Ag in schools: Students to learn about our land

AGRICULTURAL education will be compulsory in schools across NSW from next year. 

The mandatory inclusions in the curriculum will be for both primary and secondary students with the aim of educating school students about food and farming. 

The move by the NSW Government has been introduced following recommendations in the 2013 Pratley Review, conducted by Jim Pratley, the Foundation Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. 

Primary and secondary students learn about the importance of food and farming at Tooleybuc Central School. Picture supplied.

Primary and secondary students learn about the importance of food and farming at Tooleybuc Central School. Picture supplied.

While it has taken five years for the Pratley review recommendations to be handed down, school children will now be exposed to agriculture at an earlier age with the initial roll out of the syllabus including kindergarten to year 8 students. 

While agriculture already plays an "integral part" of the curriculum in many local NSW schools, the inclusions have been welcomed by agriculture teachers and school principals across the region. 

"Agriculture has always been an integral part of the curriculum at Tooleybuc Central School," principal Melanie Wait said. 

"The Tooleybuc township is surrounded by a vast range of agriculture industries including cropping, stonefruit, citrus and more recently almonds and other nuts. 

"These local resources have been valuable in supporting the delivery of the curriculum and a large number of students have transitioned to permanent employment in these areas."

"These local resources have been valuable in supporting the delivery of the curriculum and a large number of students have transitioned to permanent employment in these areas." - Tooleybuc Central School principal Melanie Wait

Similarly, newly appointed agriculture teacher at Barham High School, Nicola Morton, said the changes to the curriculum are a "great" way giving students a wider understanding of where there food and fibre comes from.

"I think it's great they are making agriculture mandatory for primary school and year seven and eight students," she said. 

"Agriculture is a big industry and it's really important for students to understand where their food and clothing comes from."

The NSW Education Standards Authority inspector for technology education Mark Taylor said changes to the curriculum will allow a choice between agriculture or food technology, depending on the schools resources, giving greater "flexibility around the delivery in their school". 

"Tooleybuc Central School has been lucky to have access to our ag plot which is a local icon and has supported the studies of our students for many years," Ms Wait said, adding the agriculture elective (in stage five) focusses on learning about caring for livestock, plant nutrition, exploring changes in farm practices and a range of other enterprise areas. 

Additionally, Tooleybuc Central School opened their Hospitality Trade Training Centre in 2016 and this has been a "significant asset to all the students in our school," Ms Wait told The Guardian. 

"Food Technology is a popular subject and fantastic preparation for our VET Hospitality classes," she said, giving students the opportunity to study a range of different food trends, food hygiene, nutritional quality of food in years 9 and 10. 

"This subject has been of extreme success as a vast majority of students have received part-time work in the hospitality industry."

Tooleybuc Central School also hosts a number of garden beds around the school to produce vegetables and herbs that are used as part of the food technology, hospitality and technology mandatory courses.

The new roll out of the syllabus will have a specific focus on educating students about growth, production as well sustainability.

Raising seedlings and maintaining a garden will be incentives for kindergarten students, whereas learning about agriculture as a managed environment will occur in later primary years. 

Mr Tyler said the idea will give younger generations a wider outlook and to develop confidence in students if they wished to pursue further studies or a career in agriculture. 

"Having students study agriculture from a younger level means that by the time they go into high school they have the background knowledge and are engaged in the subject," Miss Morton said. 

The new syllabus has been developed during the past two to three years and included consultation with the students, teachers and community and the introduction of professional development resources for teachers.

"Hands on, practical subjects are vital for developing student engagement and helping to develop work-related skills to support their transition to future work," Ms Wait added. 

While the mandatory unit is currently a NSW initiative, it is expected other states across Australia will make changes with a food and fibre unit already being introduced as part of the technology curriculum in Western Australia.

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