TEACHERS from across the State were able to learn from innovative farmers through a new program which they can pass onto students.
The Teacher Farm Experience Program (TeacherFX) allowed 35 primary and high school educators of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and digital technology subjects to go on-farm to gain valuable knowledge and a deeper understanding of the practices, skills and technology involved in farming, which they could incorporate into the classroom.
The teachers spent two days visiting four farms in the Narrogin area on July 23-24, providing a diverse taste of farming with broadacre, livestock and horticulture enterprises.
TeacherFX is a joint initiative between the Rabobank WA Client Council – a group of the bank’s farming clients who discuss and implement ideas of sustainability in rural communities – and CQUniversity (CQUni).
Rabobank WA regional manager Crawford Taylor said by immersing teachers in farm life and giving them insight into the latest technology in food and fibre production, their teaching would be enriched with their new found knowledge and hands-on experiences.
“One of the big challenges for the ag sector and an issue that has been identified by Rabobank’s Client Council, is bridging the urban-rural divide and attracting youth to agriculture,” Mr Taylor said.
“The goal is that each teacher attending the program will return to school and share the learnings and insights with the 30 or so students taking their class.
“We are also planning to showcase the technological advancements being made in the agriculture sector, as technology makes agriculture a very exciting and savvy industry for the next generation for farmers, scientists, conservationists, ag engineers, consultants, innovators and other agribusiness professional to be involved in.”
CQUni provided support for the program’s developments and will supply materials and resources for teachers to apply their experiences in the classroom, as well as evaluation measures to record the program’s success.
“We hope that by equipping teachers with the practical tools and skills to incorporate the learnings into the WA digital technology and STEM curriculum, it will see students increasingly take up these subjects and perhaps stimulate their interest in studying these fields at university or college,” said CQUni senior research officer in agri-tech education and innovation Amy Cosby.
An extension on the previous Farm Experience Program which started in 2014, the TeacherFX program was the first of its kind in Australia where teachers could go on-farm to broaden their horizons.
Farm Experience involved students spending a week with farming families to learn about food and fibre production and since its inception, more than 150 city students across the country have participated.
Methodist Ladies College, Perth, science teacher Megan Caporn took part in the TeacherFX program and her daughter Paris did the Farm Experience Program in 2010.
She said such programs were a positive way for students to gain more of an understanding of agriculture and of their peers from rural areas.
“As a science teacher I was keen to find out more about the use of STEM in agriculture in WA so I could use it as examples in my teaching and I knew that my daughter had an amazing experience, so I was keen to find out more,” Ms Caporn said.
“I have already started incorporating the things I learnt into my teaching, such as energy transformations in my year 9 science class – it was terrific to hear the farmers talk about the crops and solar panels in terms of harnessing the energy and then using that crop to feed their sheep, thereby transferring the energy from one to the other.
“With older students I have been talking about GPS tracking of sheep – one of the farms was doing a trial with the University of Queensland (UQ) to look at GPS tracking of livestock and we did some practice with the program that the university is using so we could use it with our students in our classrooms.
“We could see where the animals had been in a paddock, look at their behaviour, how much they are moving and why, so it was a great data analysis tool and a good example of real technology for the students that is being used in their home State.”
St Joseph’s Primary School, Moora, assistant principal and year 4 teacher Jae Dornan also attended the program as he was looking to increase his knowledge of food and fibre production.
“Living in the Moora area, which is heavily involved in farming and farming practices, I wanted to increase my knowledge of the area because a lot of the kids and their parents are on farms,” Mr Dornan said.
“It was also good to link in with the design and technologies curriculum about food and fibre production and find out about technology use on farms and how farming has changed over time.”
One of the host farmers was Jenny Wiles, Popanyinning, who opened her 4856.2 hectare property to the visiting teachers.
The operation comprises 85 per cent cropping of oats, hay, barley and canola and 15pc sheep for Merino wool and prime lamb production.
Ms Wiles has often welcomed visitors to her farm for them to learn about agriculture and the practices involved.
“When our kids were at school we used to have international students and university students come, so when Rabobank contacted us looking for farmers, I thought it was a good idea,” Ms Wiles said.
Ms Wiles said on the property tour they explained the different crops, talked about the seeding and cropping program, export hay, the affects of water logging and the planning involved in a farm business.
Veronica Davies, Rabobank WA Regional Client Council, said there were plans to spread the TeacherFX program to other parts of the country.
“We are aiming to roll out the program more broadly, both geographically but also in terms of the material covered, so it can focus on technology and innovation in specific sectors such as wine grapes, beef or grain,” Ms Davies said.