An assessment of the appropriateness of agricultural extension education in South Africa.
Worth, Steven Hugh.
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This thesis is about agricultural extension education. The context is agricultural extension in South Africa. It addresses the following questions: To what extent does current agricultural extension education in South Africa adequately reflect the current and changing educational and developmental imperatives? To what extent does it adequately equip extension officers and other agricultural development practitioners to deliver relevant support to farmers and farming communities? In short, how relevant is the training received by South African Agricultural Extension practitioners? The South African government has made significant changes in the policy environment governing agriculture. While the majority of the policy changes fall outside the scope of this research, it can be safely argued, as noted in the current Strategy for South African Agriculture, that the changes are fundamental. The changes redirect agriculture to the majority population which has hitherto been marginalised and generally denied meaningful access to the agricultural sector of the South African economy. To implement these changes, the agricultural sector will need appropriate skills – skills which, it is submitted – are largely lacking within the agricultural extension service and, more relevantly to this study, in Agricultural Extension curricula. In addition to the foregoing, assumptions about farmers and their roles in technology and information creation and consumption, assumptions about the roles of tertiary institutions in the triad of teaching, extension and research and indeed about the triad itself need to be challenged. A system of education which has its origins in the 1800s (before even the industrial revolution, much less the digital revolution) needs, per force, to be interrogated regularly to ensure that it delivers according to the demands of the exigencies of the time. Similarly, assumptions about the aim of development and in particular agricultural development have been questioned in many parts of the world. And yet it is submitted that in South Africa, the basic extension methodologies have not changed in any fundamental way; rather they have adopted some of the outer trappings of new approaches, without assessing the fundamentals of the core extension approach. It is believed that extension is in need of a serious review and that it is timely to do so. Recent research in Africa and elsewhere in the world indicates that extension needs be reconstructed on a different set of operational objectives led by a different vision. The extension strategy herein presented is built around a vision which places the focus on the farmer (and other land users) in the context not of technology, but of creating prosperity. The vision implies that the purpose of agricultural extension is to facilitate the establishment of self-reliant farmers who are contributing to widespread prosperity. The dual outcomes of self-reliant farmers and widespread prosperity are meant to be realised through a new set of =rules of engagement‘. Prosperity is derived out of farmers working together, sharing information, and learning together. Self-reliant farmers are an outcome of a learning partnership between farmers and extension practitioners. This study was conducted in a series of stages. The first thrust examined the nature of Agricultural Extension and the assumptions on which it is predicated. The result of this interrogation was to propose a new concept for Agricultural Extension – Agriflection – which is a learning-based concept aimed at improving the sustainability of the livelihoods of farmers through iterative development processes fostered through a learning agenda that is facilitated by an appropriately trained Agricultural Extension practitioner. To realise such a vision, it is essential that the mission of the extension service be recast to reflect the dynamics of the implications of the vision. The key elements of the mission are, therefore, client-responsiveness and partnerships. The power to realise the vision rests in three critical aspects. First is the capacity of the extension service to engage with its clients as genuine partners in a shared learning agenda. The second is the capacity of the extension service to engage with the many other agencies and organisations which supply goods and services to farmers and land users. The third is ensuring that engagements with farmers support sustainable development, that is, that production of food, fibre and fuel is socially just, economically sustainable and environmentally sustainable. This new vision and mission lay the foundation for a fundamental shift in the way agricultural extension is positioned, resourced, implemented and evaluated. The strategic goals, principles and values presented in this strategy are built on this foundation, and they, in turn, create the framework for constructing the operational plans of the extension service as well as for management and measurement of the service. The second thrust of the study was to filter the Agriflection concept through South African educational and agricultural policy. Given that the agricultural frontier is subject to change in focus and priorities, it was reasoned that the training and education of would-be extension practitioners needs to be able to respond to changes in methods and in the field. The National Government has adopted the outcomes-based model as the general structure for curriculum development. Further sustainable development/livelihoods has been adopted as the general framework for development. Outcomes-based education and sustainable development/livelihoods provide a framework for studying and developing curricula. A tool that enables curriculum analysis and development which allows for adjustment to changing imperatives while maintaining integrity in terms of education and development, would be valuable for tertiary institutions training extension officers. The result of this second thrust was the development of curriculum markers that encapsulated what non-technical knowledge and skills (i.e. Agricultural Extension knowledge and skills) were needed to be able to deliver on the imperatives of the transformation agenda of current agricultural policy. Thirty-four markers were identified. The third thrust of the study was to create a credible method to evaluate Agricultural Extension curricula and to capture and analyse data. A detailed review of methods and approaches was made resulting in fashioning the Theory-led Instructional-Design Curriculum Evaluation (TICE) method. One of the primary facets of this six-process method is questioning of the assumptions on which the discipline of Agricultural Extension is based. Such a questioning would lead to a new theory to govern the evaluation of curriculum. Ancillary to the TICE method were the methods of data collection and analysis. The study consolidated these in presence and efficacy factors. These factors measured the presence of the 34 markers in Agricultural Extension curricula and the extent to which they were addressed, if present. The fourth thrust of the study was the detailed evaluation of curricula of qualifications most commonly held by public sector Agricultural Extension practitioners. The study examined the curricula of agricultural diplomas, of three- and four-year agricultural degrees and of one-year postgraduate qualifications offered by Colleges of Agriculture and selected Universities and Universities of Technology. The fifth thrust was to conduct corroborative investigations in the public sector. This was done by surveying Agricultural Extension practitioners asking them to evaluate the extent to which they believed they have knowledge and/or skill represented by the 34 curricula markers. In addition, a brief analysis was made of Agricultural Extension practitioner job descriptions used in the public sector. This was done to determine what knowledge and skills were expected of Agricultural Extension practitioners and comparing this to the 34 markers. The study revealed that there is very limited Agricultural Extension training offered in the curricula of qualifications held by the majority of public sector Agricultural Extension practitioners. Further, using the 34 markers as the touchstone, it was determined that the current curricula do not adequately equip public sector Agricultural Extension practitioners to deliver on the agenda of current South African agricultural policy. Without extensive revision of curricula in terms of both the quantity and content of extension training, the South African public sector Agricultural Extension service will not be able to realise the intended transformation of agriculture. Its key operatives will not have the knowledge and skills needed to do so. This is a unique study. No study of its kind has ever been conducted in South Africa. Numerous studies have been conducted into the training needs of Agricultural Extension practitioners. None have gone to the extent of questioning the assumptions on which Agricultural Extension is based. None have made a critical examination of curricula in the light of current educational and agricultural policy. This study found that there is an urgent need for serious attention to be given the purpose, scope, outcomes of Agricultural Extension higher education in South Africa to ensure that it can contribute to the positive and sustainable transformation of agriculture.
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