriculum. Sometimes they are designed to turn people who will form the field level of the extension and related services, but others are simply secondary schools from which the pupils, in theory at least, go back to the rural community. In many cases, they are a steppingstone to the third level of education. However, few children from the poor sector ever reach them and if by chance some do, they likely will not return to their homes but rather seek their living in the urban sector or in government services. Because of the scattered nature of rural society, most of these schools are residential and result in the alienation of children from their environment. The agriculture they teach is scientific with scant regard for the socioeconomic side of agricultural change.

More emphasis should be placed on producing graduates with a practical orientation and a deep knowledge of the problems of the smaller farmer. Such people could fill a critical gap in development services as local-level change agents. While it seems unlikely in the foreseeable future that more children of the rural poor will find their way into secondary education, these institutions could be utilized much more for short courses for young people who have some primary education. No heavy investment would be involved but rather a change in emphasis in the way of working. Staff might even be available from these schools to go out and give short courses in communities, working alongside their ex-pupils and with primary-school teachers.

Teacher- and extension-training institutions include all those institutions who turn out people who will teach and those who will staff the extension and development services. In most countries, teacher training and extension training are quite separate functions and the institutions are unrelated. There is a strong case for training together, using some common services, or at least in close proximity of all those who will be involved in rural development. Such an innovation might mean the creation of some new or joint institutions but since both teacher training and extension training are always expanding, it might be more a relocation of new investment than actual additional investment. The urban bias of teachers has already been mentioned; those who will work, at least initially, in rural areas would benefit greatly from contact with rural issues during their training. Extension training is in general one of the weakest links in preparing people to work with small farmers, the emphasis in most extension training being on preparing a man or woman to deliver technical information rather than as a change agent.

Faculties of agriculture produce the graduates who will staff the higher levels of the development and administrative services, and the research institutes and experimental stations. Most of the faculties were developed under colonial rule or have been founded since with much aid from abroad. Few of the older institutions are sufficiently closely associated with current needs in agricultural research or in rural development and few of them attempt, except in a very general way, to serve the community within which they exist. Of course, a standard of excellence is looked for in university education but that will be of little use if it is totally remote from the community. Thus graduates who staff administrative services have little idea of the small-farm problem; those who staff research stations do not understand the nature of the relationship between research and extension and so on. A number of new faculties have tried to overcome these problems but there are difficulties of a very practical nature. For example, most universities have a leadership role to play, which goes far beyond the provision of trained staff; in few cases are they doing so. An expansion of graduate output would achieve nothing in improving the understanding of the small-farm problem. It is true that more graduates may be required if there is to be a large programme aimed specifically at the small farm sector. But, in the meantime, much can be done by reorienting the thinking of faculties to help train people to understand the problem and to give them enough practical experience to be able to become directly involved in it.

To mixed groups

Whatever is done in the future to improve the agricultural knowledge system, there remains the problem of services staffed with people who, on the whole, are not trained to deal with small-farmer issues at any level. In recent years, there has been constant talk of retraining programmes and some countries have attempted them. In general, however, courses are needed for policy-makers (including politicians), planners and administrators, teachers and trainers of teachers, extension workers and others in the development services, research workers and the staff of faculties of agriculture. Where possible, such courses should be given to mixed groups of people from different areas of concern and at mixed levels so that responsibilities are more clearly understood. Some countries already have colleges at which such courses could be located but the courses would be of little value unless at least a part of them could be given in the field among the farming community, thus providing for direct problem-oriented contact and the exchange of experience. Frequent short courses of ten days would be better than longer periods.

The most important group among whom work should start as soon as possible is the rural poor. The need is for change agents who can relate to and work with the rural poor with a full understanding of their problems. The main task at this stage will not be to promote positive change in a technical sense, but to help people understand the contributions they themselves can make to solving their own problems and to learn how to organize themselves in this common endeavour. In this way, when programmes are launched, the people will be in a stronger position to contribute to and take part in their implementation. This is not an extension function in the normally accepted sense of the term. It is one of helping people to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, the extent to which they can be self-reliant, and to identify the type and scale of outside help which may be required.

The formation of farmers' organizations and collectives often, but not always, requires catalytic action from outside, and that is where the extension agent has a key role to play. But neither he nor his superiors can have a preconceived idea of what type of organization should be created or of what its initial objectives may be. Not only is such a body the embryo of a new type of linking mechanism between the rural poor and the government, it is also the planner and initiator of micro development. In due course, it will develop very clear ideas about training needs, credit, markets as well as specific areas where technical assistance may be beneficial.

A collective view

It is imperative to recognize that the very process of organizing to achieve shared objectives, and of developing a collective view of problems, is the most fundamental of learning processes. Not only must a government be responsive to the result of this process, but it must also provide adequate support to the change agents who are involved in it. Such work can hardly be developed without some expansion of government services or of services provided by non-governmental organizations. But it should not be assumed that new manpower will be required on the basis of a particular ratio. It is more important that extension agents start slowly in areas in which they will be accepted, and then let the effect spread slowly as the results became apparent. Such work, begun with a modest investment, could actually form the base on which all future programmes are developed.