Just what are we teaching our kids?

Yesterday I wrote a post titled “Cows lay eggs don’t they” for Art4agricultureChat after I discovered that a large number of young people going through the Egg Dome at the Sydney Royal Easter Show Food Farm thought that eggs and dairy foods come from the same place. Then of course there was the ACER survey that delivered the international media heading Australian Kids think yogurt grows on trees. Embarrassing indeed. 

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Now whilst those with the knowledge can all have a good chuckle, everyone should be concerned about this lack of knowledge of the basics of food and fibre production. Why you ask? Think about it like this. These young people grow up to become our decision makers. They get to decide how to balance feeding and clothing people with housing people with an ever decreasing amount of land, water and energy resources and that won’t be easy and often there won’t be right or wrong choices just wise choices for people, animals and the planet

Yes Australia, with its vast size and diversity of climates can continue to produce a wide range of high quality produce and products to satisfy its consumers, while contributing to Australia’s economic wellbeing. But these production issues and decisions need to be addressed by all and let’s face it common sense says students should be equipped with the capacity and motivation to make informed decisions about such questions as well as be provided with the opportunities to gain knowledge and skills about the production of the food they eat, fibres they use and the environment they live in. This knowledge and skills should involve all the processes of production, marketing, consumption, sustainable use of resources and waste recycling, i.e. complete paddock to plate and beyond.

To do this, a variety of skills and knowledge are essential, including scientific, technical, problem solving and critical thinking. Knowledge of the past along with innovation is required. The required interest, knowledge and skills need to be encouraged and progressively developed through the curriculum from kindergarten through to Year 12. The Australian Curriculum should provide these opportunities in a manner that is appropriate with student development and at the moment it doesn’t and we should all be lobbying our current decision makers to fix this.

So if agriculture isn’t embedded into the curriculum from K to 12 what opportunities do young people get for hands on food and fibre experiences and knowledge and how is industry helping to address this conundrum ?

Art4agriculture worked with Meat and Livestock Australia on their display at the Brisbane Ekka last year and it was a huge success. This year Art4agriculture have been working with Ann Burbrook and 12 students from Caroline Chisholm College via 4agriculture and Archibull Prize to add a little something extra special to the Meat and Livestock display in the Sydney Royal Easter Show Food Farm for 2012 and I will write a post about that shortly.

In fact MLA actually participates at 5 Royal Shows around the country (Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth). They believe Royal shows give them a wonderful opportunity to engage with urban Australians in an environment where they are thinking about agriculture. In each case they aim to have a paddock to plate presence but that depends on the space and location.

So let’s have a look at some of the activities that MLA as part of the 14 day Agri-Disney experience that has become the Sydney Royal Easter Show do to help fill the knowledge gaps our school curriculum doesn’t.

Research over the last five years confirms that 93% of visitors to the Food Farm come to see animals and so “Livestock in the Round” was developed.

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No shortage of people to share the Paddock to Plate story with in the Food Farm  This photos shows how Freeway, the Charolais bull, attracts a crowd to “Livestock in the Round” while Sarah and Lisa talk about cattle and beef production

This format allows people the opportunity to get close to, and touch, very large animals that they normally never get see, let alone touch.  The presenter talks about a range of things relating to beef cattle production (or sheep meat production if sheep are in the ‘Round’) and visitors can ask questions.

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Students Annie and Paige from Camden Haven High were guests of MLA in the Round this week

MLA also have a session each day when they get kids into the Round to pretend to be  ‘livestock’. They are tagged (with animal stamp), weighed, scanned (NLIS scales and wand reader) and backline drenched (drench gun with bubble bath) – then they come into an enclosure with 2 sheep and “Heidi the Hereford” (who is a staff member in cow suit). If I was a kid I would think that sounded like a lot of fun.

The Round sessions are supported with interactive and educational games and displays like the Fun on the Farm – which is a touch screen computer game for young children (and the not so young) where players can either water the animals, weight them to make sure they are a healthy weight, move a herd to new paddock to manage the pasture, or protect seedling trees by keeping fences in order.

The picture below shows the Livestock Learning Wall. When you press the button next to the question an LED light trail leads to the right answer

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The Farming and the Environment model below shows environmental cycles on farms such as carbon, water and soil nutrients (dung!)

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There is also Raise the Stakes which is a touch screen computer game for older children and their parents that is a question and answer game where you can Ask A Farmer or go 50/50 to find the right answer and try to get the highest score. There are also towers with some information on cattle and sheep, as well as food safety, nutrition and cooking as well as DVDs running a cooking session and a loop of photos taken to celebrate Australian farmers. Then there is Patti (below) painted by Richmond High School students as part of the Archibull Prize 2011 whose grass patches show the meat cuts she produces. Patti is surrounded by iPads running the iBeef app that shows what cuts to cook for different cooking methods and how long to cook for the desired result.

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Then of course there is the Pièce de résistance Moobix the 2011 winner of the Archibull Prize who highlights the many difference facets of the beef industry but more about this later

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MLA staff are also on hand to answer any questions visitors might have and students from Tocal Agricultural College with a support teacher care for all animals whilst they are in the Food Farm.

The provision of opportunities for students to have hands on experiences related to the raising of animals and growing of plants should not be underestimated in the 21st century. Core values of caring for animals and developing empathy with them are an integral part of this learning area, encouraging students to reflect on the past and move with the future.

The Sydney Royal Easter Show does indeed play a very valuable role but surely we cannot expect it to deliver science literate decision makers can we? Off course not.

Our young people should be provided with day to day opportunities to study all facets of food and fibre production and consumption as part of a school curriculum that provides authentic learning opportunities for students, offering a range of opportunities including academic, technical and skills based for students from kindergarten through to the completion of secondary school.

Lets get it right. The Australian School Curriculum should provide unique opportunities for students to interact with the physical and biological environment and to develop responsibilities that help to make them valuable citizens of Australia who can make the best choices for people, animals and the planet.