HIGH school students from Western Australia's Kununurra region have been shown an alternative pathway into agriculture as a career.
Last year between April and December, a group of 20 Kununurra Senior High School students planted and harvested crops at the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture to give them an insight into the various roles involved with crop production.
The WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) hosted the year 11 and 12 students as part of the Kimberley Education for Life (KEFL) program.
The crops included commercial grits maize, sweetcorn, borlotti beans, sunflower, quinoa, chia, plantago, mungbean, safflower, chickpea, watermelon and three types of pumpkin.
At the beginning of the year, working with research facility unit team leader Mark Warmington, the students planted 12 crops commonly grown in Kununurra on a plot at the department's research site and were then were responsible for maintaining the crops and gathering data, including measuring heights, population counts, flowering, insect damage and growth, each Friday.
DPIRD technical officer Holly Cattermole said the students who had expressed an interest in agriculture completed the structured 20-week program.
"I had worked with KEFL students in the past and began to feel really passionate about broadening our interaction with them," Ms Cattermole said.
"We worked on developing a more meaningful work curriculum for them, introducing real agricultural program components to give them a greater understanding of agriculture and the important role it plays in the community."
"They learnt the basics of the specific crops irrigation and horticulture, pest and disease management, biosecurity, soil health and types of fertilisation and breeding in plants.
"We also organised for DPIRD researchers and specialists to talk to the students about the crops and why they are important to agriculture."
The field-based learning was expanded in the classroom, with the students taught to interpret data and measurements as part of their maths program and conduct presentations for English.
"This part of the program gave them a greater understanding of how maths is used in everyday life in research and development," she said.
"The students have been very enthusiastic and we have had great participation and positive feedback."
Kununurra Senior High School teacher and KEFL coordinator Claire Piesse said the training experiences at the Frank Wise Institute had been practical, engaging and rewarding for the students.
"Our students have loved the opportunity to gain new skills and see the vast variety of employment opportunities available in the industry locally," she said.
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