Virtual classrooms provide insight into farming life

Virtual classrooms provide insight into farming life

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A 'VIRTUAL classroom' has been a mainstay of Meat & Livestock Australia's school education program for a number of years but its use has spiked in recent months

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A 'VIRTUAL classroom' has been a mainstay of Meat & Livestock Australia's school education program for a number of years but its use has spiked in recent months as teachers and students look for new ways to learn and engage while maintaining social distance.

In the 2019-20 financial year, the number of students involved in the program reached nearly 14,000 - up 20 per cent on the previous 12 months.

MLA community and industry engagement manager Fiona Thompson said the virtual classroom program was launched six years ago as part of their community engagement program, under the Australian Good Meat banner.

With agriculture a major part of the national curriculum, she said it was important students had access to accurate and engaging information.

Ms Thompson said the biggest audience for the program, which is rolled out through education provider Kimberlin, was metropolitan students that might not otherwise get the chance to view livestock operations.

"The best case scenario for us would be for every school to get on a bus to see (farming) in person, but that's not possible," she said.

"It's especially important for us to engage the metro-based schools that have that disconnect (with food production).

"It's important that students - and teachers - have an opportunity to understand how red meat is produced."

Ms Thompson said the virtual classrooms were primarily aimed at senior primary school students and covered topics such as sustainability, biodiversity, technology and how farmers look after all animals - not just livestock, but also native fauna - on their farms.

"It's giving especially city kids a bit of insight into how a red meat farm - be it beef, lamb or goats - operates," she said.

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Ms Thompson said these advocates would initially have come into the MLA head office and conducted the livestreams into classes from there, but as regional connectivity has improved, these classes have been able to take place from the actual farms.

"The students are able to see the cows in the background," she said.

The virtual classrooms also played a large part in the new curriculum launched in response to COVID-19, tailored to learning from home for students aged five to 14.

Other elements included educational videos, in-home activities and livestreamed question and answer sessions with farmers.

During the 2019-20 financial year, there were 34 livestream classes, reaching more than 13,884 students.

In just the first half of 2020, there were 20 classes, with 8762 students participating.

Ms Thompson said they had seen an uplift in the recent months, in part because of social distancing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to a shift in the way they were marketing the course to parents and teachers.

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She said the course provided teachers with a way to engage students while remaining in the classroom - or, in some cases, learning from home.

Ms Thompson said she expected the numbers could continue to grow in the future.

"I think if anything good could come out of the COVID situation, it's the way businesses and schools have been able to adapt to online learning, whether its webinars or online classes like this," she said.

She said MLA had other downloadable education resources, which also had an increase in uptake.

But alongside the on-farm practices, Ms Thompson said MLA had seen an increase in people seeking information about red meat itself.

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She said there had been an increased consciousness about health and particularly nutrition and eating at home.

"We were able to give educational information not only about the producers' point of view, but also about healthy meals and the nutrition side of the red meat industry," she said.

"We have been doing online videos focused on cooking at home and the pluses of including red meat in healthy meals."

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