Mandatory agriculture classes at NSW public schools raises concerns about city facilities
Year nine students Emily Bate and Hayley Stubbs prepare cattle for show as part of a unit. (ABC South East NSW: Sophie Trigger)
High school students from all public schools in New South Wales will get an insight into where their food comes from, with agriculture classes becoming compulsory for year seven and eight students next year.
But regional schools already teaching the subject have raised concerns about rolling-out the subject to all schools.
The mandatory roll-out that will see agriculture taught across the state, including at inner city schools, following a review into agricultural education by Professor Jim Pratley in 2013.
“It was about the community and school kids and teachers having an appreciation of what agriculture really does,” Professor Pratley said.
“Food doesn’t just happen, it involves a lot of work by a lot of people to give us the best food supply in the world.”
Kylie Maher has been teaching an agriculture program at Narooma High for ten years. (ABC South East NSW: Sophie Trigger)
Narooma High agriculture teacher Kylie Maher, who has taught a compulsory agriculture program on the NSW far south coast for ten years, said students often came to the subject with little knowledge about food production.
“Basically we feed the country,” Ms Maher said.
“Twelve per cent of the economy is agricultural based, so it’s really important that kids understand this is where their food comes from.”
Agriculture in the city
Year nine agriculture students at Narooma High, who have elected to continue studying the subject, said they believed the opportunity should be extended to kids in the city.
“They’re in an environment that really doesn’t give them the opportunity,” said year nine student Patrick Sly.
“Doing agriculture gets their mind thinking about what the agricultural business is actually about.”
Emily Bate, 15, plans to continue studying agriculture throughout high school and agrees a mandatory program across the state is a positive thing.
“It’s just something that I reckon they could do in the future,” said Emily, “but I don’t think they’ve had the chance yet”.
Their teacher, Kylie Maher, supports mandatory classes, but had concerns that city schools may not have the resources to deliver the new curriculum.
“We have an ag plot where we can house animals and have gardens, whereas some schools don’t have those facilities,” Ms Maher said.
“That I see as a bit of a problem. To actually give kids the full experience of what agriculture is all about, it’s actually hands-on real experience.”
Narooma High has an extensive agriculture program, but not all NSW will have access to these facilities. (ABC South East NSW: Sophie Trigger)
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Professor Pratley said resources would be available to schools with limited agricultural facilities, including online programs and designated ‘light house’ agricultural schools to assist schools with fewer facilities.
A ‘Facetime-a-farmer’ initiative has also been developed through the Primary Industries Education Foundation as a supplementary resource for inner-city schools.
The foundation’s chief officer Ben Stockwin said schools had a responsibility to ensure students understood where their food and fibre came from, and gain an appreciation of the value of Australia’s agriculture sector globally.
“If you eat three times a day, if you wear clothing, if you live inside a house, then you’re directly involved with agriculture everyday,” Mr Stockwin said.
Concerns about limited resources
Christina King, who teaches agriculture at Monaro High School, said the Cooma school would struggle to deliver the agriculture course if the 100 students currently enrolled in year seven had to take the subject.
“If all those hundred students have to study mandatory agriculture and we’re doing plant production, for example, it’s going to be very hard to get each of those students to be producing something in the small area that we have,” she said.
A spokesperson from the NSW Department of Education said it would provide funding for schools to support the agriculture curriculum on a needs basis.
“NSW public school principals are in consultation with their school communities to determine how funding is best allocated meet the learning needs of students,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said schools would have flexibility to tweak the curriculum based on their specific context and facilities.
Cooma teacher Ms King said schools may be able to adapt the scale of projects to suit the space available.
“Growing something for production, there might be students in schools growing small things in pots and other students doing large-scale things in hothouses,” she said.