Gisela Burckhardt

How can adults gain new insights and learn new things from their own experiences through direct involvement? For this process the author stresses the importance of applying the knowledge acquired in practice, and of individuals’ actual relationship to everyday life, and the overriding importance of conveying social skills such as willingness to innovate, creativity, reliability, etc. She thus provides an answer to the question whether the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) method can meet these requirements. In doing so, she describes two projects: the largely rural education centres and pilot activities in two villages in which this participatory approach is being tried out. – Dr Gisela Burckhardt, who has been Head of the IIZ/DVV Project Office in Ethiopia since April 1999, gives in her report her first impressions of her experiences in adult education in Ethiopia. They were originally written for a collection that is being prepared in memory of her doctoral supervisor, Prof. Dr Wolfgang Karcher, who died recently.

Participation and Practice:

Some Experiences of Project Work in Ethiopia

1. Background

Ethiopia has 11 regions, 90 ethnic groups, 70 languages and around 200 dialects. The largest ethnic group is that of the Oromo, who make up about 40% of the population, but for centuries they have always been ruled by other ethnic groups, notably the Amhara. All major ethnic groups are represented in the present government, but the Tigre have the greatest influence, their claim deriving from the fact that they inflicted a military defeat on the former communist regime, even though they account for only 20% of the population of Ethiopia. The broad outlines of education policy are laid down at national level, but all essential decisions are taken in the regions. This decentralized education policy is reflected also in language policy: each region teaches in its own language, and sometimes in more than one language. Language is of major importance for ethnic awareness in every region. Nationally, about 70-80% of adults and approximately 50% of children in Ethiopia are illiterate, but there are wide regional variations.

Recently I took part in a seminar in Oromia supported by the IIZ/DVV for district-level representatives of the Regional Education Bureau and coordinators of so-called "Community Skill Training Centres" (CSTCs). In previous years, the training received by these coordinators had included the building of fuel-saving stoves, but such stoves had not become widespread in the villages. One of the questions explored at the seminar was why the use of these stoves was not yet common and what could be done to remedy the situation. And one of the chief proposals put forward by participants was: "more training". Even though they had each received around three months’ thorough training, they had no answer to the outstanding problems beyond a demand for additional professional training.

In the course of discussions it became apparent that while professional training had been given, what was lacking, and was not taught in most training courses, was guidance on implementation. Throughout the country, international organizations (UNICEF, UNDP, etc.), state agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run training courses, and wonder why these prove so ineffective. What is missing is practical implementation. The training does not prepare participants to apply the knowledge conveyed during training to their everyday working environments. When the training course is finished, they go back to their places of work and do not apply their new knowledge. They sincerely believe that training alone will bring about change, and if this does not happen, then more training is what is required.

There is no awareness of the need for practical implementation. Usually, there is also no clear and realistic assessment of what is practicable and of the prerequisites for implementation. Nor is there a plan of the individual steps to be taken during implementation. Rather than generalities, the individual steps needed to put measures into practice need to be discussed and taught. Everyone understands in theory where the difficulties lie, but most CSTC coordinators do not know how to respond to them. At the seminar, we developed these steps jointly. Careful consideration was given to how step should follow step, whose help was needed for what, and where financial assistance might be needed.

This sort of training in the individual steps required for implementation is needed especially in a country such as Ethiopia, where hierarchical structures still prevail. For centuries it has always been someone else who laid down what was to be done. Once it was the Emperor, and then it was the communist regime. Patriarchal structures are still deeply embedded at village level too: it is still the elders – and this means men – who take the decisions, together with political administrators at district level, who issue orders rather than holding discussions in order to persuade and win over the local population. Since individual initiative used to be punished – in some cases even by death – people generally need to be given encouragement and reassurance that initiative is truly wanted, if they are to become active.

2. The IIZ/DVV Project

In Ethiopia, the IIZ/DVV supports a broad range of adult education activities which it carries out in four selected regions with the Regional Education Bureaus and regional ministries of education responsible for decision-making in the education sector. Our partners are therefore state agencies, since the state does not allow the Institute to support NGOs.

IIZ/DVV support covers the following areas:

  1. promotion of understanding of non-formal and adult education at national and regional level
  2. capacity building for staff at regional, zonal and district level, especially in the fields of a) participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and methods, and b) development of courses at teacher training colleges for the initial and inservice training of community workers
  3. printing of textbooks in local languages by education offices in the four selected regions, in the field of non-formal basic education (functional literacy courses which in fact go beyond the learning of reading and writing); the IIZ/DVV also supports the printing of reading materials for neo-literates
  4. simple initial technical training for illiterates and school dropouts at the CSTCs in the four regions
  5. village-centred development in two villages in each of three regions as a model for a participatory bottom-up approach

I have picked out two areas of this wide-ranging programme, taking the Oromia region by way of example:

  • training at the CSTCs
  • attempts at model development in selected pilot villages

3. The CSTCs

3.1 Training

In Ethiopia, as everywhere else, informal learning takes place in small craft workshops run by families, which admit very few persons who are not family members. There is considerable suspicion of "strangers": it is assumed that people who are not family members will very often embezzle money. Only with one’s own family is one safe.

Around 90% of the population of Ethiopia live on the land, but no longer from it. Because of the division of inheritances between sons (daughters generally inherit no land), plots are no longer large enough to feed every family. Simple initial training at the CSTCs is intended to enable those who can no longer live off their agricultural earnings to acquire an income. This applies to the mass of people who have no one in their family owning a small workshop in the nearest large village. There are 152 CSTCs in Oromia, at 100 of which training is supposed to take place.

The CSTCs receive maintenance grants of Birr 6000 per year from the regional education bureau (REB). This money is given by the regional office to the zonal education offices, though it is not always certain that the total amount is passed on to the CSTCs. The CSTCs also raise some of their own funds by selling the products manufactured by their trainees, and in many areas also by selling coffee from their own plantations.

3.2 The Problems at the CSTCs

  • The centres are underused, being occupied for at most half the year, and sometimes only for a quarter of the year. This is partly due to the budget of each centre, which is adequate for only one training course per year. The official plan of the REO assumes that only 25 trainees will be trained per centre per year. The trainees often come from some distance away and have to be given at least pocket money for subsistence. Accommodation is generally available at the CSTCs.
  • Training lasts from 3 to 5 months, depending on the CSTC and type of training. This duration is often too short and does not give trainees an adequate grounding. There is often a lack of curricula and training manuals for the individual courses.
  • Training is based on provision, not on demand. The fields of training are the same throughout Ethiopia at all CSTCs, not just in Oromia. These are woodwork, sewing, embroidery, knitting, basket-weaving, weaving, manufacture of fuel saving stoves, metalwork and sometimes housebuilding. Not all CSTCs offer all fields of training, selecting according to interest or the availability of trainers. A needs analysis is supposed to have been carried out by each CSTC among the population in the immediate surroundings, but on closer examination this often proves to mean nothing more than a visit by the CSTC coordinator to one village, where he speaks to a few people he happens to meet. Women are hardly ever consulted themselves. Participatory methods of needs analysis such as participatory rural appraisal (PRA) are unknown, so that true training needs are not discovered. There is usually no money to carry out local market analyses. Suitable new technology (e.g., in the field of agricultural production and processing) is a rarity.
  • The training itself concentrates purely on the conveying of specialist technical skills. Commercial skills such as book-keeping, management, price calculation, cost-benefit analysis, etc., that is, the skills needed by a micro-entrepreneur, are not taught.
  • There is no recognition of the importance of general personality traits such as flexibility, perseverance, willingness to cooperate and the ability to cope with frustration". These would be of relevance in the selection of trainees. I call these behavioural factors "social skills" because they are determined by the society and its agencies of socialization. Among these skills are willingness to innovate, creativity, reliability, the ability to plan ahead (introverted social skills), the ability to communicate and work with others, and the ability to prevail over others (extroverted social skills). The question arises of course, whether people’s social skills can be enhanced at all by training at a CSTC, and if so, which skills. They certainly should play a major role in the selection of trainees.
  • The selection of trainees is carried out by the district government. The selection process is not always transparent, despite the existence of formal criteria. These are: incidence of poverty, age (people should be in the age range 15-40), preferential treatment of women (approx. 60% of trainees should be women), and a basic level of education (classes 1-4). Applicants’ other skills and abilities are not taken into account. There is still absolutely no awareness of these.
  • After training, there is no scheme of work placement with local craftspeople, whereby graduates could obtain practical experience. Other forms of training, like placements with craftspeople, are only available informally, usually for family members, and these are neither supported nor initiated by the state.
  • Links between CSTCs and the woreda council where they are located are frequently insufficiently cultivated. The woreda council regards the CSTCs as Ministry of Education establishments and therefore generally provides no funding. There is a district-level committee which selects the fields of training and the trainees, but the members of this committee are chiefly ministry staff (Education, Agriculture and Health), and officers from the district council, which is dominated by the Party. The make-up of the committee prevents the local population from playing an active part, with the result that the CSTCs do not provide training that responds to demand.
  • A further critical problem is that graduates return after training to their villages, where they have little chance to apply what they have learnt. They would each need a micro credit to start up on their own, together with the knowledge of how to manage it. But there is not even the beginnings of any link between training and credit. In Oromia there is no bank or micro financial institution in the countryside which can grant loans for activities other than agriculture. Without such support, there can be no development in rural areas. That is the crucial point. In the Tigre region there are micro financial institutions, even at village level, but a different problem arises there: the bank requires creditors to band together in groups and to stand surety for one another. This is often declined by the individuals trained at CSTCs because they do not know one another. The wrong trainee selection policy plays a part here too.

As it is conducted at present, training at CSTCs is thus inefficient and generally pointless. It is a futile attempt by the regions to provide the rural population with an alternative source of income, but it achieves nothing because basic requirements are not met (lack of credit) and training is inadequate and one-sided (too short, not demand-oriented, purely technical, not diversified and not always meeting the needs of the local population).

Even the regional education office in Oromia has recognised these problems. Part of the difficulty lies in the top-down approach, which fails to give villages enough room to plan their own initiatives.

4. Pilot Projects

The participatory approach will be illustrated by the example of pilot projects in two selected villages.

Oromia has around 22 million inhabitants, and is divided administratively into 12 zones, which administer a total of 189 districts. The structure of government, from the top down, runs from the region to the 12 zones, and then on down to the woredas (districts), which are responsible in turn for the kebeles (urban areas) and farmers’ associations (FA, rural areas), each kebele or FA possibly comprising several villages.

4.1 A New Approach: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)

The IIZ/DVV and the regional education office agreed to conduct a PRA in two zones in Oromia, in each of which one village or farmers’ association was chosen for an integrated village-based approach.

The aim of PRA is to give the local population a real voice in decision-making and planning, and to let people design their own action plan (a bottom-up approach). There are no longer artificial barriers between literacy activities and technical training, health education, agricultural advice etc., but these are pursued in accordance with the interest of the local population and linked where possible with one another. On-site cooperation with the other ministries is important in such an approach.

First of all, an 8-day training course in PRA was held locally for the representatives of the various ministries (Education, Health, Agriculture), and for representatives of the Ministry of Education at regional and zonal level, with the help of two PRA experts (one woman, one man). A participatory survey of needs was then carried out in each village together with the local population, largely to assess training needs and wishes. The result of the survey was intended to form the action plan for the village, setting out future activities, especially in the field of initial and further training, which would be supported in the coming years by the IIZ/DVV.

The PRA was a significant learning process for all concerned. The state officials could not believe their eyes when they saw that illiterate farmers (men and women) were able draw a map of their village. Normally they go into the village and "proclaim their tidings", but never seek the farmers’ opinions. Now they were obliged to listen, since their main task was to assist the farmers in analysing the main problems in the village. They were required merely to be catalysts, while the farmers led the discussion. For their part, the farmers were so surprised that the officials were suddenly listening to them that they became very enthusiastic. In one village this led, for example, to an extraordinarily long closing session, after the PRA team had been holding discussions with various villagers for some 4 days. The session lasted from 10.00 in the morning to 16.00 without a break, even though it was a Friday (the majority of the villagers were Moslems) and most had to say mid-day prayers.

The PRA was so conducted that the women were always questioned separately from the men, and held discussions in their own groups. Even in the closing session, the women started off talking about their problems among themselves. It was no surprise that the problems which the women raised were different from those of the men. Shortage of wood for fuel is a major problem for the women, for example, as they often have to spend many hours searching for it, and they were therefore very interested in economical stoves. Traditional harmful practices such as circumcision were also mentioned by the women.

The men were more interested in training in non-agricultural fields. In both villages in Oromia, almost half the population no longer have enough land to be able to live off what it produces. These men, most of whom are young, have to hire themselves out as wage labourers on other farms, assuming that they find work at all. Strictly speaking, there is no private ownership of land in Ethiopia. Under the communist regime of the 1970s and ‘80s, the land was handed over to be used by individuals on the basis of size of family. Since then, their descendants have sub-divided the land among themselves, but because the plots have become too small, most "lease" their land (illegally) to the better-off among them, or even to the "rich people" in the towns. The fields of training are, however, very limited, as indicated above, and seldom lead to a hoped-for job. Housebuilding might be one area that could provide employment, and since there was heavy demand for this among the male villagers, we shall be supporting it.

In the other village in Oromia, the water supply was the greatest problem. There are no springs, and the nearest river is 3-4 hours away on foot. The local population have therefore dug ponds which fill with water in the rainy season. When this season ends, the ponds become empty in about six months, however. Moreover, the water in the ponds is impure, as animals are also taken there to drink, causing disease. The local people were asked whether they were interested in information about means of purifying the water by filtering it through stones and sand, or boiling it. Consideration was also given to enlarging the ponds or digging new ones. One of the main problems is disagreement within the village. If all were to agree, everyone working together could manage the work to be done on the ponds. But conflict management is not always easy...

Some men and women in the pilot villages expressed interest in basic education. Teaching will be arranged for two different groups: children of school age (7–15 years) and adults. It is being stressed that the village population should select their own "teachers" since experience shows that "outside teachers" are not always accepted and frequently do not respond to learners’ interests. The teachers are people from the village, the majority of whom have 12 years of schooling and are unemployed. They will be given a short course to prepare them for their job: it is planned to give them initial training followed by inservice training, so that they become familiar with adult education methods and learner-centred teaching. In theory, the goal is functional literacy (taking Paulo Freire as the model) which goes beyond learning to read and write and includes other topics such as health, the environment, etc. Much of this remains on paper, however, since most of the "teachers" are hopelessly out of their depth in teaching such subjects. Theoretically, they are supposed to call in specialists from outside for topics which they do not understand themselves, but this seldom happens.

4.2 Problems with Implementing the New Approach

  • One fundamental approach arises once the needs analyses have been carried out in the villages. The local decision-makers may have received PRA training, but this does not automatically lead them to behave differently towards local people in future. They need to build up a relationship of trust with the villages, so that regular weekly visits from one man and one woman have to be planned. These officials have spent their entire lives simply passing on orders from above, and they can therefore not be expected to change their behaviour at once. It is a long process which calls for detailed, painstaking and intensive support. The staff of the Ministry of Education would much rather turn to other state officials in order to gain access to the village population, for example. Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture are generally more often present locally than Ministry of Education staff. However, the agricultural advisers are not always liked by the population: this depends on the individual. Education officials need to develop the "antennae" to pick up such things. Another problem is language: Afaan-Oroma is spoken in Oromia, but not all well-educated trainers speak it.
  • A further difficulty is the lack of willingness and ability to cooperate among the various ministries operating locally. Their representatives have received no preparation for doing so (except in Tigre). The IIZ/DVV and the regional education office have deliberately chosen a multi-sectoral approach since a number of different agencies are responsible for the range of problems in a given village. It is for that reason that local representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, the health authority and the district government took part in the PRA training course. These officials have their own programme, handed down from above, which they are obliged to carry out in the villages, and they are not at first inclined to take on additional work. The local authorities need to be persuaded first.

NGOs have to face fewer of these difficulties. They take their own staff into the villages, but on the other hand, their work sometimes has no lasting effect because they have to withdraw their workers after a set time and to rely on state agencies to continue the work, but these can seldom be counted on.

5. Development and Adult Education

Most Ethiopian decision-makers do not appreciate that adult education also embraces health advice, training in agricultural methods, conflict counselling, etc., although the Ministry of Education has stated as much in its adult education plan. In Ethiopia, adult education is still taken to mean literacy work. However, education is seldom a priority for people, as other problems are more urgent. The benefits which education brings are not always obvious to people in rural areas. Why should they learn to read and write if they have nothing to eat? Why should they learn to read and write if there is nothing to read? Only general development can create a culture of reading and writing. I am therefore of the view that it is necessary to start from the needs of the village population, which may lie in the building of fuel saving stoves, the provision of a water supply, or in housebuilding, rather than in basic education. Basic education generally develops in response to need, as soon as people discover that they require it. In modern housebuilding, for example, or in tailoring, measurement and calculation are needed. Men and women realize that they cannot sew or build a modern house without basic knowledge.

The work in the pilot villages really calls for an entire project. But the IIZ/DVV is a small organization which has only limited means and can therefore only give a start. By adopting the bottom-up approach, we are trying out a participatory procedure which relates to the needs of the local population. This approach is also multi-sectoral, involving the various ministries locally. Non-formal adult education is an appropriate means of doing so, since it can be applied across sectors.

If the activities in the pilot villages show good results and convince the regional education bureau of the value of the approach, it is to be hoped that the regional government will be persuaded to introduce the approach in other districts. This would create a key multiplier effect. Non-formal adult education would thereby acquire greater importance.

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.