WA school teachers swap classroom for paddock on innovative farm experience program


WA school teachers swap the classroom
for the paddock on innovative farm experience program

A busload of 22 teachers recently swapped the
classroom for the paddock, to learn first-hand from some of the state’s most tech-savvy
farmers in a bid to see agriculture more readily incorporated into the school
Held in the Kojonup region on September 16 and 17, the initiative was part of the
innovative Teacher Farm Experience (TeacherFX) Program developed by
agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank and its WA Client Council, in
partnership with CQUniversity Australia (CQU), as a way of bridging the urban-rural
Aiming to equip the state’s educators with an
increased understanding and interest in food and fibre production – with a
focus on how they can adopt the learnings into STEM (science, technology,
engineering and mathematics) and digital technology curriculums – the two-day program
incorporated an overnight farm stay with local farming families and practical
on-farm visits to demonstrate the adoption of new technologies and
sustainability practices, particularly around soil health, pasture growth and
animal welfare.
The second day of the program saw teachers provided with interactive resources – including a
program which uses satellite imagery to measure ‘food on offer’ for livestock –
to take back to their classrooms.
The Kojonup program was the third TeacherFX to be
held in Australia, and is part of a national roll out of the scheme, following
a successful pilot conducted in the Narrogin region, last year.
collated from the participating teachers by CQU found that prior to attending
TeacherFX, around two thirds (67 per cent) felt they were not connected, or
only distantly connected, to the agricultural industry. And for 90 per cent,
knowledge was considered a barrier to increasing the level of food and fibre
concepts in their teaching program.
However, on completing the program, 95 per cent said
they would encourage their students to consider a career in agriculture, while
all those who attended felt their overall perception of the agricultural
industry was positive.
For STEM teacher Shelley Jenkinson, from Floreat
Park Primary School in Perth, attending TeacherFX provided the opportunity to
“learn about farming and embed some farming content in our program”.
“It is really challenging to find authentic
experiences for children to learn from and when you can get an authentic
experience, the kids are so much more engaged and usually every aspect of what
they’re doing then becomes meaningful,” she said.
Ms Jenkinson said the biggest lesson she had
taken away from the program was the “need to establish a connection between
schools, the education system and agriculture”.
“I wasn’t really aware of the level of disconnect
until I started doing this (program),” she said. “And it’s actually quite
astounding. The farmers are acknowledging it, they’re aware, but I’m not sure
if we (in cities) are so aware of that disconnection.
“Getting that message and connection across into
the city, that’s so important. Because from my side, our kids really know so little about agriculture
in general, about where their food and fibre comes from.”
On returning to the classroom, Ms Jenkinson said,
she would be using the satellite imagery program introduced at TeacherFX with
her students.
“The fact that there is data available online is
big plus because it means we can make connections without leaving the
classroom,” she said. “So we can see the satellite images, for example, and
collect real data without being there like a farmer can.”
Program organiser and Rabobank WA Client Council
co-chair Gerri Hinkley said the teachers who attended TeacherFX were “really
engaged”, with the program sparking intelligent questions and conversations
around environmental issues and animal ethics.
“For example, the visit to Rob and Caroline Rex’s
property at Beaufort River generated much discussion as they showcased the importance
of healthy soils to the long-term profitability of their enterprise and how
they work to ensure all ecosystems are in balance,” she said.
Ms Hinkley said while the teachers predominately
came from schools in Perth, there were also regional and rural schools
represented, with a wide range of ag knowledge among the group.
“Some teachers had a detailed knowledge of the
industry while others were excited to see how big a sheep was,” she said. “It
was an eye opener for many of the teachers, and highlighted the gaps in
knowledge that we, as an industry, need to help fill. Because if we can instill an interest in food and fibre
production into the teachers, they can build it into their everyday teachings
in the classroom and bring it into the students’ consciousness.”
One of the highlights of the program, Ms Hinkley
said, was the careers panel which brought together “five young bright ag minds”, who talked on how they got
into agriculture, the pathways they took and what they love about the industry.
“And what was interesting is through all of their
different backgrounds, they hadn’t been encouraged at school to pursue a career
in agriculture, with each of them finding their own way into the industry,” she
said. “So the aim is that if we can help teachers spark an interest in their
students to consider a career in agriculture, it might resonate with some of
them and flow through into the workforce.”
Rabobank Head of Relationship Management for
southern WA Philip Edkins said the TeacherFX program had come about as a direct initiative of Rabobank’s WA Client Council, a group of the bank’s farming clients who
meet to discuss issues and implement ideas to contribute to the sustainability of the agricultural industry and rural communities.
“Our Client Councils give our farming clients
the opportunity to discuss some of the big issues
facing the sector,” he said, “and the
urban-rural divide along with the challenges of both retaining and attracting
youth to the sector are two of the four key objectives of the councils,” he
said. “TeacherFX is just one of the initiatives we are working on to help break
down that disconnect and also encourage those that don’t have an ag background,
but may be interested in technology or science, to consider a career in agriculture.”
/Public Release.