“To be or not to be; that is the question.”
Shakespeare’s line could certainly not be applied to young people in our education system who are interested in pursuing a career in the field of agriculture. Quite frankly, under the current curriculum they have no chance “to be or not to be” involved, as there is absolutely nothing they are taught that will light the fire of interest.
A joint effort by two of our new Ministers, Anne Tolley in Education and David Carter in Agriculture, could become one of the cheapest, yet best, long term investments on behalf of all New Zealanders, if they were to rectify this situation.
Despite the recent curriculum review undertaken by the last Government, to which many submissions were made making them aware of the agricultural gap, nothing has been done. At present, our sanitised curriculum would be just as appropriate for the children of Hong Kong as for those in our rural-based country. It is perhaps little wonder that this is the case when you look at a map of New Zealand, with the Labour heart firmly ensconced in the main cities. With their voting base being urban, there was no incentive to think favourably of the rural sector. This is despite the fact that the urban dwellers rely to the extent of 65% of GDP on rural returns for the backbone of our whole economy.
The successful maintenance of this large sector of the country’s wealth-earning potential lies in the hands of the future generations who are currently moving through our education system. Without the continual infusion of new talent into the agricultural sector, we will see it left in the hands of an ever-aging and diminishing population of farm owners and workers. This will inevitably lead to a lack of enthusiasm and new ideas which are so essential if we are to continue to lead the rest of the world in the efficient production of protein.
There is a need for the children of today to be made aware of the basics. It is not a need to get them to Doctorate stage. Such simple things as taking children to a farm to come into contact with animals would be a good start. With the proper incentives and some simple organization, there are many people from the farming sector who would be proud and keen to help.
If nothing else, it would make children aware of where their milk actually comes from. It does come from a cow … and not either the cardboard carton or the Fridge. You may laugh, but that is how far away from the rural picture many of our children have actually moved.
For many years the emphasis of education has been towards achieving a tertiary qualification. I have no quarrel with that, if only a balance had been maintained. However, the result has been the canceling of many apprenticeship schemes, and we now have a major imbalance which has led to shortages in the next generation of our trades sector.
It is all very well having an abundance of lawyers, accountants and money men, but someone has to do the real work that will provide the actual export income that we are so dependant on. Those who provide that export income have to be enthused and exposed to the opportunities in industry, including our largest industry, farming, from an early age.
Farming has greater challenges facing it now than ever before. It is vital to our economic survival. Rather than being the non-existent part of our education system, it must be a vital part which informs and attracts the young to the broad spectrum of opportunities that are available industry-wide. The “hands on” man on the land is just the tip of the iceberg. The supporting industries are widespread and challenging and provide wonderful career paths for intelligent and innovative minds.
For this Government to take this subject seriously and apply resources to it would have long-term benefits for them, the Nation and, most importantly, for the hundreds of our young, who, through exposure would have another whole world of opportunity put before them.