Education & Early Childhood Minister Sarah Mitchell – a proud daughter of the regions – writes about the importance of teaching children about the country.
Sometimes it is too easy for children to forget our farmers. They forget that the produce that ends up on their plates comes from relentless hard work on the land, that the milk they drink comes from years of pre-dawn starts by tireless dairy farmers, and that the clothes they wear are from generations of cotton growers who put everything they have into their crops.
Our regional communities are going through one of the toughest periods on record, and whether they are from Paddington or Pallamallawa, it’s important that every child understands the knock-on impact this drought has had on our state as a whole.
Yes, as a Government, we have a responsibility to ensure kids in classrooms across the state are gaining an understanding about agriculture, and about the tough parts of living and working in the regions.
However, it is also our duty to show them the good parts.
I have lived and worked in the regions for most of my life. I often get told that because of how much I travel it would be easier to move to the city; but I just don’t want to. Yes, living in the regions can be tough at times, but, for me, this is easily outweighed by all of the benefits.
There’s something about the bush I just wouldn’t give up for anything; the sprawling countryside, the friendships with neighbours, the career opportunities and of course the wonderful sense of community.
It is easy for our city cousins to feel sorry for our regional communities, but I want more children from the city to see the beauty in the country that I have seen all of my life.
We have some of the world’s best scientists, teachers, agronomists and farmers living in the regions as we speak. For a sector that makes up approximately $17 billion worth of the state’s economy, we need strong, skilled people ready to take on careers in agriculture and to keep our country towns strong and prosperous.
This month, as Minister for Education, I announced the beginning of a renewed focus on agricultural education in NSW, starting with ensuring students in both the city and the bush have access to the best resources in the agricultural field.
The $165 million investment will see a brand new Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education in the Hawkesbury, new selective streams of agricultural education at Richmond High School and upgrades to the existing Hurlstone Agricultural High School at Glenfield.
This new model will not only preserve and enhance the rich history of agriculture that we know already exists in the Western Sydney region, it will also foster further industry engagement, broader educational pathways with Western Sydney University and TAFE, and support teacher education in the areas of agriculture and STEM.
The Centre of Excellence will be available to students from right across the state for intensive agricultural studies, short and long-term courses, regular visits and excursions from regional, metro and overseas students. This Centre will be the first of its kind in NSW and I am absolutely thrilled that we have the chance to deliver it.
We also decided to keep Hurlstone Agricultural High School at its existing site, with a significant upgrade to its boarding facilities planned because we know how valuable this facility has been for families across the state for years.
In an effort to further engage students with a passion for agriculture, we will also introduce selective agricultural education streams to Richmond High School, where students will be enrolled based on a portfolio of work and an interview process.
No matter where they are from, this is about giving students access to state-of-the-art facilities if a career or future in agriculture is something they are interested in, particularly in times like these.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives during trying times like these, but let’s start teaching our children the importance of country NSW. For a generation with the world at their feet, they need to know the opportunities in the regions really are endless.