Are Western Humanitarian Aid Givers Using the Most Effective Educational Approach to Teach Ukrainians How to Create Wealth?
Recently I returned from an eleven week trip to Western Ukraine where I was a volunteer for Land O'Lakes on their USAID sponsored Farmer to Farmer Program. During this trip I had reason to question the effectiveness of the approach used by too many Western humanitarian aid givers in their attempt to help Ukrainian farmers to become globally competitive. I'm writing this article to express my concerns about our educational approach and to encourage aid givers to think about (1) the methods of education they are using, (2) their target audience and (3) the real objective of their humanitarian efforts.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has been spending almost $200 million a year in Ukraine, which puts Ukraine in third place behind Israel and Egypt as a recipient of U.S. foreign aid. In addition to the USA other Western Nations that are interested in seeing Ukraine develop into a prosperous and free market economy supply substantial amounts of foreign aid. Most of this money actually goes to citizens of the aid-giving countries via subcontractors and their employees who supply training and education to Ukrainians. All too often you hear prospective recipients of humanitarian aid say, "We already know what to do! We just need money so 'can the chatter' and send the cash!"
We need to teach theory to Ukrainians and encourage them to use it creatively to solve their own problems under changing conditions. Learning theory is in contrast to the all-too-common approach of presenting educational materials that emphasize memorization of rules - which usually fit one situation and often not the one at hand.
I love to learn and can usually remember theory. I find it hard to memorize results and "thumb rules." If I do a good job of learning theory and think creatively, I can generate my own set of thumb rules, predict cause and effect and solve problems under changing conditions. This frees me from memorizing data that may apply only to a specific situation. For example, being handed a concentrate formula to be fed to dairy cows being fed alfalfa hay leaves me clueless when the forage changes to corn silage. Teach me how to formulate rations and I'll be able to feed my cows properly under changing forage situations, but give me a feed ration for use with alfalfa hay when I'm feeding corn silage and my cows will not be properly nourished and I won't know what to do. The result is that my income will decrease and the gross domestic product of my country will suffer.
It really boils down to thinking and solving my own problems within the intellectual freedom allowed in a market economy rather than playing "brain dead" and relying on central planning to tell me what to do. We need to teach "Yankee ingenuity!"
Before we get too hard on our Ukrainian friends, we need to consider what it would be like to live for several generations where our superiors in central planning told us what to do and where making unsolicited innovations was discouraged under the threat of compulsory trips into exile in Siberia - or worse. In the USSR teachers read, rather than gave, lectures. The successful students memorized them without questioning and then on exams "parroted" them back to the professor, pretty much verbatim. As a result, the target audience that Western aid givers are trying to reach to help Ukrainians develop a market economy is conditioned to be told what to do and to memorize applications rather than to learn theory so that they can think and creatively solve problems for themselves.
How often do we fall into the trap of spending our foreign aid money to promote memorization rather than to encourage learning? My thesis is, "Too often!"
If we want Ukraine to become globally competitive we must resist the all too common request for "central planning" answers and instead teach enough theory and problem solving so that Ukrainians can compete with the problem solvers in Western countries. I particularly object to written educational material that emphasizes only the facts to be memorized rather than teaching theory along with enough facts to allow our "students" to solve their own problems under changing conditions without help from central planning.
The level of difficulty of educational material can be ranked along a continuum from being (1) too complicated to comprehend and so unattractive to readers that nobody reads it to (2) so simple and attractive that everyone takes a look at it but they learn nothing. In the first situation, the author may have benefited from compiling the information but without readers, the target is missed? In contrast, reading something so simple that it doesn't transfer knowledge is futile. Both situations are a waste of foreign aid money.
Where along this continuum - from being too complicated to read to being too simple to be educational - should we aim our teaching and our educational material?
To answer that question we need to ask, "What is our objective in the first place?"
I propose that our goal is to help Ukrainian agriculture become globally competitive. (At the least, we want to help Ukrainians improve their standard of living significantly.) That requires people serious enough about achieving that they learn theory and problem solving. In solving their own problems, they become innovators. People less motivated will remain followers and will remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We need to encourage those who have the ability to become innovators. A country can't prosper and grow if they rely on followers using the old methods. The experiments have been run and the results are in! Free market innovation works! Innovative market economies export food to non-innovative centrally planned economies!
I define innovators as the first people to try something new (that they probably figured out themselves by using theory) and the first to abandon failed new attempts and to look for something better if the first innovation they tried didn't work. The successful people that I know in agriculture are just this kind of people. They are innovators, ahead of the pack, moving on to new methods before the followers adapt to the old techniques that the innovators are leaving behind because they found still more profitable methods to use.
Innovators need to know theory and how to use it to solve their problems under changing conditions rather than being obedient followers that look to central planning for their "marching orders." The advice from central planning almost always will be for some situation other than the one at hand with the advice probably inadequate in the first place. Therefore, I argue that our educational emphasis should be to teach enough theory that innovators have the information they need to develop optimum solutions to present-day challenges. In my field of animal nutrition, that means livestock feeders need to know how to formulate new rations for new conditions using the feedstuffs that are the most economically available rather than forever using some ration passed on to them by their ancestors - or using no logical ration at all. Don't insult the innovators by giving them central planning answers when what they really need is enough theory and logic to creatively solve their own problems. Let's help make Ukraine globally competitive.
Presently, the people who raise a few pigs in their backyard supply much of the pork consumed in Ukraine. While I respect their industriousness (particularly given their dire economic situation), I don't think these backyard farmers should be our primary target audience. If our objective is to help Ukraine to become globally competitive in pork production we need to provide information that allows the potential innovators among the backyard farmers (and others) to prosper. That means sharing enough theory with them and giving them enough help in using it so that they can think creatively for themselves. Our educational materials should be complete enough for them to do so. We need to resist, "dumbing" it down to satisfy the followers as we'll fail to motivate the innovators.
While I've used animal nutrition examples in this message, the basic concepts apply to all agricultural (and other) endeavors. If we follow the popular advice, "Keep it simple, stupid!", I'm afraid the Ukrainians who receive our "simple" advice will remain handicapped by not having the tools they need to become the innovators that Ukraine must have in order to prosper and to become competitive relative to foreign producers.
Unless we train innovators in Ukraine, foreigners will continue to buy raw materials from Ukraine, continue to realize the added value gained from efficient production and processing and will continue to flood Ukraine with finished goods that Ukrainians should be producing themselves. We want Ukraine to become independent; not become a colony of the West. Let's give them the information (theory) that they need in order to realize their potential to become one of the most productive "breadbaskets" in the world.
If we can help Ukrainians increase their labor productivity (more goods and services produced per hour of labor) Ukraine's gross domestic product will increase resulting in an improved standard of living. This will (1) promote world peace. With more disposable cash, Ukraine will be a (2) more attractive trading partner for the West. Helping Ukrainians improve their standard of living is the (3) humanitarian thing to do.
Let's spend our foreign aid dollars to help train Ukrainians in the Western tradition where COMMON people use theory and logic to think creatively for themselves with a minimum of reliance on central planning. This will improve Ukraine's efficiency of resource allocation, create greater wealth and raise their standard of living.
Roy Chapin, Ph.D., Animal Nutritionist
11145 Chapin Lane, Amity, Oregon 97101