Robert Domoguen, CHARMP2 Information/Knowledge Management Focal Person
In the Cordillera highlands, ancient concepts remain as fresh as the morning dew – hardly outmoded.
Take the case of the School on Air (SoA), for instance, which was borne more than 60 years ago in Iloilo.
As a tool for distance learning for Filipino farmers, it has evolved overtime along with the changes in the use of electronic communications.
From listening to purely radio broadcast dissemination of agricultural technological information, Filipino farmers today can access taped and packaged learning modules and tutorial programs aired over the television networks, and now on home satellite discs or theatres. They can also interact with research institutions through SMS text messaging and via internet. Adept Filipinos, given the chance and opportunity can well take on the challenge of the information age, through “e-learning.” I deduced that insight from the users of the PhilRice website (www.pinoyrice.com and text users at 0920-911-1398) all over the country which was shared to me in a recent visit there.
The situation in the Cordillera is quite different. Among the top users of the PhilRice website and its “Q&A text messaging” site, there is hardly a visitor seen from the region.
Largely due to inaccessibility characterized by the ruggedness of the terrain, poor road and communication problems, majority of the population in many communities in the Cordillera highlands, particularly those in the rural areas, have not kept pace with the benefits enjoyed by other Filipinos with reference to “e-learning.”
Radio remains as the most popular medium and source of information for the majority of the population in the Cordillera. Even the NEDA Regional Development Council underscored that statement in its survey on the preferred medium to use in the campaign for autonomy.
In agriculture, as far as I remember, radio has been a medium used by the Benguet State University (BSU) and Department of Agriculture (DA) along with its special projects to communicate technical and program information to listeners since the early 1970’s.
Dr. Gelia Castillo, national scientist and senior consultant at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) remarked that radio “as distance learning medium seem like an anachronism in this age of e-learning.” Finding its niche in the Cordillera, she needed “evidence-based results,” to underline the continuing viability of radio for distance learning in the region.
Dr. Castillo and I talked briefly on the conditions and realities of agricultural extension in the Cordillera before she delivered her reflections on nine papers developed by practioners about innovations for scaling up that we were working on in a writeshop at the Development Academy of the Philippines, Tagaytay City last Sept 1-5. The papers dealt on varied subjects like community seed banking, farmer business school, cooperatives, payment for environmental services, continuing roles of customary organizations in development, and my paper titled “”School on Air: Facilitating Community Learning Using Multimedia,” is one of them. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will publish the papers in book form this year.
Delivering her reflections to the papers, Dr. Castillo with reference to my paper said that theoretically, radio is an ideal alternative extension medium in places like the Cordilleras. She specifically asked that I build a paragraph of evidence to validate the theory.
I do not begrudge Dr. Castillo for speaking her thoughts, urgent as it is, at a time when the country enters into a new phase of its global trade relations with its Asian neighbours this year, that affect the majority of the region’s population – the farmers. The latest survey by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) on the number of municipal agricultural technicians in the Cordillera remained at an average of 2-3. Agricultural technicians, by the nature of their work, are the primary sources of technical and program information for our farmers.
In over a year of its implementation, the tangible evidences to justify the SoA’s viability and scaling up in the region are its intended and unintended accomplishments, to include the number of graduate after airing 4 courses on various commodities in a very challenging environment. We have completed evaluations for each of the courses offered, and the conduct of a study on the SoA Program implementation is forthcoming this year, or before the CHARMP2 terminates.
Dr. Castillo stressed that most projects require “collective action’ which she said is “the greatest challenge of all.” The writing of a paragraph of evidence that justify SoA or the use of radio as a distance learning medium in the Cordillera is not done yet. The workers and other stakeholders to include the radio stations, local government units, farmer leaders, farmer beneficiaries, and development communicators engaged by this program must work together to implement and document and analyze its accomplishments.
Finally, Dr. Castillo said that those who must do the work must be “geniuses,” competent or have the ability to work with competent people; are committed in spite of, and not because of personal incentives provided; trustworthy, and most important, possess integrity at a time when the national preoccupation is on graft and corruption . \
(from left: Cheikh Sourang, IFAD; Dr. Gelia Castillo, Robert Domoguen
Antonio Quizon, Arma Bertuso)