Aquaculture Distance Education in Lao PDR
Through the AquacultureOutreach Program, the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkokworks in rural developmental projects in NE Thailand and in otherIndochinese countries. Research and extension are among theactivities carried out in partnership with a large number ofinstitutions, line agencies and tertiary educational schools. Aroundten universities and agricultural colleges in the region aresupported by institutional capacity building and human resourcedevelopment programs.
Due to the fact that theIndochinese region is characterized by a variety of regional andnational differences, an overall approach to sustainable developmenthas to be both flexible and dynamic. From national conferences,institutional strategic planning, stringent course development andscience/technical support to task-based discovery workshops, locallyconducted training activities and field trials -- all need to beenveloped in a strategic plan to meet a country's needs. Lao PDR is acase in point where a carefully thought out and flexibly dynamicdevelopment plan has been put into motion.
A Lao Aquaculture Farm
One aspect of the OutreachProgram has been to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture andForestry (MAF) through the Department of Livestock and Fisheries(DLF). The program has been based in Savannakhet province since 1993at the Provincial Livestock and Fisheries Section (PLFS) and has beenrecently involved in a unique strategy to develop the country's humanresource potential. This involvement began when the DLF, afterconsultations at both the ministerial and district level, concludedthat the present system of formal agricultural education could notadequately serve the needs of district level agencies. As a result,institutional capacity building became the primary goal of the DLF inits effort to coordinate and implement district programs in remote,rural areas. In 1996, it was determined that, in order to upgrade itsagricultural officers to effectively reach the many districts, theyneeded to provide adequate education in a non-traditionalmanner.
According to Mr.Douangchit Litdamlong, Head of Section in Savannakhet, a majorconstraint in institutional capacity building efforts has been thepoor communication between the province and district levels. Anothervery critical obstacle lies in trying to cover the width and breadthof the country. The modestly developed infrastructure in someprovinces, where geographical distances can be quite large andpopulation densities sparse, has limited the access to remote townsand villages. A related factor has been the limitation of finances tocover inter-provincial travel. A limited budget designed specificallyto cover provincial coordination and management (including travelexpenses and a modest per diem) has now been provided via AIT.
PLFS Staff Working in the Forest
The PLFS has tried toimprove communication through a reporting system in whichagricultural statistics are compiled into simple data-books by thedistricts. Annual planning meetings have been initiated wherebyrepresentatives from all thirteen districts attend and supplementtheir monthly reporting. Mr Douangchit has affirmed that mostofficers report through regular visits to Savannakhet and that theseface-to-face encounters are vital communication links from theprovince to the district.
Over the past few years,there has been a gradual attempt to upgrade the capacity of districtstaff by utilizing them to organize participatory workshops onfarmer/community trials initiated by the provincial staff asgovernment or development projects. After it was decided that anon-formal educational approach should be developed, a ruralin-service training program to serve the remote districts of Lao PDRhas passed through its initial design phase. Arising from this camethe first distance-learning module in 1997. In addition, a moresystematic educational program within the provincial DLF sections inthe fields of livestock and fishery science has been suggested as aparallel alternative to just improving the existent curricula taughtat regional agricultural schools.
In assessing trainingneeds, district officials have requested the circulation of basicupdated information and applicable technologies in livestock,veterinary and aquaculture as a priority. Some manuals and simpletext books have been compiled in collaborations between provincialspecialists and the Outreach program.* Major project activities ofthe PLFS with regard to a fish nursing network, administration andmanagerial procedures are seen as templates for further elaborationof distance-learning modules.
A coordination committeehas been formed to encompass three provinces in the south with theexpressed duty to organize provincial specialists as facilitators inthe development of future educational packages. The section inSavannakhet will pursue the strategy and transfer methods toChampasak and Kammoun Provinces. They will conduct workshops for theprovincial staff in Pak Se who will, in turn, conduct workshops forthe districts in Champasak Province. District officers will beexpected to arrange workshops with local farmers. Eventually, farmersare counted on to share their indigenous knowledge and skill with oneanother.
A DLF Fish Hatchery in Pak Se, Champasak Province
AIT has been requested toassist the organization of a limited number of provincial levelworkshops and components in fisheries related training. The expectedoutput will be an aquatic resources management module.
The development of thefirst training materials was facilitated as a task-based discoveryworkshop in which participants (district officers) were allowed tocommunicate to each other their experience working with farmers andto create new patterns of collaboration and confidence. The purposeof the workshop was to strengthen working relationships betweenofficers and to encourage speakers to practice English as much aspossible since English language competency had been an initial demandby the DLF and is a prioritized objective of theGovernment.
A Provincial coursedevelopment committee was established and the first distance modulewas compiled into a list of selected English phrases commonly used bydistrict officers with an accompanying pronunciation tape. This smallpackage is currently being tested in five trial districts.
Distance education hasalways had as one of its objectives to reach those far from academicsources. The problems associated with distance education have beenhow to best stimulate a creative learning process and delivering thematerials that support and enhance an educational environment. LaoPDR has the disadvantage of a poor infrastructure, making deliveryand student-teacher interaction a hardship. The advantage in Laos hasbeen the very creative utilization of its human resources topropagate new learning environments not usually associated witheducation. This has also led to the creation of unique tools andmaterials that have created these new learningenvironments.
The PLFS is striving tofurther develop its distance education framework through investmentin its richest resource -- human potential in relation to otherhumans. As district staff acquire the technology and skills necessaryto perform their daily duties more effectively, they also benefit bygaining potential entitlements that lead to promotions. Likewise, asfarmers acquire the knowledge and skills from the district staff, agradual improvement in their daily lives lead to measurable increasesof prosperity as well as immeasurable increases in the realization ofpotentially new goals in personal development.
It is this currency ofhope and human sustainability which is the potential that hasgenerated momentum, inspiring everyone down the line from the AITbackup to the creative PLFS staff, from the receptive provincialcoordinators to the persevering farmers. It is this currency whichallows the construction of a framework for working beyond the limitsof one's known boundaries in cooperation with others. In Laos PDR,distance education is no longer a remote activity -- it is close athand where resource meets resource.
Mads Korn is a DANIDAeducation specialist working at AIT since May 1, 1995. His area ofresponsibility comprises institutional capacity building and HRD inregional tertiary institutions. He travels extensively in Cambodia,Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, training and consulting in curriculumdevelopment.
Michael E. Jones is theeditor of the Information and Promotional Unit at AASP. His workincludes editing a variety of documents and teaching materials anddeveloping a series of educational modules for regional partnerinstitutions. He is also responsible for assisting in the developmentof information units at collaborating institutions in Cambodia, LaoPDR, Northeast Thailand, North Vietnam and SouthVietnam.
* The development of theOutreach educational modules is primarily sponsored by the DanishGovernment, Danida.
For further information,please contact: AIT Aqua Outreach in Lao PDR, Livestock &Fisheries Section, PO Box 16, Savannakhet, Lao PDR, (tel/fax: +85641212549).
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.