AN INTERSTATE push to encourage more students to consider agriculture as a career could have lessons for other jurisdictions, including SA.
From next year, the NSW Education Department will introduce mandatory agriculture components into its school curriculum.
This comes from a recommendation from the 2013 Pratley review, conducted by Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Emeritus Professor and Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture secretary Jim Pratley.
The review was initiated following concerns about the lack of young people considering agriculture as a career – a trend the report said was a national issue.
“The initial concern about the inability to attract young people into agriculture is well founded,” the report said.
“The perceptions of agriculture, the educational experience about food and fibre, the career advice to students and the workforce issues in the industry as a whole are not conducive to enticing people into agriculture, even though there are many and varied employment opportunities at competitive salaries.”
The NSW curriculum change will include mandatory components in early school years, such as raising seedlings, through to a choice for early secondary school students between agriculture or food technology, with the latter to include where food is sourced.
Agriculture Teachers’ Association of SA president and Balaklava High School lead agriculture teacher Sue Pratt said it was great to see the NSW government take agricultural education seriously.
“(This recognises) schools are an obvious place to start if you are trying to increase the number and quality of candidates interested in an agricultural career path,” she said.
Ms Pratt said there had been a “serious lack of interest in the sector” under the previous Labor government, but was hopeful that could change under the SA Liberal government.
She said agriculture was included in the Australian curriculum with more than 160 food and fibre content descriptors, but the context they were taught in varied enormously between schools.
“Understandably, the physical resources available and the personnel within the school has a lot to do with this,” she said.
Ms Pratt said there were about 45 schools delivering a specialised agriculture curriculum in SA, with most of those in rural and regional areas.
“This is only a small fraction of the total number of schools,” she said.
“So the majority are obviously covering the compulsory food and fibre content within other subjects like science, geography and home economics, or possibly not covering it at all.”
Ms Pratt said this variance could be down to lack of the right resources, including training and support.
“While I would obviously be in favour of making the ag context mandatory, it would be pointless without a serious injection of resources and facilities, training and curriculum support,” she said.
Ms Pratt said there was also a shortage of qualified and experienced agriculture teachers in the state, which was hampering efforts to improve the quality of education in the sector.
“There are only two new ag teachers graduating this year and I have had contact from several schools who are looking for an ag teacher but cannot secure one,” she said.
I know there is a vast untapped group of students who have never even considered ag as a career.
Ms Pratt said there were good options for tertiary studies but by that stage many students might not be considering a career in agriculture.
“The University of Adelaide has a very good bachelor degree and other states offer a wide range of tertiary options but I know there is a vast untapped group of students who have never even considered ag as a career and are certainly not aware of the amazing opportunities for really important and stimulating work within primary industries,” she said.
Despite that, Ms Pratt said there were some great examples of the use of the agricultural curriculum in some SA schools.
“Their ag programs are dynamic, innovative, popular and definitely inspiring students to head towards careers in the primary industries,” she said.
Ms Pratt said SA could also learn from another interstate initiative, the 2015-16 Tasmanian Agricultural Education Framework.
Among the initiatives in Tas was the establishment of a farm school centre, a $450,000 investment into the agricultural skills plans, in partnership with the Tas Farmers and Graziers Association, and the appointment of a lead teacher of agricultural education.
Tas Education and Training Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the framework would “provide students from kindergarten to year 12 with the knowledge and skills on which to base their future choices”.
Ms Pratt would like to see a similar lead teacher of agriculture established in SA to provide in-school targeted support.
“This could be a joint industry/government-funded role that would make a profound difference to the quality and depth of secondary ag education being delivered, which in-turn would result in more students considering agricultural careers,” she said.
SA Education Minister John Gardner said the government had noted the changes being made in NSW and would observe what impact it had on agriculture education.
“Agriculture is a vital future industry for SA and the government will always seek to align education to industries that support jobs and the economy,” he said.
“SA schools teach in alignment to the Australian curriculum, of which food and fibre can be taught.
“A number of SA primary schools are involved in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden project that teaches children all about growing and harvesting their own food and making the food into their own meals.”