Note: This is a brief explanation of Ryakuga pedagogy, focusing on the four stages of training. The basic premise is that people best learn skills by doing, in an environment which stresses not failure but rather self-motivated improvement. The simple goal is that the objectives of the learning experience, typically communications for the benefit of the community, will be sustained and controlled by the community into the future without further need for outside intervention. It is important that participants are chosen carefully by the community. Although the Ryakuga pedagogy derives from my own experience, as a facilitator/participant in the learning experience of community communications, I was pleased to discover that a French communications team, working in Burundi, Africa, had previously come to the same conclusions.
"In 1979, in Burundi, I decided to reject the principle of ongoing training that required the continual presence of a communication specialist for many months. Instead, I planned four training courses of six weeks every four months or so over a two-year period. The advantage of this formula is that the radio staff takes more responsibility for its own tools of work. A permanent training staff of the old school that manages, creates and organizes production leaves little room for the initiative of the trainees. During their term, they take over from the local, national producers. When the experts leave, the local team is left on its own for the first time, and the inevitable tensions of any newly formed group enterprise begin: tensions between producers, between producers and technicians, between producers and section heads, etc. Practical difficulties such as equipment breakdowns, shortage of tapes, lack of vehicles and inadequately trained personnel add to their problems. The departure of a training staff often coincides with the end of a period of intense creativity. The local team, unable to cope by themselves, tends at that point to request the return of a technical consultant to continue handling production. They therefore never gain maturity.
Periodic workshops enable the local radio officers/trainees to become familiar with new broadcasting techniques and gradually learn how to cope with production problems. They are fully in charge of production, and the trainers maintain their role as consultants. This new direction proved very fruitful. The Burundian production staff very quickly gained an international reputation, and Burundian rural radio soon became a model to follow. FAO's Development Support Communication Branch (Information Division) from that point worked on extracting general principles from that experience."
(Francois Querre, A Thousand and One Worlds; A Rural Radio Handbook, pp. xv, xvi).
My experience as an educator encompasses studying educational theory and practice; public school teaching; teaching briefly at the university level and in factories; developing and co- ordinating a community college journalism program; and developing programs for adults learning community communication skills. For Ryakuga I produce custom-tailored, photocopiable resource guides and faciliate learning environments for grassroots communications.
I've come to realize that there is a profound difference between participating in a teaching experience or participating in a learning experience. In a teaching-centred environment, one can take a foreign pedagogy and impose it upon a group of students but in a learner-centred environment, one must always adapt the pedagogy to meet the needs of the learners. Also a learner-centred environment will be non-formal where the facilitator is a fellow-participant. As such, the personality of the facilitator, as well as the personalities of the other participants, will become acceptable variables in the learning process. This is all to say that there are no hard and fast rules governing this process; each learning experience will have to be built on- location.
My primary interests as a student of education and a public school teacher were group learning and individualized learning programs. This is still relevant to my present practice. What has changed, however, is that I am no longer interested in the process of motivating learners. Identifying motivated participants is a responsibility of the community partner or group.
As co-ordinator of the journalism program (and working with a team of co-facilitators), I took on the task of developing a process which would meet industry needs for skilled practitioners and the needs of the students for a relevant learning experience. We rewrote the curriculum to reflect what we called the incubator process. Students ran their own business, with income from selling advertising, video dubbing and assisting in external training programs. They worked according to 36 job descriptions with first year students being apprenticed to second year students. Actual production included weekly community television programming, radio programming and a newspaper distributed to every high school in the province.
My work with the university extension service, as program developer, focused on facilitating the development of rural community communications, principally volunteer controlled community television. I now work with Ryakuga, a grassroots communications in support of development company, after a period, principally as video producer, with a co-operative. I am now at the stage where I recognize that each learning environment is different and learning strategies will have to be continually adapted. However, my approach has changed somewhat in the past few years. After leaving the semi-formal approach of the journalism program, I adopted a participatory process which essentially was to set up a learning environment and then leave the participants alone to sort out their own needs. I was, of course, still available to answer questions and facilitate skills workshops upon request. The problem is such a process takes a long time while funding is inceasingly precarious and intermittent. It now seems more wise to adopt a process which can be described as collaborative and contractual. It is Ryakuga practice to treat all projects as collaborative, including production as well as skills training. Each project is a process developed by partners working together toward agreed upon goals and objectives. The role and responsibility of each partner, including Ryakuga, should be determined and written down early in the process.
In the 21st century, I returned to the formal classroom focusing on communication technology and media management. It is a foreign language environment but the instructional language is English. My approach is to treat each course as a project and adapt community media learning methodology.
In 2006 this means adapting practices of virtual project management. Communication outside the classroom is by email. There are also blogs (internet discussion boards) dedicated to the courses. Assignments and resource documents are posted to the internet. Contracts are being prepared for some independent learning projects. There is a mixture of individual and group projects.
The course assignments are tracked on spread sheets. Also included are peer and self evaluation.
In the practice of community media training, we have recognized the trainees' need for recognition. So we are preparing evaluation and certificates to meet that objective.
The Ryakuga pedagogy or teaching methodology is based on respect for participants and local ways of doing things. As such it's constantly evolving and being adapted to meet the needs of a particular group of people in a particular place at a certain time.
The aim is not to create dependency but rather to create an environment which encourages participants to take control of their own communications. At one time, we tried to nurture independence of participants by taking a taking a completely hands-off facilitation role, remaining in the background after the initial contact. However, this participatory process takes a long time; in the 1990s it is increasingly difficult to fund long processes. So we've changed direction as community communications facilitators to take a more active role; the process now is to separate structured interventions with loosely guided independent activity by the participants. As such we see ourselves more as collaborating partners in a community communications process rather than initiators of a wholly participatory process.
When we initially started to develop a participatory communications learning strategy (as part of a secondary education program about ten years ago), it seemed that working to job descriptions was the best way to avoid direct control and stifling individual initiative while at the same time ensuring some guidance while achieving goals and objectives.
In certain cases job descriptions create a problem when some participants take over specific jobs to become power brokers and exercise control over their fellow participants and the process itself. This can be addressed by earmarking the potential problem, sharing jobs (especially at early stages), and by stressing the collective or group approach.
Opening up the process and stressing the collective has necessitated developing group decision-making and working environments for such activities as video editing. It also means the communications facilitators (Ryakuga) as collaborating partners must be ready to take on an active role working alongside other participants in the process.
1. Learning takes place in a friendly, no-such-thing-as-failure environment. "Mistakes" are simply treated as learning opportunities.
2. This is a non-formal, outside the classroom and open-to-all-ages approach. We learn by doing.
3. The first step in the learning process is familiarization. Participants are given the opportunity to experience and enjoy community communications "hands-on." *
4. The second stage is skills development. Ideally, participants themselves would be able to decide what they need to learn more about. Ryakuga creates communications environments and provides photocopiable resources which are tailored to the needs of the community or group. (*Prior to beginning the learning process, we would work together on an assessment of the communications needs, skills and resources of the group.)
5. In between each step in the learning process (that is, a direct intervention by the communications facilitator) the group or community is left on its own to achieve goals decided upon during the previous phase. These self-sufficiency stages are important so as not to become dependent on the facilitators (and to try to ensure sustainability of the process after the facilitators leave). During the time between interventions, the facilitators will be available to answer questions.
6. So each stage in the learning process actually has two parts - the intervention by the communications facilitators and the takeover of control by the group or community. However, the learning stages themselves may be divided into different phases. For example, the second stage may include introductory and advanced skills development components.
7. The third stage is production. Communications facilitators will work as partners in this production. Reasons for intervention are to try to ensure that the production event becomes a model for future group efforts. Therfore it should include as many as possible components of a model production. This doesn't mean, of course, that the group would necessarily use all components in future activities.
8. The fourth stage is sustainability enhancement. It includes working with the group as it continues communications activities and evaluating the process in the community.
9. The four-stage process is not written in stone. For example, many groups have a continually changing membership; in some cases it may be necessary to return to the first stage (familiarization) even after a successful completion of stage three (production).
* It may not always be possible to build the foundation for a project before it begins. In these situations, it may be necessary to include in stage one a communications skills, needs and resources assessment; custom tailoring of Ryakuga training materials; fine-tuning of goals and objectives, and agreeing upon roles and responsibilities of partners and participants.