An EXAMPLE FROM CHINA_________________________________________

A new Chinese way of learning

In many parts of the world, dissatisfying experiences in extension and training have induced the search for more appropriate ways to deal with the complexity of rural development and to create sustainable forms of agriculture. As Wang Dehai and Karin Janz report, the search has now also started in the People's Republic of China.

Wang Dehai and Karin Janz

LEISA magazine

Generally speaking, links ensuring close co-operation between agricultural research and extension do not exist in PR China. Implementation of research findings in the regional agricultural extension system faces various constraints. There is no constructive dialogue among scientists, regional and local authorities, the extension service and, last but not least, the farmers themselves.

Need for a new orientation

In order to help create links, the Centre for Integrated Agricultural Development (CIAD) was founded at Beijing Agricultural University in 1984. It aims at transferring the knowledge necessary for China's agricultural development to the regional and local decision-making authorities and to extension workers. By 1989 it became obvious that we need a specific training to ensure sustainability of the activities. China is a big country with many different natural and social conditions. How can the results found in Hebei Province be appropriate for other regions? The answer is: Local people know very well what is suitable for their own development. CIAD's task is "Training the Trainers" who can then adapt the ways and means to the needs of the local rural people. It was very clear that the methods of "Training the Trainers" should differ from the old Chinese way of teaching. But it was also clear that we cannot copy the western style of training. That is why we tried to create a new way of learning.

From top-down to participation

In China, education and training traditionally involve learning from teachers. The teacher should be respected like a father who can order his son to do anything he thinks is right. The role of the teacher is to give knowledge to people who do not have the knowledge. Teachers talk in front of the class, and the pupils have to listen and write down what the "knowing" teacher says. This top-down method is not only used in the formal education system; also extension staff use this method to train peasants. Even though this way of teaching and learning is part of Chinese culture, the peasants are not always satisfied. During our workshops and interviews, they complained that they did not understand some lectures given by the extensionists. But they thought it was because they did not have enough knowledge, rather than because of the approach or method itself. The extension system in China is vertically organised from state level (Ministry of Agriculture) down to provincial, prefectural, county and township levels. The different levels provide only technology service through the administrative line, using a top-down approach. The branches of research, extension and education each have their own objectives and there is hardly any co-operation between them. Diffusion of innovations does not seem to be very successful when this one-way communication is used. Often, the information coming from the top does not meet the peasants' needs, as little attention was paid to the peasants' ideas. To bridge this gap, we experimented with a workshop methodology to promote an exchange of ideas and information between the different levels and the people in different positions. We wanted to find out whether the western idea of participatory training can fit into Chinese culture and can suit the situations and behaviour of the rural people.

Talk with farmers and extensionists

To develop an appropriate method, we had to talk as much as possible with the farmers and village-level extensionists. First of all, we did a "situation analysis" with the aims of:

• understanding the problems and potentials of the farmers and extensionists in agricultural development and rural life,
• developing a participatory approach to training, and
• identifying target groups and their training needs.

We selected two townships in Hebei Province as a pilot area to start our work: Machang and Rao Yang Dian.

LEISA magazine
The farmers and extensionists participating in the workshop went into the fields to listen to other farmers, such as this man who was just harvesting his sweet potatoes
Photo: authors

The situation analysis was done by organising rural development workshops and interviewing peasants, extensionists and people in other agricultural institutions. The workshop participants were men and women farmers from six villages, and extensionists from villages and townships. Each workshop lasted four days, including a field trip to three villages. In the workshop we tested several techniques such as: discussion in plenary sessions, collecting ideas on cards in plenum, dividing into different kind of groups for group work, buzzing groups of 2-3 people in the plenum (where they discuss the problem among themselves for a few minutes), sketching out problems and future perspectives, field trips with interviews and group discussions, arguing pros and cons (Haji-Naji), a flash of the participants' feelings (where each person spontaneously gives her opinion), visualising the results, role playing.

The moderator stands in the middle of the participants, rather than in front of them like a bureaucratic leader. In the evaluation after each workshop, the participants told us what they liked and disliked. Some extensionists said this was the first time for them to attend a workshop and to understand the meaning of democracy. The teachers did not impose their ideas on the participants, who could experience by themselves and exchange ideas. CIAD staff with continuous close contact with the two townships report that the participants and the local authorities have taken the workshop results very seriously. They came together to discuss their own training needs and asked us for more information and training. In the villages in Rao Yang Dian, they have already organised evening classes on their own and try to use the same participatory approach.

Potentials and limits of workshops

After the experience in the two townships, we realise that the rural people are very willing to try this participatory approach, even though they are used to following the traditional way of teaching. Sometimes they asked for some "dry material" from the teachers, but they also felt that the content of the old way of teaching was not oriented to people and problems. On the other hand, they did not appreciate some of the techniques we used in the workshop, e.g. role-playing and picture drawing. They felt like children who had just started to go to school. In general, the Chinese do not like to explore themselves in front of other people. They feel shy. They start to say something after they have thought over an idea carefully in their minds. This may be because the Chinese have spent such a long time in a hierarchical society. In fact, a participatory approach is not completely new in China. If we look at Chinese history, especially after Liberation in 1949, the Chinese gained much experience in several political movements, which promoted people's awareness in a participatory way. For example, the peasants seriously criticised their landlords -who were their leaders- and expressed their opinions openly. But it is really new to bring the participatory approach from western countries into training. However, based on the above-mentioned Chinese experience and the continuing situation analysis, we can develop the approach in a Chinese way. As trainers we believe that, as long as we are willing to respect the peasants' culture, lifestyle and opinions, we can find an effective way to develop a participatory training method which suits the Chinese situation. Action-reflection-action should be the basis of this problem- and people-oriented approach to training. It is also obvious that local, regional, provincial and national authorities must be involved. As "participation" sometimes means they lose a certain kind of power, some of them are afraid of introducing such new approaches. But if they also participate in the process, they see clearly that we all aim at the same thing: sustainable rural development.

Workshops encourage self-reliance

We have talked intensively with farmers, extensionists and local authorities involved in rural development. We have tested our new method in several workshops at lower and higher levels. What do we conclude? We must confess that, at first, we too were rather sceptical. However -to our surprise- it soon became obvious that most workshop participants appreciated our new method. They found it better than the traditional training method they had followed year after year. So that the participants could learn a basic way of problem-oriented thinking, they were encouraged during the workshops to identify their own problems, analyse their causes and find potentials for solving the problems. However, the farmers and extensionists have difficulties in analysing problems in agriculture and in their life objectively. They often emphasise external rather than internal causes. They do not always understand the relationship between the problems and themselves. Therefore, they rely very much on external power and on the government. During the workshops, they recognised their own problems and identified the key ones for the first time. For our training team it was an important step to improve our ways and means for rural development by encouraging peasants to discover their own abilities. Very often, peasants did not adopt new technology and do not want to be the first innovators because they lacked confidence. During the workshops they did something they had neither done nor thought before. This helped them recognise their own potentials and feel more confident to improve their lives. They are thus on the way to being more self-reliant and self-sufficient -a necessary step for sustainable development. Wang Dehai and Karin Janz


Development Consultant



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