A New Study: Australia has identified lack of agricultural knowledge among school students
A new study in Australia has identified a lack of agricultural knowledge among school students, highlighting a need for better agricultural education programs.
In the largest ever study of its kind CQUniversity‘s Agri-tech Education and Extension research team, led by Dr Amy Cosby, surveyed more than 5,000 primary and secondary students across Australia about their knowledge of agriculture.
The study found many students thought of agriculture as a low-tech industry; four in five primary students and three in five secondary students believe commercial milking of cows occurs by hand rather than machine. Awareness of agricultural careers was also limited with many only able to recognize traditional job roles such as ‘farmer‘ and ‘beekeeper‘.
Importantly, the study showed one of the key factors impacting students’ agricultural knowledge was their level of exposure to farms, with students who live on a farm or who visited a farm at least four times a year scoring significantly higher than those who had never been to a farm.
Cosby said this highlights the importance of including regular exposure to farming activities in agricultural programs for Australian schools.
“If students are not being show an accurate vision of modern agriculture, they are unlikely to recognize that agricultural jobs can be highly skilled, well paid and possibly located outside rural areas.”
She adds that although agriculture is in a period of rapid technological advancement modern farming practices are not being adequately portrayed to students, calling this a likely contributing factor to the industry’s current skilled workforce shortage.
Except for New South Wales’ Year 7-8 curriculum, agriculture as a subject is not a mandatory inclusion in most Australian schools
Most surveyed students could recognize that some fruits and vegetables grow better in certain parts of the world and just over half of secondary students understood that hormones are not given to chickens to make them grow (a practice banned in Australia since the 1960s).
Cosby says the study highlights the need for a formal framework to assess students’ agricultural literacy similar to the United States National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes (NALOs), calling the absence of an Australian agriculture literacy framework a “significant deficit” limiting agricultural education.
“Today’s students are tomorrow’s consumers and their future purchasing decisions will be shaped by their understanding of things like animal welfare, environmental sustainability and healthy eating practices,” she explains. “Nothing beats exposing students to agricultural workplaces in real life and to people who work in these careers.”
Acknowledging the importance of education in labor market success of individuals, governments all around the world routinely advocate further investment in education. However, majority of the population in developing countries depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. Knowledge of market returns to education is less useful as a guide to increase educational investment in such agrarian societies. In theory, education is expected to improve productivity in all spheres of activities including agriculture.
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