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Agricultural Education


AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION. Though agriculture is the oldest and greatest of industries, agricultural education in any organized form is among the recent activities of modern states. In Great Britain, or at least in England and Wales, it may be said to go back only to 189o. It would be untrue, however, to say that before then nothing was done. Chairs of agriculture and rural economy were founded at Edinburgh in 1790 and at Oxford in 1796; the Royal Agricultural college at Cirencester was in 184o. But agricultural education provided in universities or colleges was beyond the reach of the bulk of the agricultural population. Little or nothing was offered to the children of farmers, smallholders, and labourers until nearly the end of last century. In 189o, however, the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act placed at the disposal of county councils a sum of money (popularly known as the "Whiskey Money," because it was derived from an increase of the taxation on spirits which was originally destined for another purpose), amounting roughly to L75o,000 a year, and authorized them to apply it to purposes of technical instruction, including instruction in agriculture. From 1890 onwards there was a considerable, if slow, increase both of the higher education provided by university departments of agri culture and agricultural colleges, and of instruction provided by county councils. By 1912 the State was granting £19,00o a year for higher education, and the English and Welsh county councils were spending f 7 0,00o a year on the more elementary instruction. The World War stopped the development of plans already prepared for further expansion on a relatively large scale.

Post-War Development.

The present system, though it fol lows pre-war lines in its organization, is largely the creation of the years since 1918. It falls into two main parts; the university departments of agriculture and agricultural colleges, whose dis tinctive mark is that they provide a long course, two years at least, usually three, leading to a diploma or degree; and the edu cation provided by county councils, which is essentially an education of short courses intended for the boy or girl who is already working on the land and proposes to return to it.

Higher agricultural education in England and Wales (excluding veterinary education) is provided at 14 centres, of which seven are departments or schools of universities, and the other seven are agricultural colleges, each possessing its own governing body, and not forming an integral part of a university. Eleven of these institutions (all except the Royal Agricultural college at Ciren cester and the two women's colleges at Swanley, in Kent, and Studley, in Warwickshire), discharge an important function out side the actual teaching of students. Each is an "Advisory centre" for a group of counties forming its "Province" ; it is provided with specialists in the more important branches of science bearing on agriculture, such as chemistry and entomology, who supplement the more general advice provided for farmers by the technical staffs of county councils, and it acts as a unifying and co-ordinat ing influence for the experimental and advisory work of county councils. All the 14 institutions are recognized and aided by the State. The cost to the student varies considerably between the two Welsh colleges (Aberystwyth and Bangor) at one end of the scale and Oxford or Cambridge at the other end.

Education of a less elaborate character is provided by county councils; in some counties by means of a farm institute (a simpler and smaller agricultural college, usually possessing residential ac commodation and a farm attached), in practically all counties through organized classes, held at no special institution, or through discussion clubs, evening lectures, and similar less systematic methods. In 1927 there were 16 farm institutes, four in Wales (including Monmouthshire) and the remainder in England, all but one supported and governed by county councils. On the average they can accommodate 4o students each; the fees for board, lodging, and tuition vary between i 7s. 6d. a week for students coming from the county which (supports a particular institute to 12. 1os. od. a week for other students. The main course at a farm institute is normally a six months' winter course in practical agriculture, extending from October to March, and designed for young people, from the age of 16 upwards, who have been working on the land and are going straight back to it. During the summer months the institute is used for courses in dairying, poultry keeping, and other special subjects. The great majority of county councils, however, do not possess farm insti tutes, but attempt to take agricultural education to the land worker by such means as the "Organized day course" (a continu ous course of instruction held at regular times, usually one day a week, in any town or village where there is a demand for it, and extending over several weeks or perhaps months), evening classes, travelling dairy schools, courses for instruction in manual proc esses (ploughing, hedging, ditching, milking, and the like), and lectures or demonstrations.

In 1925-26 the cost of the education provided by county councils in England and Wales was .i312,o00, of which the Gov ernment provided a fraction over two-thirds and county rates the remainder. One other activity deserves mention. In 1922 the Government started a scheme of scholarships in agriculture for the sons and daughters of agricultural workmen and of other rural workers in a similar economic position. Under this scheme approximately zoo scholarships are awarded every year, of which the great majority are short-term scholarships to farm institutes. The cost is £20,000 a year.

In Scotland, agricultural education has followed a rather dif ferent course, though it started on the same lines. The organiza tion is not divided between universities and colleges on the one side and county councils on the other; the colleges control and direct the whole system. Apart from the small sums received as fees, the whole cost is met by grants from the State, which in amounted to £75,000. But in the education given, as distinct from the organization for giving it, the Scottish system resembles the English. The three colleges in alliance with their respective universities provide long courses (three winter sessions) for the university degree or college diploma ; they take the place of the English farm institutes by including in their curricula short courses for farming; and through the appointment of organizers resident in the counties they conduct extension work similar to that done in England and Wales by the staffs of county councils. Two special institutions should be mentioned : the Kilmarnock dairy school and the Craibstone School of Domestic Economy for Women, the former associated with the Glasgow college and the latter with Aberdeen.

Other Systems.

Broadly speaking, and with considerable variations due to differences of national character and environ ment, Continental systems tend to fall into the main divisions already enumerated, of two or three years at universities or agri cultural colleges; in the second place, there are short courses of a few weeks or months in the dead season, or of a year at most, at a residential institution—sometimes a college, more usually a farm institute or farm school: thirdly, miscellaneous courses, lectures, and demonstrations given by peripatetic instructors who endeavour to bring technical education to the farmer's door, or at least to his town or village. But there are one or two features of foreign systems which ought to be mentioned, if only by way of contrast to the British system.

Of these the most striking is, perhaps, the large part taken in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and in fact nearly all over the continent of Europe, by voluntary societies and associations; in Denmark, for instance, agricultural societies own and manage many of the Folk high schools and support many "agricul tural counsellors"—experts who combine teaching, lecturing, and advisory functions. But the Folk high schools of Denmark are notable not merely as an example of voluntary effort ; they are a great and successful attempt to add a finish to the education of the adult land-worker by giving him or her a six to nine months' course, not entirely agricultural and sometimes not agricultural at all, at a residential institution. In Belgium, a country of small holders, there is a highly developed system of instruction for women and girls in a combination of practical agriculture and rural domestic economy; the system centres in the national in stitution at Laeken. In Sweden also (besides the usual agricul tural colleges, agricultural schools, and farmers' sons' schools, the last providing a three months' theoretical course for young men, usually about the age of 22) there are something like 4o schools of agricultural economy for women.

Changes in the British System.

From 1924 or thereabouts two movements affecting agricultural education have gained prom-_ inence. The first is the movement for imparting into the ordinary subjects of instruction taught at rural elementary and secondary schools what is known as a "rural bias"—e.g., arithmetic may be taught through simple farm accounts, or geography with at least some reference to the physical characteristics of the district in which the school is situated. Provided it does not degenerate into a premature attempt at vocational training, there is everything to be said in favour of such a change.

The second change is a change of emphasis in the subjects usually taught in agricultural institutions and courses. Hitherto syllabuses of instruction have tended to be dominated by science, or rather sciences—chemistry, physics, botany. A school of thought has arisen which starts from the fact that the farmer is not only a grower of crops, a producer of eggs or milk, a breeder of stock, but also a manager of labour, a buyer of goods, and a seller of products—in the ordinary phrase, a business-man. There is consequently a steady pressure towards modifying courses of instruction, particularly the short winter courses, by giving a larger place to such subjects as accounts (the foundation of busi ness), the management of labour, and the elements of marketing technique. There can be little doubt that this side of agricultural education has been relatively neglected; but the teaching of man agement is not easy.

Defects in the British System.

Butthough these changes may be beneficial, the British system still reveals several notable defects. First, it is far too small, not, perhaps, for the demands which are actually made on it, but for the demands which ought to be made. In the second place, the larger part of the English and Welsh system—the part organized and directed by county coun cils—is "patchy." There is no power to compel county councils to supply even the barest modicum of agricultural instruction, and accordingly the provision made for it in a county varies with the character and finances of the county council and its electorate. Thirdly, provision for the residential education of adults—one of the most marked and successful features of Continental systems— is noticeably absent. Lastly, provision for instruction in manual processes and in the handling of machinery, though not absent, is not so common as it should be.

Progress Being Made.

Someof these defects are being slowly remedied. In spite of financial exigencies, college and county edu cation does progress and grow; and, best of all signs, authorities are agreed that in the last 20 or 3o years there has been a remarkable change of attitude on the part of the agricultural community. Farmers welcome the assistance of college and county staffs; and a first attempt has been made, through private enterprise, to provide at Avoncroft, near Evesham, an institution very similar to the Folk high school of Denmark for adult land workers. If that experiment proves a success, it may be the begin ning of a new era. Moreover, the education of women and girls has recently been investigated by a strong committee, who have surveyed the whole field; and the Ministry of Agriculture has put before county councils a detailed scheme for extending instruction in manual processes. In 1925-26 the number attending such in struction rose to 1,9oo--a number which, however small in itself, was at least an increase of 5o% on the previous year.

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