Western Australian educators are encouraged to apply for a unique opportunity to learn first-hand from some of the state’s most technologically-savvy farmers, who will open their gates to showcase the latest advancements in food and fibre production as part of the innovative Teacher Farm Experience Program (TeacherFX).
The two-day professional development program – to be held on September 16 and 17 in the Kojonup region – aims to equip educators with an increased understanding and interest in food and fibre production, with a particular focus on how they can adopt the learnings into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and digital technology curriculums.
The roll out of TeacherFX – which follows a successful pilot of the program last year, is part of a wider initiative – spearheaded by agribusiness banking specialist, Rabobank and its farming clients – to bridge the urban-rural divide.
Feedback from last year’s pilot indicated prior to attending the program, half of the teachers were not connected, or only distantly connected, to the agricultural industry. However, upon completing the pilot program, almost all (96 per cent) said they would encourage their students to consider a career in agriculture.
“Gone are the days where you need a tractor and some sheep to be involved in the agricultural industry,” says program organiser and Rabobank WA Client Council co-chair Gerri Hinkley. “Now around 80 per cent of jobs in the ag sector are beyond the farmgate.”
With employment opportunities across the supply chain, Ms Hinkley said the Department of Small Business estimated an additional 70,000 jobs would be available in the agricultural sector by 2024. “These roles are coming from the exciting opportunities that new technology is bringing into the industry and the ageing and retiring nature of the existing agricultural workforce,” she said.
Ms Hinkley said TeacherFX – a joint initiative of Rabobank’s WA Client Council (a group of the bank’s farming clients who meet to discuss issues and implement initiatives to contribute to the sustainability of rural communities) – and CQUniversity Australia (CQUni), aimed to provide teachers with the confidence to pass their learnings on to students by giving them access to farms, and providing them with a learning package to take back and use in the classroom.
“We want teachers to get hands-on with how we farm in the modern world and the technologies that are used, so they can get their students excited about the way we produce food and fibre for the world,” she said, “as the sector, globally, will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than what has been consumed in the entire history of mankind, according to CSIRO modelling in 2009.”
The program will include practical on-farm visits to demonstrate the adoption of new technologies and sustainability practices around soil health, pasture growth and animal welfare, while teachers will also be equipped with interactive resources – including a program which use satellite imagery to measure ‘food on offer’ for livestock – to take back to their classrooms.
With CQUni providing the professional support for the program’s development, as well as the materials and resources, and evaluation measures to record its success, CQUni Research Fellow in agri-tech education and innovation, Dr Amy Cosby said last year’s cohort of teachers learned about the technology used on modern Australian farms and the passion people who work in the industry have for agriculture.
“They walked away with an increased appreciation of jobs in agriculture and opportunities for their students, with all those that attended saying they would recommend their colleagues attend the program,” she said.
With the upcoming TeacherFX program the second to run in Western Australia, following the pilot held in Narrogin last year, Rabobank regional manager for Western Australia Steve Kelly said it had been developed as an extension of Rabobank’s existing Farm Experience Program, targeted at city high school students.
“Rabobank has been running the Farm Experience Program since 2014, which has seen more than 150 city teens from across Australia spend a week living with farming families to learn about food and fibre production,” he said.
“We are aiming to reach even more students through the TeacherFX initiative, by equipping teachers with the knowledge, practical skills and networks to share in their classrooms. Prior to last year’s program, 40 per cent of the teachers who attended didn’t incorporate food and fibre into their teaching programs, however upon completing the program 90 per cent said their confidence, knowledge and skills had improved, allowing them to incorporate food and fibre concepts into their teaching.”
Mr Kelly said the farm stay component of the program – which incorporates an overnight stay with local farming families – was considered a highlight of last year’s TeacherFX.
“Following the program, we had some teachers return to their host farms during the school holidays, while others invited their farm hosts into their classrooms to speak with the students,” he said.
The program, which is provided at no charge to teachers, includes meals, accommodation and return bus transport from Perth.
Mr Kelly said teachers are encouraged to apply for the upcoming September TeacherFX with applications open until August 30, 2019 via www.teacherfx.com.au