Comparison of two universities’ community education projects


A comparison of two universities’ community education projects

Four steps in a comparative analysis of the University of Guelph (Canada) rural development outreach project and the University of Haifa (Israel) community-educational project in the development town of Beit She’an

Eitan Israeli, University of Guelph

Beit She'an, located in a hot valley near the eastern border of Israel, is a stricken development town, regarded to be one of the three most problematic development towns in Israel. It was established in 1949, and its first inhabitants came from Morocco, Iraq and Iran. As of today, 80,000 people have lived in this community at one time or another, the present population is 13,000.

Since 1976, The Ministry of Education and Culture has sponsored a special program in which a large amount of money was allotted to educational projects offered by the community itself and approved by the Ministry. The Community Educational Project (CEP) was launched in the second half of 1976 by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Haifa. The University staff comprised of the Director of the Department of Continuing Education (this writer) and an associate. Their participation was funded by the Project, on an hourly basis. The Need Assessment Workshop was held in December 1976. In 1977 and 1978 the Project centred around a locally based group of leaders. This group, called Central Workshop of the Project, used to meet regularly once a week. Its major functions were to identify educational and community needs and to discuss the on-going programs. As of July 1978, this writer left Israel for Canada, thus concluding his active participation in it.

Having visited with the Rural Development Outreach Project (RDOP) in its headquarters at the University of Guelph, it was found that the RDOP has some similarities with the CEP. The similarities are: One, the perceived role of adult learning as a major facilitator in the two projects. Two, the use of similar methodology in need assessment processes. Three, similar patterns in terms of local delivery services, large city dominance. Four, similar working philosophies. However, there exist some significant differences between the two settings. First, rural (Huron County) versus urban (Beit She’an). Second, middle class (Huron County) versus lower middle class (Beit She'an). Third, at least a hundred-year-old tradition versus a thirty-year-old tradition of Beit She'an. Fourth, an agriculturally oriented university (Guelph) versus an urban oriented university (Haifa). Fifth, Foundation financed project (Kellogg) versus Ministry of Education funded project. Sixth, a multi-disciplinary contribution versus adult education oriented contribution. Both the similarities and differences will be elaborated in the following four steps.

Step one

The working assumptions in RDOP

There appear to be three working assumptions in RDOP. First, when rural citizens realise the change in their lives, they can resolve some of the problems emanating from this change. Second, that the university should be involved in rural development. Third, that a joint effort of rural people and a university will lead toward the improvement and maintenance of the good quality of rural life.

The underlying assumptions are: (1) the belief that the rural people can become fully aware of the changes which they are undergoing, through a mutual learning process with the help of the university. (2) the belief that through co-ordination by the university and through the establishment of an organisational unit at the university, the project will evolve.

Following is a diagram to illustrate the five assumptions.

The working assumptions of the CEP

The first assumption deals with the concept of the disadvantaged community. This concept encompasses the following. First, the members of a disadvantaged community conceive of themselves as being deprived of the benefits of the more successful community. Second, the members do not accept outsiders who wish to come in and help them, and they are suspicious of 'foreigners'. Third, institutional life is typified by the weakness of the community agencies and institutions to mobilise their constituents toward change and betterment of life. Fourth, disadvantaged communities in Israel are of Oriental origin, hence they are torn between the preservation of their rich cultural heritage and the demands made upon them to adopt the prevailing Israeli culture.

These characteristics are exemplified in Beit She’an.

The second working assumption deals with the role of adult education and community development, and the place of university adult education in it. The University of Haifa has not attached much importance to the actual running of development projects in disadvantaged communities. Thus, although the University enabled the CEP, it didn’t encourage faculty from other disciplines to contribute to this project.

The underlying assumption was that the best way to become involved in Beit She'an was through learning. The other assumption was that comprehensive planning will encourage some local leadership groups to get involved and become active. The following diagram illustrates the four assumptions.

Step Two

The inhabitants: conditions and perceptions

There seems to be a significant change in the rural community within the RDOP. First, more people are moving from the city to live in the country than those who are leaving the rural areas to live in the city. Two, the decline of the family farm and rural life. Third, the reality of urban dominance. Fourth, lower levels of public services. Five, the feeling of powerlessness to direct change. Six, a feeling on the part of elderly people that over the years they see better services. Seven, the conception of rural society as a pluralistic one.

Moving on to the CEP, we identify the following characteristics. First, there has been a massive turn-over in Beit She'an. Over the years many immigrants were directed to Beit She'an, not having the Western know-how in professions and trades. Among the migrants from the cities to Beit She'an, were native born Israelis as well as European born Israelis. Sooner or later they become frustrated because of unfulfilled promises and left Beit She’an.

Second, the indigenous life style is typified: (a) by low level of public services; (b) by the overall lack of zoning and the untidy appearance of the streets and the house-fronts; (c) by large families; (d) by rather strict traditional family relations, thus preserving some of the cultural and familial patterns of their past. The feeling of the elderly is that of discomfort and indecision as to which life-style is preferable.

Third, Beit She'an people have a feeling of powerlessness. Decisions are made either by outside agencies or by their local council which is basically dominated by external powers. Thus, there is a mistrust not only towards external agencies but also towards the local power structure. Fourth, Beit She'an inhabitants conceive of themselves as a homogeneous society. They share traditional and cultural roots, and they share the feelings of being disadvantaged.

Fifth, Beit She'an people feel uneasy with outsiders and they resent their help. Sixth, although there was money which was channelled by The Ministry of Education and Culture to the CEP; although well meaning University staff were at hand; although some small groups of local leaders were willing to participate, the climate was rather wary and disillusioned.

Table 1

Similarities and Differences in 'Inhabitants' in RDOP and CEP

Criterion / RDOP / CEP
1. Composition of the Community / People moving from the city to the country / A massive turn-over in Beit She'an
2. Family life / Families are smaller extended families are not common / Large families and strict traditional relations
3. Community / Decline in terms of changes in church, village school, communal activities / Elders are confused; second (30—50) and third generations feel the need to adapt to dominant culture and feelings of disadvantage
4. Urban dominance / Decisions affecting rural society are made in large cities / the same
5. Lower level of public services / Sparse population density and narrow property tax-base / Local power structure is selective in apportioning governmental moneys
6. Feeling of powerlessness to direct change / Feel the lack of solid and consistent farmers’ voice; poorly represented in decision-making circles / Distrust of both external agencies and the internal power structure
7. 'Over years have better services' / Elderly people hold this view / Inhabitants do not share this view at all
8. Pluralistic Society / Rural society is pluralistic and this is its strength / Homogeneous society due to the common ethnic background and the feeling of being disadvantaged
9. Prospects of community development / Positive view of the prospect / Wary and disillusioned view of the prospect

Step three

The university support system

A. RDOP on-campus

The organisational structure of the RDOP on-campus (Guelph University) is: an Advisory Board which is composed of eight college representatives, C.R.D., Office of Continuing Education - all of whom form the 'College Reps Committee'; a representative from the Office of Research, member at-large, and Administration. The staff of the project is comprised of a Director, a Program Assistant and an Administrative Assistant.

The on-campus Advisory Board provides for 'Three Working Committees': (a) the Huron Committee; (b) Evaluation Committee; (c) Halton Committee.

B. RDOP off-campus

The Advisory Board includes off-campus membership as well. They are representatives of various federal and provincial ministries, the Canadian Council on Rural Development and of the two pilot areas. The RDOP was initiated with the financial support of Kellogg Foundation, on May 1,1976. As of now, the project has three more years of funding.

C. CEP on-campus

It is confined to the Department of Continuing Education in the School of Education, University of Haifa. The Department has an Academic Committee, which is comprised of the Director and the Secretary of the School of Education, three elected faculty from the Department of Education, and the Department staff. The Academic Committee approved the project, and from September 1976 on, this writer reported periodically to the Committee on the development of the project. There was no other formal structure on-campus.

D. CEP off-campus

The Ministry of Education and Culture has created a nation-wide program administered by a special unit at the headquarters in Jerusalem. In Beit She'an, the operating body was a Steering Committee comprised of representatives of the Ministry and of the community. The CEP came under the jurisdiction of the Beit She'an Steering Committee, thus its off-campus structure was as follows: this writer served as the CEP director and a member of the Steering Committee. He reported to the chairman of the Steering Committee, who in turn, reported to the regional director of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The comparison between RDOP and CEP shows that while the University of Guelph was instrumental in creating a viable divergent support system for the RDOP, the University of Haifa did not play any role in creating a similar support system.

Step four

The dilemma of comprehensive planning

Who, in a given community, can be responsible for a comprehensive planning? Could comprehensive planning avoid not only the fragmentation of the development planning, but also the separation between planning and implementation? Secondly, will a given community entrust university staff to be not only involved in the planning but also with the actual implementation of the planning? Thirdly, if comprehensive planning and implementation fail, how will the consequences be different from those resulting in failure of project-by-project planning?

The Guelph project adopted a comprehensive planning approach as compared to previous rural action programs in Ontario, which tended to focus on single aspects of development, such as housing, taxation, recreation, agriculture, or small business. The RDOP identified two pilot areas, Huron and Halton County. Within Huron the approach was comprehensive and an effort was made to identify high priority issues. The identified focus on seniors reflected contacts in relation to health care, housing, education, mobility and recreation. Thus involving various agencies and organisations within the area in actual planning and implementation. The community entrusted university staff to search and probe and invited them to actually participate in some projects.

In Beit She’an, the intent was to look at this disadvantaged community in its totality and to identify high priority problems. Despite the initial agreement on some foci areas to be dealt with in the CEP, it was found that the implementation became increasingly difficult. Some local leaders were indifferent to the CEP; some objected to the university staff becoming 'insiders'. The result being that the responsibility for the comprehensive planning shifted back and forth between the university staff and local leaders.

The CEP embraced some development projects, such as a newly created Unit for Family and Marriage Counselling. On the whole, this writer believes that comprehensive planning in a disadvantaged community dilutes its impact. Moreover, it is premature for the current stage of this community’s development. What is needed is a preparatory stage in which the community members will be made aware of their capacity to upgrade their own community life, and to gain the self-confidence to take such action. This requires a core of interested local people that will initiate the process and carry it out in consultation with outside resources. The people in Beit She'an need much more time and many more resources to go through this process. University can play only a peripheral role - that of strengthening the desire to learn. In a country such as Israel, which strives for rapid change and pushes towards it through its foundation of national policy, comprehensive planning is frequently offered. Communities such as Beit She'an are in no position to implement such planning until they have experienced the long preparatory process recommended above.

Reproduced from 1979 Conference Proceedings, pp. 96-102  SCUTREA 1997