The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) is the largest government organization in Bangladesh, which provides unified agricultural extension services to farmers throughout the country. To provide high quality agricultural extension services, the DAE employs 12,640 agricultural extension workers (AEWs) at the field level (9). According to the DAE guidelines, each AEW has to provide agricultural extension services to around 1,200 farm households in his/her service upazila (sub-district) (8). Due to the extensive coverage of each AEW, the success in agricultural extension services largely depends on AEWs' extension skills. As a matter of fact, however, only 13.93% of the AEWs are credible as communicator of technical advice to farmers (14). Furthermore, 35% of farm information loss has been found to take place in the transit between AEWs and farmers although AEWs regularly attend off-the-job training (hereinafter Off-JT) (4). Due to lack of extension skills AEWs are not able to provide satisfactory extension services to farmers (1). Lack of AEWs' extension skills result in less adoption of improved rice variety by the farmers (11).
In the context of extension skill development, training is a common constraint for developing AEWs' extension skills in Bangladesh (10). It was reported that neither the simple number of in-service training nor the simple duration of in-service training in the total service period could improve the job performance of the Agricultural Extension Officers in Bangladesh (15). In spite of having immense importance of training, AEWs are not getting proper training due to i) no specific training plan, ii) inadequate training resources and facilities, and iii) less cooperation and coordination amongst extension providers (1). Off-JT is often not the most effective or cost effective way to develop AEWs' extension skills (7). Meanwhile, in the current training policy, despite of the demand for quality skill, "costless/less cost" or "cost effectiveness" has been emphasized under the fund shortage for training programs. Though being not materialized enough, on-the-job training (hereinafter OJT) is introduced as a symbolic term for skill development in training policy.
Nowadays, all of the AEWs are encouraged to develop their own abilities through practicing OJT along with attending Off-JT. In order to develop extension skills of AEWs with maximizing the use of limited resources of the DAE, it is an inevitable task to review the current Off-JT and enhance the OJT with concreteness. So far, numerous related studies have cited problems with the Off-JT in Bangladesh. Besides, the present condition of OJT practices by AEWs is hardly known in Bangladesh. Therefore, toward facilitating in decision making for training designer as well as policy makers to revise the current training program for AEWs, the present study aims at identifying the comparatively high contributing Off-JTs and the determinant OJT practices to AEWs' extension skill levels.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The target population for this study consisted of all the AEWs (total 236) in Kishorganj district. Out of 13 upazilas (sub-district) in this district 4 upazilas, namely Hossainpur, Pakundia, Kotiadi, and Kishorganj were purposively selected for this study. Upazila-based random sample of AEWs (101) in four randomly selected upazilas was identified. According to the Agricultural Extension Manual (7), the present study adopted four extension skill areas such as (i) working with group, (ii) organizing and running a demonstration, (iii) assessing farmers' problems, and (iv) work planning from the annual competence assessment form for extension staff development. The data were collected by using designed standard questionnaire from effective 90 Agricultural Extension Workers (AEWs) (due to 11 AEWs on personal leave) during April to May 2006 and resulted in a 100 percent response rate. The questionnaire consisted of four parts. The first part included the AEWs' selected characteristics such as age, service tenure, and educational level. The second part was on measuring AEWs' extension skill levels. Skill levels of an AEW were evaluated by 3 Upazila Agricultural Officers (UAO) who supervised his/her daily activities, 3 skillful AEWs senior to him/her, and 3 farmers from the area in his/her charge. UAOs and senior AEWs always remain close contact with AEWs. Each UAO and AEW were directly asked to evaluate the skill levels of all AEWs in the assigned upazila from 0 point to 100 point using the following criteria: AEWs who can provide proper extension services to farmers will be given 100 point and who cannot provide satisfactory extension service at all will be given 0 point. Meanwhile, farmers are not aware of all AEWs in a upazila, and so 3 farmers in a block were asked to evaluate the AEW assigned to their block in accordance to the basic criteria: encouraging farmers to talk to about their problem; learning from farmers; building the confidence of farmers; discussing ideas and sharing options openly with farmers; assisting farmers to undertake their own planning; and providing solution to the farmers' problems. Thus, though an AEW can be evaluated by 9 persons separately, the level of an extension skill for analysis was calculated as an average of all scores of the three types of evaluators. The third part of the questionnaire included AEWs' attendance to Off-JT (measured by days) during 2001-2005, and the final section consisted of AEWs' OJT practices (yes or no). Especially, data on OJT practices were collected through intensive interviews with the AEWs.
A pilot-test with 12 AEWs was conducted in the study area before...