The world has changed – we are living in a new norm. Today in our Crafting Careers in Agriculture series we are looking at how our education system is adapting to support our young people to be resilient and thrive in the new norm.
Taking a new approach to learning by partnering with tertiary institutions, industry and community is the goal of Richmond Agricultural College’s Centre for Excellence in Agricultural Education. In this edition of our Crafting Careers series we talk with Principal Kris Beazley on how the new model works and how it equips young people for a career in the agricultural industry.
The recently formed Centre of Excellence is still developing and stretching its educational wings and Kris is excited to be on the frontline of an educational revolution. “The Centre of Excellence is a privileged place to be because we have had the luxury of taking some time to look at our curriculum and ask how we can do it differently, meet syllabus outcomes and ensure authentic, partnered and applied learning opportunities for our students,” she says. “In addition to our stand-alone AgSTEM high school we have the capacity to work with schools from Kindergarten to Year 12 across the state in delivering AgSTEM, sustainability and careers education, and teacher professional learning.”
The Centre has five pillars of learning: agriculture, STEM, sustainability, Aboriginal Knowledges and career-transition. “Everything we do aligns to those components,” Kris says. “We want our young people to have the confidence and agency to use their capabilities, not only for career purposes but as change agents in community and society. We talk about our young people being social entrepreneurs in everything they do, and that is very important to us.”
Using a transdisciplinary rather than siloed approach to the curriculum the Centre of Excellence is underpinned by partnered learning, which is reflected in its location on Western Sydney University’s (WSU) Hawkesbury campus. But the partnering does not end with tertiary institutions. Instead partnerships with industry and community are actively encouraged. Students work on design thinking projects with members of society as diverse as astronauts, local permaculture community organisations and industry at a local and national level. “In all elements of our programs we have developed partnered learning opportunities for our students beyond the school,” Kris says.
Another aspect of the Centre is its ability to deliver programs into schools across the state, with a focus on agriculture and sustainability, on topics such as protected cropping and food production, the importance of bees and river health. As with the fulltime campus delivery, partnering is critical. “We give young people a real world problem and ask them to be part of a real world solution,” Kris says. “These programs give kids the power to go and stand side by side with people in industry and community.”
Hackathons are another innovative way the Centre educates. During hackathons students and teachers work to develop solutions to real world problems and create new future possibilities. In their recent series of Hackathons with Cotton Australia, Woolmark/Wool Innovation, Adobe and tertiary institutions students explored the future possibilities of sustainable fibre in Australia, considering issues such as the supply chain, circularity, impacts on rural communities, cities and consumers. The Centre also delivers Hackathons linked to Bees and Pollinators, sustainable fashion, water management and other contemporary issues. A hackathon was a contributing factor in Penrith Valley Learning School’s winning entry in the 2020 Archibull Prize. “They did a full day hackathon with us where all students engaged in deep learning and critical thinking. All students in the group contributed to a collective design solution through developing their ideas, intense feedback, prototyping and testing; we thought about what they valued and gave them the research, communication and critical thinking skills to take their project to reality. Watching a group of young people stand up and have agency and voice was extremely powerful.”
Empowering young people to find and use their voice is the cornerstone to this revolution in agricultural education. With voice and agency students will not only become the changemakers of tomorrow, but will start this journey in their primary and secondary years today. They will be confident to ask the right questions and network with experts in industry, policy making, research and the community. In doing so they are confident consumers, wise decision makers and more importantly have a greater understanding of the opportunities available to them in the Australian Agriculture and STEM industries. Australian agriculture will be stronger because of it.