Rural up! was launched in 2011 for college students who concern about rural participation and innovation. The project is designed to cultivate students and give them opportunities to solve real problems by putting their own ideas into practice.
Students become practitioner who can observe the question behind question, apply essential methods, lead multi-disciplinary teams to address challenges, communicate efficiently and effectively, and implement sustainable approaches that enhance rural development.
Rural up! provides a participatory learning procedure that enables students to use their interdisciplinary skills to meet social needs. By engaging in collaboration with rural communities, students experience the challenges of solving unexpected problems through the learning process and connecting their work with the local residences.
As students integrate diverse skills and implement new methods, they learn to analyze problem, take initiative, communicate more effectively, and put knowledge into practice. Furthermore, not only students majoring in all disciplines develop real skills, but rural communities are improved by means of innovation provided by students.
In the past 30 years, people in the rural communities have been migrating to urban areas for jobs and modern life. Today, low-income, aging population and land deterioration are common impressions and problems in the rural communities in Taiwan. Moreover, small scale farming seems to be the characteristic of Taiwan’s agriculture, which means there is a lack of much motivation as well as abilities of innovation in rural area. This situation reflects indifference in higher education, too.
However, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the importance of the rural area and agriculture; we need to put more cross-bolder creativity into rural area. The objective of Rural up! is therefore to attract interdisciplinary students and professors in a way of residing in the rural community and involving in the real problems. Rural up! creates a linkage between rural communities, academy, and government.
Rural up! focuses on three main effects:
1. In the students’ aspect: Rural up! gave participatory students directly achievability, social/soft skills with different generations, competitiveness for society, and entrepreneurial/employment opportunities. For the sake of competition and honor, it raised strong learning motivation in process of stationed-in rural community, which stimulated academy offering more resources to students.
2. In the rural community aspect: Rural up! brought creativity, knowledge, ideas, and practice from students. Cooperating with these active students had changed rural communities. In addition, mass youths blending into rural communities infused new vigor and energy to aged villagers.
3. In the social aspect: More and more diverse departments of university/college started to invest in rural innovation and development. The government benefited from people’s satisfaction and implementation of rural policy.
To activate this virtuous cycle, Rural up! offers an virtual/real platform and network for students, rural communities, and government officers. Under this actual circumstances and in the autonomic atmosphere, students’ learning performance and outcome will thus be facilitated.
The design of the Rural up! is a participant-centered program. This program is carried out in a way of competition following up with serials supporting activities.
First of all, a team together with a rural community forms a basic unit of the Rural up. Students need to organize a team that consists of 6~10 members. The team members can be classmates from the same department or all from different departments/universities. There are no restrictions in age, major, and nationality.
In the beginning stage, usually during the semester period, students have to find a rural community by themselves and to collaborate with the community. Those selected communities were all trained by authority and were equipped certain knowledge and consensus of rural development. In this stage, students can select members according to the communities’ problems, or they may select community according to the members’ skills. Student teams from all over the country have to propose their project to solve particular problems or to deal with public affairs of the collaborated community.
In the stationed-in stage, usually during summer vacation, we will select 20 teams from all participants according to their problem-solving ideas, creativity and feasibility. The Rural up! will offer an instructor (a young government officer), training camp, mentors for each team. Each team has 4,000 USD budget for putting their ideas in practice. Usually students’ ideas will be challenged by villagers who responded with many reasons. They will encounter problems beyond their imagination when they stationed-in communities. The most amazing thing is that, even though students had experienced so many frustrations, they never give up. To one’s surprise, they still expressed enthusiastic learning motivation to seek new methods or skills to solve problems. Out of their sense of honor, students are able to co-learn with not only team members but also the local wise. In addition, since the feeling won’t let villagers down, it instead drives students intensely to seek solutions.
In the last stage, all the teams will perform their results through presentation and exhibition. We’ll award some teams for their efforts at this stage. Both students but communities will learn the experience from each other. Last but not least, we will encourage all the teams continue their collaborated results and keep the relationship with communities.
We not only have a unique and innovative program but we also have integrated students, rural communities, and staff work together, learn together, and support each other on this educational journey.
In this program, we assigned a young government officer for each student’s team before the stationed-in stage. On the one hand, our staff offers the information, consultation and supporting; on the other hand, he/she connects the network between communities, students, and government. Our staffs keep in touch with student’s team via social-network tools and field visiting. They play a key role in understanding the progress of students’ teams.
Moreover, each team was also supported by their department of university. More and more enthusiastic professors involve in students’ projects for dealing with challenges from communities because of students’ hunger for learning. The more interdisciplinary professors join this program, the more incredible sparks deliver to rural area.
The most important part of engagement is the communities’ villagers. They are opening their mind and offering their time for the stationed-in students. Local residents were much moved by students’ involvement and efforts; therefore, they offer communities’ resources as possible as they could. All the results need solid cooperation between communities, student’s teams, and government supports. This process develops a mutual trust between communities and students, and this will be the foundation of any future possibilities.
1. Public Awareness
In the first year of the Rural up! carried out in 2011, 30 teams from 32 universities/colleges (including 42 departments) applied this program. In 2015, applicants increase to 83 teams from 99 universities/colleges (including 188 departments), approximately 67% of universities. It means that this program is drawing attention and attracts wide participation of students and universities.
2. Social Participatory Education
The program has changed college students’ learning perspective. Students reviewed and improved their personal hard and soft skills in the highly interactive process by participating in program and by involving in rural society. Over 92.59% of total participants expressed what were taught in traditional classroom are insufficient to meet the rural communities’ need. Approximately 83.7% of participants are equipped new skills by learning from the local wises, mentors, peers, and self-study. When students were stationed in rural community, villagers played an important role for offering strong positive reinforcement. Students felt strong of self-fulfillment in this program, thus it results in 2/3 students having willingness to return to rural area in the future.
3. Rural Innovation
Students brought not only variety of new ideas and innovations into rural villages, but intent devotion, vitality, as well as spirit of adventure. Students coagulated the locals’ senses of making change and resource Integration, which also explored new vision of future development. Students did put their creativities into practice, such as new types of products selling, developing cultural and creative products, landscape renovation, agriculture waste recycle, historical culture preservation, communities marketing, developing rural tourism, and caring for the elder. This kind of work brought lots of positive changes in communities.
4. Partnerships Schools
To response the severe aging population in rural communities, this program indeed encourages cross-professional youths returning rural areas. Experience the Rural up, students and professors from college could help realizing the opportunities of the rural area, which can be expected to make some real changes. College professors even modified classroom courses/programs to field program to motivating students to participate the Rural up! There are some universities/colleges started to connect with surrounding rural villages for further researches and cooperation.
Today, more and more academies join this program in Taiwan. It has become an essential summer activity for college students. This program cultivates students in a way of innovative participation and motivates them to contribute to society. In the past 5 years, we had cultivated over 700 seeds from different departments and universities.
We are now working on connecting enterprises into this program. We are going to integrate not only young creativity but enterprises’ resources into the rural area.
In addition, this year we launch a new project for those students who had ever participated in Rural up! To put it simply, this project offers grants for continuing innovation and participation.
We believe that, because this program is so feasible, it can be seen as a model/standard for other important social issues. We too believe that this program may surely be applied in other countries if they happen to face with similar problems.