Training sessions analysis of Educational Institute of agro-environment - Florac, France

Structure : Institut d'éducation à l'agro-environnement de Florac - Montpellier SupAgro
Subtitle / abstract : Agroecological knowledge : how to approach it in French agricultural education ?
Target group : Trainers, Teachers, Advisors
Duration : 3 to 4 days
Preamble : Agroecological training has become a political priority for the French Ministry of Agriculture further to application of the prospective law on agriculture, foodstuffs and forestry in September 2014. The courses related to the tuition of agricultural techniques have been, or are currently being, reformed with a view to integrating agroecology principles. Lecturers and trainers, however, are familiar with training approaches associated with stabilised knowledge, which is recognised scientifically and validated by the agricultural professional environment. Transmission, demonstration and experimentation in a context where the results are tangible represent the most widely promoted approaches for training future farmers. Such approaches may become less operative within the framework of subjective, contextualised or even controversial agroecological skills or knowledge.
Principles of action : The training courses we have put forward are aimed at initiating lecturers and trainers in training strategies and professional approaches which are focused on the student-knowledge relationship and invite a critical stance from the learner. It would therefore appear a paradox to aim to convince the trainer of the benefit of the approach we are putting forward using a top-down method. The strategy is rather, as we invite the students to do, to promote questioning, non-judgemental thought processes and personalised change, i.e. adapted to each individual, their experience and conception of knowledge acquisition.
The training therefore alternates between activities which enable trainers to explore a diversity of training approaches and debriefing sessions which invite an analysis of the materials and skills that their tuition is aimed at. In addition, we invite exchange between trainers in order to define the educational evolutions that they can deploy in their own context.
Phases in the training pathway : The pathway is based on seven key phases:
1. The first phase aims to enable the trainee-trainer group to get to know each other and create a positive and trusting atmosphere. It is based on the use of ice-breakers such as "events which have had an impact on your life".
2. In the second phase, trainers are invited to share their questions, requests and motivations related to their presence on the course, as well as any doubts they may have with regards to the training course itself.
3. The third phase is a review of the agroecology concept and the notion of education on agroecology. Rather than give a ready-made definition, the idea is to stimulate a critical debate using tools such as Q-sort. Further to this exercise, the group leader works towards defining converging and diverging points of view and identifying any points remaining open to question.
4. In the following phases, the trainers experience a succession of training approaches followed by systematic debriefing sessions, such as:
  • (1) carrying out interviews with farmers in order to identify agroecological knowledge and skills (we suggest dividing this into two sessions: first of all the trainees carry out an interview as they wish in order to deepen their understanding of an agricultural activity; further to this initial interview, a debriefing procedure leads them to question the models used implicitly or explicitly in order to collect information from a farmer and then to investigate a different interview model such as the explanatory interview or auto-confrontation, which may enable the emergence of agroecological knowledge. This model can then be deployed during a second interview).
  • (2) Use of a game (such as a fishing game) with a view to analysing the complexity of an agroecological issue.
  • (3) An activity to promote debate in a constructive manner around a socially controversial agroecological question.
  • (4) Creation of debates between peers, but which also include professionals, trainers, researchers and associations, on a given agroecological issue.

The debriefings held further to each training session are aimed at developing awareness of:
  • (1) Training input, feelings, emotions and behaviours which could be mobilised or which may have been identified during the process,
  • (2) The position of the leader, as required by the activity itself,
  • (3) The interests, limits and fears that the trainees may encounter or envisage.

5. Further to these 4 phases, the trainees are often in a state of confusion (what exactly is agroecological knowledge?) and doubt (How can I change my practices? What are the risks?). We then propose a review of the conceptual framework of agroecological knowledge and the pedagogical foundations required for its tuition.

6. Finally, we suggest to each trainee that they develop a training activity to be concretely applied in their own context and in relation to their level of development potential. Each proposal is shared, without any value judgements.
7. We can, furthermore, propose to each trainee, at any time during the training process, to personally express (orally or in writing) how their approach and conceptions have evolved. This feedback is shared periodically within peer groups (comprising 4-5 persons).
Observed interest of the training process : - We have observed that it is preferable to define the notions of agroecological knowledge and education of agroecological knowledge towards the end of the course, when the trainees have explored a range of training approaches. Proposing a definition at the outset of the course often generates confusion and may give rise to a form of resistance to change.
- The debriefing phases after each training activity are envisaged as key moments in the training process. This moment of thought and exchange appears to be essential to the learning process.
- We propose training methods of varying complexity. Consequently, each trainee will identify with at least one of the methods with a view to transposing it to his or her own context.
- Each trainee is respected with regards to their own, personal evolution pathway. The heterogeneous character of the group, in terms of individual experience and contexts, is taken into account and used for stimulating debate and for providing alternation between individual and group interactions, always respecting differences in points of view, without value judgements.
Limits and difficulties encountered : It may be cause for concern for trainers to take on a register where the classroom transmission of knowledge is reduced in favour of activities which encourage autonomy for the learner and which contain a higher degree of the unknown (Will the questionnaire enable emergence of agroecological knowledge ? How will the students react in a debate which may well be very passionate or lively ?), and which generate doubt (What will the students actually learn if it is no longer possible to transfer confirmed knowledge and practices ?).
We have observed that some trainers tried (we could add, ‘in desperation’) to systematically refer to a pre-established set of references in order to render a given activity reproducible and generate quantifiable results.
Some trainers maintain the conviction that there cannot be any real learning between peers. For this group, abandoning the role of transmission of knowledge is a difficult step to take.
Finally, the limited duration of the course does not enable in-depth study of all the skills that the teaching strategies proposed would cover. For example, if a debate is an activity that is key to agroecological knowledge, its deployment raises questions: how to lead the debate ? How to encourage participation ? How to manage conflict? How to conclude ? How to evaluate it ? All questions which require serious preparation.
Recommendations : It would appear necessary not only to respect the person in his or her development potential but also to reassure him or her. To this end, promoting exchange between peers can only be positive for the trainees, by enabling each participant to gain awareness of the difficulties experienced by the others and their points of vulnerability, resulting in greater understanding and respect for their own difficulties, weak points and strengths.
Speakers : Marie-Laure Girault, Michel Vidal, Loïc Braida, Lydia Bourdreux

Location of the training session

Adress : 9 rue Célestin Freinet
Post code : 48400
Country : France