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 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

arguing pros and cons (Haji-Naji). buzzing groups of 2-3 people in the plenum (where they discuss the problem among themselves for a few minutes). they did not appreciate some of the techniques we used in the workshop. rather than in front of them like a bureaucratic leader. In the workshop we tested several techniques such as: discussion in plenary sessions. Each workshop lasted four days. They felt like children who had just started to go to school.g. the Chinese do not like to explore themselves in front of other people. In the evaluation after each workshop. They start to say something after they have thought over an idea carefully in their minds. visualising the results. developing a participatory approach to training. Sometimes they asked for some "dry material" from the teachers. field trips with interviews and group discussions. they have already organised evening classes on their own and try to use the same participatory approach. but they also felt that the content of the old way of teaching was not oriented to people and problems. e. who could experience by themselves and exchange ideas. The workshop participants were men and women farmers from six villages. On the other hand. We selected two townships in Hebei Province as a pilot area to start our work: Machang and Rao Yang Dian. role playing. 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. the participants told us what they liked and disliked. The situation analysis was done by organising rural development workshops and interviewing peasants. This may be because the Chinese have spent such a long time in a hierarchical society. 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. we had to talk as much as possible with the farmers and village-level extensionists. Potentials and limits of workshops After the experience in the two townships. First of all.between the different levels and the people in different positions. Talk with farmers and extensionists To develop an appropriate method. we realise that the rural people are very willing to try this participatory approach. extensionists and people in other agricultural institutions. If we look at Chinese history. a participatory approach is not completely new in China. even though they are used to following the traditional way of teaching. and extensionists from villages and townships. They came together to discuss their own training needs and asked us for more information and training. 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. In general. The teachers did not impose their ideas on the participants. In fact. . collecting ideas on cards in plenum. They feel shy. roleplaying and picture drawing. Some extensionists said this was the first time for them to attend a workshop and to understand the meaning of democracy. and identifying target groups and their training needs. In the villages in Rao Yang Dian. The moderator stands in the middle of the participants. including a field trip to three villages. a flash of the participants' feelings (where each person spontaneously gives her opinion). sketching out problems and future perspectives. dividing into different kind of groups for group work.

They often emphasise external rather than internal causes. they were encouraged during the workshops to identify their own problems. However. PR China . So that the participants could learn a basic way of problemoriented thinking. But it is really new to bring the participatory approach from western countries into training. we can develop the approach in a Chinese way. Action-reflection-action should be the basis of this problem. It is also obvious that local. analyse their causes and find potentials for solving the problems. regional. During the workshops they did something they had neither done nor thought before. based on the above-mentioned Chinese experience and the continuing situation analysis. However. They found it better than the traditional training method they had followed year after year. at first. For example. Very often. as long as we are willing to respect the peasants' culture. lifestyle and opinions. 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. the peasants seriously criticised their landlords -who were their leaders. As trainers we believe that. we can find an effective way to develop a participatory training method which suits the Chinese situation.it soon became obvious that most workshop participants appreciated our new method. We have tested our new method in several workshops at lower and higher levels. However -to our surprise. Workshops encourage self-reliance We have talked intensively with farmers. What do we conclude? We must confess that.and expressed their opinions openly. peasants did not adopt new technology and do not want to be the first innovators because they lacked confidence. they see clearly that we all aim at the same thing: sustainable rural development. As "participation" sometimes means they lose a certain kind of power. They do not always understand the relationship between the problems and themselves.and peopleoriented approach to training. Wang Dehai and Karin Janz Beijing Agricultural University CIAD Beijing 100094. we too were rather sceptical.especially after Liberation in 1949. extensionists and local authorities involved in rural development. During the workshops. the farmers and extensionists have difficulties in analysing problems in agriculture and in their life objectively. some of them are afraid of introducing such new approaches. provincial and national authorities must be involved. they recognised their own problems and identified the key ones for the first time. the Chinese gained much experience in several political movements. 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. they rely very much on external power and on the government. But if they also participate in the process. Therefore. which promoted people's awareness in a participatory way.