EDITORIAL: Regenerating Extension Education

The classic model of the technology transfer process in agricultural development is this: Scientists develop a technology over a number of years in the laboratory, and the extension agent delivers a preliminary message to farmers based on scientists' work. Given farmer comments, the technology is then returned to the scientists for refinement. In time, a final message about the technology is prepared for the farmers by the extension agent. Meanwhile, the scientists begin work on a new technology. This is a simple formula which works, but not always.

In truth, that formula usually doesn't work for most of the world's farmers. It fails because farmer's lives are not simple. Farming involves more than agronomic technologies, but economic, social and political considerations as well. The classic technology transfer formula is ineffective because education is not often a part of the extension education process.

Extensionists establish an environment for propaganda, whereas extension educators establish an environment for learning. True education relates new information to the existing reservoir of knowledge.

There is a story of an aged woman searching for a sewing needle under a street lamp. When asked where she lost the needle, the woman replied that she had misplaced it in the house. When asked why she was searching in the street the woman replied, "because there is light."

Scientists need to learn to look for their "needles" where they are imbedded. If they do so, then extension education can build upon the existing cultural and technological diversity. True education adds the new to the old and reconstructs the knowledge, perception and understanding one has of the world.

Could it be that how extension educators operate is more important than what they extend? If learning is what extension stands for, then the method ought to be as important as the message. The methods used to disseminate knowledge should in themselves be tools farmers can use in the ongoing process of learning. Developing countries do not need another ride in a technological hot air balloon, they need help in discovering that solutions are within their own power.

Clearly, researchers do have distinct advantages to offer the developing world. They have time, money and resources that open myriad possibilities for improving the quality of life. However, the success of projects requires they be expressly tailored to users' needs. It is impossible to understand those needs if efforts are not made to participate in the daily lives and cultures of the peoples for whom technologies are intended. Extension educators must be taught how to relate to farmers and how to see the world from a farmer's perspective.

Extension educators and farmers can find what there is to learn in their desire to relate to each other and build human relationships with one another. It is that desire which will regenerate extension education today.