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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
Higher education and skills training for agriculture and agribusiness
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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
Gallacher, Sen Alex
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Siewert, Sen Rachel
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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 15 May 2012)
CHAIR (Senator Back)
- Senator McKENZIE
Content WindowEducation, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee - 15/05/2012 - Higher education and skills training for agriculture and agribusiness
RANDALL, Mr Robert, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
CHAIR: Welcome. Before proceeding, I remind you and all witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when or how policies were adopted. Thank you for your presence. I wonder if you would like to make an opening statement and then we will go to questions.
Mr Randall : Yes, thank you. A number of us have had conversations about ACARA's work in other places but I might, without going through all of that, state the background that I am bringing here today. ACARA, amongst numbers of functions, is charged with developing an Australian curriculum, and we are doing that under the guidance of the policy body, which is the ministerial council, the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood. We are working in curriculum areas given to us by the Melbourne declaration a number of years ago and we could list those.
Currently, in states and territories we are implementing Australian curriculum in English, mathematics, science and history and we are proceeding with development of curriculum in other learning areas, including relevant to today's discussion: geography and technologies. We will in due course, I expect, be doing further work in national curriculum in senior secondary school. I note that state and territory ministers have requested advice from ACARA for their December meeting on the scope of further senior secondary curriculum development. It is in that context, I understand, that I am here today talking about what we are doing, so I will leave it at that and maybe go to questions.
Senator GALLACHER: The whole history of Australia has really been agriculture and mining. What is causing this pressing concern now after, say, 100 years of successfully meeting the challenges? Why is the curriculum deficient now? Is it because people are 10 minutes away from their iPhone or Facebook when they work in agriculture?
Mr Randall : There are a number of aspects. I could question the judgments about whether it is deficient now or whether people have always felt things could improve. I will not pursue that, Senator Gallacher. The observation has equally been made within state and territory bodies because the point for us to note is that up until now, while the country has had a couple of goes at a national curriculum, this is one which I think we have got further with than we have previously. In a previous professional life, I worked, for example, in Western Australia and in New South Wales and the questions there were similar. It is set in the ongoing challenge of what we would like school education to do for young people. It is a contestable space.
I heard the previous witness talk about the oft-stated challenge: do young people know where food comes from? As we have been doing our work, we have worked with key groups and the proposition that we are seeking to pursue is that, as a result of the learning opportunities provided by the Australian curriculum, young people will have a better understanding of the origins of food and fibre—the two terms that we have started using—and have a better understanding of what it takes for us as a country to sustain that capacity. Rather than reflect on 'why now?' the focus that we have in the Australian curriculum is to provide better opportunities than have been provided before. As senators will appreciate, there are demands on the curriculum and what people would like to see in the curriculum. There is a fixed bit of real estate, and the contest continues to be how we do that.
Senator GALLACHER: There is a suggestion in one of the papers here that there be a year of study of agriculture.
Mr Randall : I do not know the source of that. There will be a whole range of suggestions about how we can do it but, again, I go back to the proposition that we have about young people learning about food and fibre. It will not take us long. I agree with the previous witness and, as we work with the Primary Industries Education Foundation and others, we seek to establish: what is it we would like young people to learn? Clearly, we could very quickly agree here that eggs do not come out of a carton. Where do they come from? What about cereals, meat and all the other things? The question is: how within schooling do we teach that? Some will have a view that, if we just take one slice out and say that is agricultural, we can do it all in that one lot within one year or one slice. Others think, and I think it is our view, that we need to do it as part of a broader sense of learning. For example, we have science curriculum up there and being taught, and you will find there are opportunities and specific references to agriculture in that curriculum. Yesterday, a science teacher who teaches agriculture in a school was in our office looking at the science curriculum and the opportunities that are there.
We are looking at it as part of science and equally as part of geography. In our technologies learning area there are ways of doing that. What we are seeking to do is rather than doing it on a piecemeal basis, we have the proposition that I have mentioned and are saying, 'What does that look like as you go through from early years through to years 8 and 9 and then into years 9 and 10? What does that look like as a body of knowledge, skill and understanding?'
I note also that in a lot of existing state and territory curricula young people can learn a specific subject in years 9 and 10. We have not settled on that, but that is clearly an option. I mentioned senior secondary. Many state and territory curriculum authorities provide the opportunity for students to study in years 11 and 12 agriculture or other forms. Again, because we are still working towards that, they are all things that I envisage are clearly possible.
Senator GALLACHER: How do you take the agricultural industry with you on this and basically educate people about the food chain? People may have a view about the way that pork is farmed and hens are caged. When younger people get the facts about how food is produced, they may find that some of it is not very pleasant. It does not particularly worry me—I have seen most of it—but some people might think that there might be a reaction if people have their food chain fully explored. For example, you could not take a group of kids through an abattoir in Australia, let alone one in Indonesia. You could, I suppose, but you may have some different outcomes.
Mr Randall : I think you would find some arrangements in schools would preclude especially young people. Equally, whether or not it was Indonesia, you could imagine older students going to abattoirs. So there is an age appropriateness issue.
I would just reinforce the point I made earlier that the food chain is a strong science concept and an important understanding for young people. It is part of common science teaching. We would say that that is again a key starting point to say, 'Let's just examine our own food chain and have a look at what young people know and need to know about that.' Then you do go into a debate. Again, in other forums we will have debate about the balance in the curriculum. There have been and there will be challenges in teaching young people those things.
From a curriculum point of view we need to be clear about what we want young people to learn. But then as you engage young people in those, that becomes a delivery question—the state and territory authority question—and they will have arrangements in place as to how they get into the more controversial issues. Most state and territory school authorities have guidelines about controversial issues—such as abattoirs and all of those sorts of things. They are certainly getting into the issues that can become controversial in the broader community and how those things should be presented in a balanced way in schools, focusing on the debate about and understanding of the different points of view and not promoting a particular view. I would reinforce that while we will focus on what we want young people to learn, that question of managing some of the controversial issues is typically part of the delivery phase, which is a state and territory school authority responsibility.
Senator McKENZIE: I would probably add the professionalism of the teacher in ensuring rich, ethical debates around these issues.
Mr Randall : Absolutely.
Senator McKENZIE: How prescriptive is the national curriculum going to be given the comments you have just made?
Mr Randall : I will answer that in a bit of a structural sense. As we have written the curriculum we have sought to get a balance between specification—things we want all young people to learn—and a degree of flexibility so if a child is learning it in inner-city Sydney, Far North Queensland or in other states and territories, you can deal with context and pursue young people's particular interests. In our curriculum we talk about content descriptions and we say, 'That is what we want all young people to learn.' So that is our clear starting value proposition—that is what we want all young people to learn—and, if need be, we provide some additional explanation about it. So we start with the view that a year 3 child in New South Wales or Western Australia is learning this. At the moment our curriculum is more specific than those that some states and territories have had. It may be less specific than the New South Wales curriculum. It is comparable to that of Queensland and others. So the degree of specificity is up from what many are used to. We will monitor the curriculum down the track. Once we get into full-on implementation, we will look at the monitoring and evaluation of what is being taught, but we are starting with the view that we have described what we want young people to learn.
Then, and I think it was acknowledged earlier on when Senator Back made the point, state and territory authorities are responsible for implementing it. So we have specified what we want students to learn, but we are also allowing some flexibility for teachers to add to it, expand it or pursue particular contexts. I know we cannot do this today, but we could talk about history as an example of the importance of localising it.
Senator McKENZIE: So there is some specific content. Then we look at the area we are talking about, ag. You have mentioned three of the key learning areas: science, geography and technology, for instance. There can be content centred around agribusiness. I just want confirmation that that conversation is occurring around those three key areas and that ag is being included.
Mr Randall : Absolutely, yes.
Senator McKENZIE: Can you advise us about the teacher training that is going on in universities to ensure that current teachers and those who will be entering the profession over coming years have the content knowledge required to deliver agribusiness content in the classroom?
Mr Randall : I do not want to get too pedantic about it, but I want to be careful about the term 'agribusiness'. I understand the meaning of that; I just need to be careful about not attributing more to it.
Senator McKENZIE: I am happy for you to use 'agriculture'.
Mr Randall : Our proposition is about focusing on food and fibre production—that value thing that young people, certainly in F to 8, know. It is a test, if you like, across F to 8, and I will explain why we are stopping at 8 and then talk about 9 and 10 in a tick. As they go through, science, geography and technology are the key areas that will contribute to this. Part of our discussion with the PIEF and others is to say: 'You will be able to look across those areas and say, "Here is a sequence of learning."'
To return to your question, at the moment science is the one area that has been settled. We are in the final stages of geography and the very early stages of technology. I cannot assert how well prepared they are because we have not quite settled on it. My answer is contingent upon that. We are not into a totally new area. We are not inventing a new area of the curriculum. So I would start with that. Teachers are trained in these areas, as they are not totally new areas. You can just have a look at my children's school: they have chooks and they have a farm. They have a lot of that as what I would call a very powerful teaching approach, actually engaging young people.
There is not a big gap, if there is any gap. Your question is: is there a gap between what teachers can do now and what the curriculum will require them to do? I do not think there is going to be a big gap. I would then go on to say that as we work with organisations like the PIEF and others they are very keen to make sure there are teaching and learning resources that back up the Australian curriculum.
So there are primary teachers, and that is the really important area for us to get right. They are trained primarily in educating young people. They will get into specific areas of English, mathematics et cetera and then they will get into science, history and the other areas. Their training is one thing; the resources are the next thing. I am confident, given what I foresee, that the great majority of teachers are well trained to do that. I am also confident that, through the work of the PIEF and other organisations, what will accrue with a national curriculum is a greater collection of resources than we have been able to have individually in states and territories. Teachers will be quite well placed to achieve what we want.
Senator McKENZIE: Could you outline the consultation process and the organisations that ACARA has consulted with around the development of these? What constitutes the content required in these three key learning areas?
Mr Randall : There are several bodies that we have dealt directly with that I now have been into our office. There is the Primary Industries Education Foundation, which is a peak group drawing together many. I do not have a lot of their constituent members, but I do know that I receive their newsletter quite regularly and that there is both an ongoing informing program from their point of view and an awareness raising element. Then there are the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, the New South Wales Farmers Association and the National Association of Agricultural Educators. So there are four bodies in particular that there has been direct and sustained contact with.
The answer to the first part of your question about the process is that, as we develop any of our curriculum areas—I could go to geography; we are at the final stage of that and have finished a period of national consultation—and each time we get to a key stage in our curriculum development, we make it available for national consultation via our website, via distribution et cetera, and those groups are those that I imagine have contributed in terms of science, in terms of geography and, most recently, in terms of technologies. But if you want me to be more specific about which organisations gave us some feedback and when, I could take it on notice and follow it up.
Senator McKENZIE: We were talking about the crowded curriculum and competing demands. How do you prioritise what does get included, particularly in this area, and what does not?
Mr Randall : There is not a simple answer to that; it is a process answer. Considering the importance of education it is better with all the debate and discussion and sometimes contests that we have, so we welcome that and bring that on. Ultimately the answer to your question is that our board—and the ministerial council, if needs be—needs to deal with these issues and set the broad framework we are operating in and that our board becomes the key decision-making body.
But, in a more procedural area, we have said—and I note the summation of the previous speaker—that we are not, in F to 8, setting up a separate subject called agriculture. One of our ways of managing this is to say, 'Yes, we agree there is something that we want young people to learn in the way that I have articulated, and we believe that is through the three areas I have talked about as well as in others.' If I was teaching this in south-west Sydney with farmland and so on around me, I might adopt that as a stronger thematic approach. If I was teaching in inner west Sydney, I might say that for science I am going to use the context and say, 'There are chooks there; let's use that as an example.' So there is some ability for schools—and we go back to the professionalism—because they know the young people, to pick a theme for it. But, as was noted about agricultural schools and all the others, as they have young people in the agricultural high schools, they will pick that as a distinct focus.
I have referred to years 9 and 10 a couple of times. While we have not resolved that in the technologies learning area, we are writing a curriculum that we expect all young people to learn in F to 8. When we get into years 9 and 10, we think there is more decision-making capacity, so are not writing it as if everyone will do the same thing in years 9 and 10. They have not settled that yet, so I am not pre-empting anything, but I imagine that one of the areas that young people could elect to study, as they do in New South Wales and other places at the moment, would be agriculture as a separate subject. Again, we could look at the data to see where that is taught; it is not taught just in agricultural high schools. It is taught in a range of schools but not in every school. That becomes another example where I think we will manage that. So, having got some fundamental, core learning in place in years 9, 10, 11 and 12, many young people want to choose to get into agriculture.
Senator McKENZIE: Do we have enough teachers trained in specialist agriculture to deal with that? And, hopefully, increase demand through this—
Mr Randall : There are two parts to that. There is a demand. But I am not running a school system; I am not dealing with supply and demand. My role is to deal with: what is it we want young people to learn? Sometimes I answer that question by saying, 'Let's establish this first,' and, if that creates a demand, then we will worry about the demand. So I do not know that I can answer your question in an informed way.
Senator McKENZIE: Fair enough. Thank you.
Senator SIEWERT: I wanted to pick up from there. Senator McKenzie has covered a lot of the questions I was going to cover, which often happens; we cover each other's questions. How much of this is now up to the knowledge of individual teachers and their passion for agriculture? Say we have a group of teachers who have come through and who have not had a great deal of exposure to agriculture, whether at school or at uni. Won't the ability to pick up on some of the ways you could teach Ag. in the science curriculum or in the geography curriculum depend on the passions of the teachers?
Mr Randall : The short answer is yes, and I will go on the record as saying that. I think that is true. If we focused on years F to 6, where we know the teachers are generalist teachers—and that is absolutely fine and as it should be, because of what is going on in the primary years—we could agree, as the previous speaker said, on what it is we want young people to learn about food and fibre in those years. I talked about some examples. Now, is it possible for teachers without agricultural experience to teach Ag.? I would assert, yes, it is, and we can strengthen it with materials and information. One of the really powerful things that I have had the opportunity to see—and we are all playing with the technology—is that, more and more, as we get the curriculum right, the technology that can bring learning more immediately to young people is there. We have a great opportunity—the deeper the learning, the greater the coverage.
If I responded by thinking of the primary years, we are saying this is what we would want young people to learn. If you ask me back in the middle of next year, once the rest of the curriculum is done, I will be able to say that, with that broad proposition of young people learning about where food and fibre come from, from the farm to the plate and all those things, I will have tested that what it set out to do is there. We could then say, 'And here are the resources available to help teachers do it.' Then the interesting question—and it is a bit topical, given today's NAPLAN—is: how much do we care about following up on that and checking that out? I will say that and then park it.
Our job is also to be mindful of not creating big gaps that no-one can fill. But the proposition, as I said before, is: what is it we want young Australians to learn? I have talked about the level of it, noting that when you get into years 9 and 10 you get more specialised, in agriculture in particular, with all that goes with it. So, in the primary years, I think yes. In the secondary years, you could have, say, a science teacher picking up on the opportunity to use an agricultural context, a mining context or a local environment context. And, yes, that is where they will need to do it. Again, the resources will help, but ultimately—and this goes to Senator McKenzie's question about the crowded curriculum—decisions have to be made. They should take account of young people's interests and immediate needs, but they will be informed by the resources that are available. Again, from my point of view, one of the benefits that are starting to accrue with an Australian curriculum is that those resources are now available nationally rather than just in the individual states and territories.
Senator SIEWERT: I think in an ideal world that would happen—I am just not terribly convinced. Most of the teachers would be from a non-agriculture background, from a non-rural background, and will themselves have lost that connectivity. I am wondering where the pattern is: if I am teaching geography and I am looking for an example to use am I going to pick agriculture or am I going to use something else? If I am doing science am I going to pick agriculture, or am I going to choose as an example something that is more known to me? I am not having a go at teachers at all—that is just the reality. People are becoming more and more separated from the land. For the record, I am an ag science graduate. All my interest came from my family, not from what I got from the school curriculum.
Mr Randall : It is a curriculum design question: what is it that we are saying we want all young people to learn in a way where there is no choice—when we want them to learn it—and where do we allow teachers some choice about it? We have got to get that balance right. Our design principle for young people learning about food and fibre production is that we want enough in the curriculum so that there is no choice that they will learn it. And later down the track there will be more choice about how you pursue it—the depth and everything like that. That is the balancing question that I have talked about. For example, that is the ongoing discussion we have with the PIEF as a key group involved in our work and holding us to account in a most positive way.
In terms of how much discretion we are leaving to teachers about whether young people learn in this area or not, part of my answer is that there will be some things they have no discretion over—we want young people to learn this—and there will be some discretion further on about where they pursue interests. As I said, the challenge right now—and Senator Gallacher talked about it and the previous speaker talked about it—is that too many young people do not know where the food on their plate comes from or where the fibres in their clothing comes from. The proposition we are working towards is as a result of the learning that young people do know that connection, they do know the source of it. That is the challenge that both of you are putting back to me: are teachers well placed to be able to do that? My answer is: in terms of resources, yes. But this is still in flux, so I will need to come back in a while, once we have settled on that, to say year 3 children will learn this, year 4 children will learn this and year 5 children will learn that. That is in our design, that is what we are setting out to do—no question.
But science is not a fantastic example. If you go to our website and search for agriculture—and I did it a moment ago—you will find that agriculture comes up in some of the history curriculum because of the importance of agriculture in ancient communities and it comes up in science in relation to the food chain and different forms of land use and it then becomes linked into the sustainable use of land and the like. That is the test. For example, in year 4 geography year—this is a draft curriculum—'Earth's resources shape and sustain all life' is a key entry point. People say to me that that is where we will get young people into it—and that is us as well. It is about where resources come from. Again, without getting into controversy, we will get into the sustainability of those resources and the importance of sustainable use of resources. 'Water in the world' is part of the year 7 curriculum—the importance of water as a fundamental resource for land management and the like. In the year 9 curriculum we have 'Landforms and landscapes' and 'Biomes and the world's food'. These are the headings we have got at the moment in the draft curriculum. With that level of discussion taking place, I am confident that enough will not be left in doubt.
Senator SIEWERT: How do you then link the curriculum to when kids are picking their careers and things like that? How does that work? Do you know what I am asking? Sorry, I am not articulating. As you were talking, I was just thinking that I can remember sitting down with the guidance officer, as they were called in those days, when I was to pick what subjects I was going to do and where it would go for careers. Not once did that guidance officer talk to me about ag science or anything like that. So then I was trying—
Senator McKENZIE: You were a girl!
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that was part of it, I think. I think what you have just been through is a clever way of using those examples for ag, but then how do you make the leap to, 'Jeez, this is a fun place to work in! I could make a career here in this area or this area or this area'?
Mr Randall : A little side issue is that I wonder about that, because I am not quite sure how my eldest daughter ended up as an engineer in the Navy.
Senator SIEWERT: I think things have changed a bit.
Mr Randall : Which is fine. I am saying it because with young people now we know where they all come from and we know the important role that schools and others play. I am quite sure her school did not direct her.
Senator SIEWERT: No.
Mr Randall : Having said that, our focus is clearly on what we want young people to learn. We are actually having a lot of discussion with different authorities about the role of career counsellors and all those others. That goes beyond our scope. I am not trying to duck it, but it is beyond our scope. Right now, the context of the STEM subjects and the like—the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates and the discussion, advice and work that the Chief Scientist is doing there—is one that we have a look at. So we do not have a direct cause-effect there. It starts with: do we want young people to know this? We could say that, if more young people knew these things and there was engagement in learning opportunities, their minds would open up to alternatives. We could talk about your story: what was it that caused you to pursue that? So I do not have any answer to it. We start with a proposition—'Here's what we want young people to learn'—knowing that is going to influence their lives. The curriculum is designed to make learning as rich as possible, and that is what sparks young people: teachers translating the intended curriculum into a really rich curriculum. Many young people's stories will come about. I became a secondary maths teacher not because my maths teacher forced me into it or anything but because I just enjoyed it. He seemed to enjoy it and I enjoyed it.
So that is the thing. I acknowledge, though, that what we are also doing—we are in the early stages of it—is working on national trade cadetships. In years 9 and 10, we have been asked by the ministerial council to do some work in that area. There are national trade cadetships in years 9, 10, 11 and 12. That is trying to draw a stronger link between the skills that young people are getting out of general education and their application in an employment setting. That is so formative at the moment, but you wonder about the prospect of some opportunities there. But it is very formative at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Randall. I am delighted to hear your ongoing reference to the Primary Industries Education Foundation. It is not often that committees have an influence whilst they are underway, but I believe that, as a result of the comments by the Treasurer in the budget the other night, there was a question when this committee started meeting as to whether PIEF was going to survive. The industry continued to want to fund it, but it is good that you are mentioning it, because we know that at least its immediate future is assured. Obviously you are using that group as advisers to you, which brings me to my first question. In terms of ACARA and its activities, I can see where policymakers and governments have an input, and education administrators must have an input. I do not know whether actual teachers at primary and secondary level get an input into the decision making of ACARA—or is it through their education administrators?
Mr Randall : Absolutely they do. Ultimately in the decision making, if we get who the decision makers are—the board and others—
CHAIR: Sure. I am aware of that.
Mr Randall : In terms of informing all of those, absolutely. At the broader level, right now, we have got a shape paper out for consultation. It is up on our website and I have absolutely no doubt that classroom teachers are reviewing and responding to that online or writing submissions. So at that level, absolutely. On our advisory groups, whenever we convene panel discussions or others, I regularly write to state and territory authorities to say, 'We want five, three of whom need to be teachers.' I used to say, 'with chalk dust under their fingernails,' but that is dating me now. But they need to be classroom teachers—not, if you like, people out of school. So they are involved. We will have advisory groups and writers in, and people from classrooms advising us, through the whole profile, without doubt.
CHAIR: I then come to the question, further on from the earlier witness: at what point does industry—in the case of agribusiness—have its chance to have input into curriculum development?
Mr Randall : All through. They have the same opportunity that everyone else has. The technologies curriculum is on the website. It is there. Equally, I would note—as always when I go to various meetings—you meet some other people who are still not immediately aware of the work that is going on. So we need to continue to reach out and invite people in to do that. I have cited some groups. The Primary Industries Education Foundation is one where they get involved. I had an example the other day in our earlier work about the national trade cadetships of Business Council of Australia, ACCI and others. They are aware of what we are doing and I need to follow those up. They have the opportunity all the way through. The ongoing challenge for us is to keep searching out and making sure people are aware of what we are doing.
CHAIR: I ask the question in the context of the evidence of the previous witness. Obviously in the minerals industry we have got the Minerals Council, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy and the various industry skills councils. You mentioned the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and they are obviously one sector, as are the deans of agriculture. Would you yet identify a peak group or groups or would it not be relevant to you to identify peak groups within agriculture/agribusiness? Just for clarification—you mentioned food and fibre—for ease, I suppose, agriculture being the production side and agribusiness being the 'gate to the plate', not suggesting for a minute that it is not essential to have business skills to run an agriculture enterprise, but it is not a bad way of dividing: the production on the farm, the 'gate to the plate' is what we loosely refer to as agribusiness.
Mr Randall : Our view is 'paddock to the plate'. I talked about young people learning and they need to have a sense of that full range. Your question about whether we would identify, I know I could ask people who are working in the technologies area and all the others, they will have identified, and I know there are lists—I do not have them here—of stakeholder groups that they are aware of and are directly engaging. That is, they are on our list and they are communicating with them. If I understood correctly, your question is whether I know of a peak group that we are dealing with. If that is the question my answer is: not immediately in this area, apart from the ones I have listed, but the people who work for me, if they were listening to me now, might be saying, 'Rob, we know this one.' I am happy to give you the groups we have identified, but I go back to my previous point: if the ongoing challenge for us, and I guess in a broader education, this is work that we are doing. We find, as we work federally, a lot of networks, people know what happens in states and territories, because they have been doing it for many years, as we lift up and do something across the whole federation, we need to discover new relationships.
CHAIR: Yes. That is right. The fact of something being on your website is very interesting, but anybody whose input you might want actually has to know that it is there on the website and be aware of it and go looking for it.
In a more general scope, and I declare an interest, having been involved in agriculture education. There was a time when 21 institutions around Australia were involved in agricultural/agribusiness education. There are now at best nine, and I question that. It is particularly the regional institutions. I would just like to ask you, with your background as an education policy person, for your opinion on where we have gone wrong, particularly with the regional institutions. Hawkesbury in New South Wales could not mount a first-year course this year. In this state, I do not think Glen Ormiston exists anymore. In South Australia and Queensland, Roseworthy and Gatton are really veterinary schools now, with a bit pinned on. The Muresk Institute, in its 85th year, which was the first institution in Australia to start an agribusiness degree course—I was part of it—no longer exists.
Mr Randall : Is that right? I am a Western Australian and I know Muresk reasonably well.
CHAIR: At the moment there are six students, and nobody quite knows—and neither do they—what they are studying. You are a policy person, you are a person who advises government and you have an input. Where should we go looking for what went wrong, or, indeed, is it just part of a natural evolution? I know it is not specific to what you do, but I am keen to hear what you think.
Mr Randall : I mentioned the STEM subjects and it seems to me there is a similar question there. We can look at what the country needs—that is, what we would like on the supply side. There is a question of whether we are getting the right number of people through school and university. What is happening in the broader community? I have worked previously in New South Wales where we were talking with the Chief Scientist in New South Wales about this work. It is multi-variable. It could start with awareness and what drives young people—that is, there is an awareness issue about young people knowing the range of choices. Everyone makes a choice, but are they aware of the choices, or have we narrowed down our immediate view? There is an economic imperative to it. I cite the example of my daughter's school, a girls' school where most others were off into commerce or law or other subjects. They were young women who would have been fantastic in science and all the other subjects. I think that is an element.
I was reading on the plane coming down here that—I am just trying to remember the name of the country; it may be a seniors' moment, but I have just forgotten it—the ratio of science people in their community is staggering. I imagine it is one of the Asian countries. I do not have a neat solution. I do think it is parallel to what the Chief Scientist is looking at from a STEM point of view. I imagine there are going to be some general variables that would also apply here. Your proposition is about agriculture, but if you looked at the trend in science or engineering or maths you would say: 'There is a trend. Just how far behind agriculture is it?' I have not read what the Chief Scientist has found, but I imagine there would be some lessons there. To the extent that I have thought deeply about it, that would be it.
CHAIR: He did appear before this committee last week, but it was relation to engineering. I have just got one final question. I am asking you to respond to a comment that was made to this agribusiness/agriculture inquiry earlier in the year. It was about a question of perceived bias. We will not talk about NAPLAN to any extent today because we will do so in a couple of weeks time, but the point made by a witness was that in a NAPLAN exercise—I think the students were in year 5—students were asked to comment on a piece which was titled From Moo to Roo. They were asked to undertake a critical analysis—the witness questioned whether year 5 children could do a critical analysis anyhow—and the suggestion was that cloven hoofed animals were causing the destruction of all the environment that you spoke about and that the move should be to commercial kangaroo production. It caused some grief. It caused the witness to draw our attention to it. Would you care to respond to that? Does the process demand that you look at this sort of material to avoid bias?
Mr Randall : When we are developing stimulus materials or something like that, the process does involve consideration of the controversial or otherwise nature of it. So it is clearly there. That one I have got is not foremost in my mind. When you started your introduction I remembered some discussion, but I cannot retrieve it quickly. I would be happy in the context of other discussions to use that as an example of what consideration went into it.
CHAIR: That will be taken up in the estimates in a couple of weeks time, so, as you say, that is two weeks notice.
Mr Randall : I will take that one on board. Was it a NAPLAN one?
CHAIR: It was. Your evidence has been most interesting. Thank you for appearing.
Proceedings suspended from 10 : 45 to 10 : 59