By Angela Norval
A new youth initiative is teaching Queensland high school students about agriculture and its intrinsic connections to the Asia-Pacific region.
Supported by the Queensland Department of Education, the initiative immerses students in a six-month learning journey where they engage in virtual educational seminars and interact with the surrounding horticultural environment experts.
Knowledge of Australia’s primary industries and the challenges they faced might be inherent for some young people in rural Queensland communities, but is not necessarily on the radar for most students.
So Asia Education Foundation at Asialink, The University of Melbourne is supporting the interest with a new innovative program – HarvestEd.
This year the program enrolled more than 100 students from Bundaberg, Gin Gin, Childers, Rockhampton and Longreach.
HarvestEd program lead Brendan Hitchens said agricultural production was an enormous contributor to Australia’s economy and Bundaberg was no exception.
“According to ABS data, in 2015/16, the total value of agricultural output in Bundaberg Regional Council was $613m,” he said.
“Agriculture has its fingerprints on everything, be that the economy, employment, tourism, health or foreign relations, to name a few, so education around agriculture is vital.
“Young people are our future and put simply, we can’t live without agriculture.”
Mr Hitchens said the program’s great strength was its cross curricular links and the ability to transcend singular learning areas and skill sets.
“Students have been involved in learning tasks that have exhibited their analytical thinking, problem-solving and decision making skills, their innovation, initiative and enterprise, their ability to recognise diverse perspectives, show cultural awareness and understand Queensland’s connection to the world and their responsible global citizenship, striving for a healthier planet,” he said.
“These students live on rural properties and are already involved in agriculture generally so they know first-hand the challenges the industry faces.
“They are passionate and they are driven to succeed.
“They don’t need textbooks and lectures, but rather resources, networks for collaboration and the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Using the virtual classroom platform of iSee, students from regional and remote areas of Queensland meet online once a week for their session.
The innovative method of program delivery allows students to connect and collaborate through audio, visual and text tools such as the spatial sound feature for debate and discussion, chat and poll functions for feedback and reflection and cloud storage of documents, allowing for contribution to joint projects and activities despite geographical distance.
Students are now working on projects targeting food system issues such as health and wellbeing, food wastage, and a more environmentally friendly production line process from paddock to plate.
Such design challenges include a crop wastage upcycling program, virtual cattle fencing using microchips, and a health and wellbeing initiative targeted at farmers refining work hours and processes.
Isis State High School science and agriculture teacher Hannah Wierners is proud to have the most students participating in the cluster that includes Isis High, Bundaberg North State High School and Gin Gin State High School.
“They have been exposed to ideas and information that they may not have considered before even though many have come from properties themselves,” she said.
“They are learning about areas where they can improve in agriculture while still respecting the older traditions on farms; it is really about connecting communities and innovation.
“Projects our students are working on include medicinal honey, meaning it can help hospitals while also promoting bee colonies, and using cattle tracking collars when it comes to worming in an effort to save farmers both time and money.”
Ms Wierners has enjoyed the program as much as the students and hopes it continues next year.
Gin Gin State High School agricultural teacher Stuart Napier said there had been many positives with the program right from the start.
“I have found that my students are not only enjoying the opportunity to meet new people in a virtual space but also developing further knowledge and being able to apply their learning in a different way through their projects,” he said.
“Students through their projects have done extensive research to get it right designing a virtual fencing system using GPS tracking which allows moving of cattle through a collar controlled by a mobile phone which is also good for rejuvenation of the soil.”
Next, students will present their innovations at a marketplace summit on 26 August in Rockhampton to fellow students and agricultural experts.
The aim is for these ideas to be a stepping stone for future aspirations and for them to develop industry networks.
“Students have explored the multitude of careers in the industry, with a vast range of interests and passions,” he said.
“Some of the occupations students are wishing to pursue include an animal-assisted therapist, a drone operator, a veterinarian, a cattle farmer and an apiculturist (beekeeper).
“They are also cognisant to the fact that many of the jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet.
“Students will also have the opportunity to present their pitches to the 2022 cohort next year.”