My philosophy is constructed on my former professor’s statement in the Foundations of Capacity Development course when he introduced us the session on learning theories:
“…problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality and not the one that engenders a “passive perception” of the existing circumstances taken as immutable or natural.” (Paulo Freire).
This statement has guided my work with international communities and students who will work internationally. Working in international agriculture is challenging, complex as there is a diversity of actors with different perspectives and education. Communities encounter and experience conflict and tension while working with new actors or international professionals. Dilemmas arise when deciding to adopt new learning or resisting to adapt to new knowledge. Several times, local actors perceive agricultural projects as imposition from outside. Local realities, knowledge and context have not been fully considered when working in international agricultural development. New knowledge may not be going to add any value to communities if these aspects are not considered. In agricultural research for development, there is a need to build on the different sources of knowledge, those that include traditional, scientific and technological knowledge. There is a need to build interdisciplinary teams that are inclusive, representative and transformative. Those teams can learn and share knowledge considering the diversity of actors. Teams need to learn and understand that it is not only about science or technology but also and importantly are social and gender norms, worldviews, mental models that determine how agriculture is done. There is a need to strengthen capacity of those who have not had any chance to be involved in formal education. It is also a need to support those less favoured to participate and have a voice. This requires a type of education that is critical and transformative, and be formal, non-formal and informal. Education needs to educate people to be critical thinkers and be involved in transformative learning. Ideally, the learning processes bring about learners who will be able to act upon the realities and conditions they have to confront. Agriculture in developing countries is a dynamic process that embeds social and cultural systems. These are not separated of technical and scientific systems. They influence the context and its dynamics that result of the interaction of normativity, morality and ethics. My role as an instructor is to support students to explore these unknown dynamics and foster spaces where concepts and theories strengthen knowledge for capacities and skills to recognize human values as prerequisites for learning. Students should be able to foster spaces for people to empower themselves and actively solve their own problems by fostering representation, diversity and inclusion of these less represented in communities. This is not only knowing about concepts but also knowing on how to manage (including planning) the context and the historical, ethical and normative aspects that involve the concepts. Paying special attention to the root causes of inequality and poverty is crucial for people working and engaged in agriculture in developing countries.
I put in practice the above and I implemented an educational program (2013-2015). I developed a strategy, conceptual framework for implementing the gender transformative change in agricultural research in development for natural and social scientists at Doctorate level in 5 countries where World Fish was operating. In the conceptual framework I proposed three specific steps for learning, so professionals not only know how to work in diverse groups as capacities and skills are enhanced as well as behaviors and attitudes are challenged. The first component is Learning for action. It focuses on obtaining new information, new knowledge, concepts and theories and match this new information to current belief systems, practices and norms of behaviour. The methods used for this purpose included lectures, workshops and assignments. Learning in action focuses on application of the acquired knowledge and skills in practice. It involves reflection in order to understand the problem or situation from a new angle. This 17 type of learning involves ‘thinking outside the box’. It also requires creativity and critical thinking engendering new possibilities, choices and actions. The methods used for this purpose include engagement with scholarly communities of practice, internships, work placement and field visits. Learning from action supports learners to identify and work on challenging areas and gaps they may have identified in learning in action. This represents the highest form of structural self-examination and self-actualization in relation to the being and the world. In this stage transformative learning becomes evident. The learning from action phase involves a move to a new inclusive ‘way of thinking and acting’. It is not only challenging our thinking or mental models, learning from action helps to realize how we see and position ourselves in the world. The methods used for this purpose include mentoring and course projects. The learning processes are very important to me as I work with students. They support my own development. I assess what worked well, what needs to be improved and how these need to be improved to serve better my students.