FOOD AND FIBRE EDUCATION-SECURING THE FUTURE

Ben. Stockwin1, Lynn Mason2

1Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia, Barton, ACT, Australia

2JM & NL Mason, Carrick, TAS, Australia

 

Purpose

The main purpose of the Primary Industries Education is to provide improved teaching and learning about primary industries in Australian schools.

Corporate Profile

The foundation is a private, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with tripartite membership engaging the primary industries, government and education sectors. The foundation is managed by a skills-based board, chosen by a selection committee representing the three categories of membership. The foundation operates with minimal overheads to ensure that member contributions are focused on ‘adding value’ and real outcomes.

Operating Environment

Primary industries are a diverse and vital part of the Australian economy (12% GDP and 15% national workforce), and the projected growth in demand for our ‘clean and green’ food and fibre products (estimated to double by 2030) suggests a bright future for these industries and businesses associated with the supply of high quality food and fibre products. Yet, our capacity to realize these opportunities, and address the challenges that will inevitably arise, is limited by an ageing workforce and low numbers of students enrolling and completing agriculture and related courses at both vocational and higher education levels.  Reasons for declining enrolments include an ill-informed image of primary industries and perceptions of career opportunities, and the disconnection with primary industries and poor understanding of the sources of food and fibre among our increasingly urban society.

The scope of this challenge was highlighted by the 2012 Primary Industries Education Foundation commissioned, Australian Council of Education Research’s report on school children’s knowledge of the origins of their food and fibre. This report struck a chord with many sectors of the Australian community. In fact, the stories about students thinking that yoghurt grows on trees and other such misconceptions went viral around the world. This confirmed the need for a strategic and focused organisation like the Primary Industries Education Foundation to identify, clarify and tackle the underlying issues.

Although it has been known for almost 20 years that the sources of knowledge of agriculture and career opportunities are, in declining order of importance, school/teachers, parents, media and friends,1 industry and institutional efforts to attract students have typically focused on media. Primary and secondary school is when most students start thinking about what career they would like, with the cross-over to making a decision usually occurring in mid-secondary schooling.2 Furthermore, it is well established that a focus on primary and secondary educational levels has a greater impact on students’ interests and attitudes to primary industries than a focus on the tertiary level.1

The Primary Industries Education Foundation focuses on the primary and secondary school levels to raise awareness of the importance of our primary industry sectors and to inspire a new generation of researchers, extension officers, primary producers and academics. We do this by evaluating existing resources, by developing relevant and current resources that add value and are aligned to the Australian Curriculum, and by providing support for primary and secondary school leaders and teachers.

1          Falvey L & B Matthews, 1999. Revitalizing agricultural extension. RIRDC Publication 99/172.

2          Miller D, W Allen & C Kleinschmidt, 2011. Career motivations and attitudes towards agriculture of first year science students at the University of Queensland. Agricultural Science,

Vol. 23, No. 3: 18-28.