Better Engaging Students


RURAL towns play an important role in supporting primary industries and it is essential to broaden our thinking on rural career opportunities in these exciting technological times.  Educators, industry and community need to work together to ensure that our young people reach their full potential as educators cannot be expected to do this alone.  This was my key message at the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference hosted by the Primary Industries Education Foundation in Canberra at which I was delighted to present. 

Engaging students in exploring broader career opportunities was the focus of the Operation next Gen Down to Business Project.  So what were the five lessons that relate to educators from this pilot project?  None of them should be a surprise.

#1 Students respond best to a mix of learning.

As part of the Be Your Own Boss program trialed in 2015 at Wycheproof P-12 College, this couldn’t have been more evident.  The year 7/8 economics students were wildly excited to do Skype interviews with a software entrepreneur in Sydney, tour a start-up bakery, interview a range of business people in the classroom, and work as a group to scope out their own business idea.

Low literacy students showed the biggest outcomes, suddenly keen to ask questions, and enthusiastically leading the way on site tours.  Even the reflection activities provided stimulation.

When workshopping ideas with students at another rural secondary college on how classroom learning could be improved not everyone followed the usual dot point word format. One group came up with this graphic which says it perfectly.

#2 Learning makes more sense if students understand why

St Arnaud Secondary College’s Broader Horizons Program is a classic example of why we need to link the curriculum with real life careers.

Groups of students were taken on a six week program to explore careers in agribusiness, health and local government; all readily available career paths in rural Victoria.  Most students agreed that the program helped them decide on appropriate electives as they headed into year 10.

Student comments revealed another significant outcome from this program.

One student suddenly realised why she needs to learn the periodic table in chemistry after spending a day with a clinical nurse at the local hospital.

“I thought work on a farm would be easy but it’s not,” reflected another student who participated in the agri-business stream. “It's not just rock up and get a job, there's more to it. I need to focus.”

At a recent forum in Bendigo, Gareth Webb from O’Connor’s Birchip Branch revealed to educators that degrees are now commonly required for O'Connor's employees, a far cry from the old apprenticeship days.   Even in his relatively short career, Gareth explained how he has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and remain competitive in a global market.

#3 Real primary producers and business people get their attention

It’s all very well to read the theory and discuss ideas in class but nothing gets a student’s attention better than talking face to face (or even by Skype) with a REAL person working in that industry.

Not just any old business person or producer, I might add.  Invite the high achievers, the innovators, the movers and shakers to meet with students.  How else can they get excited, not to mention relevant information?

During the Be Your Own Boss program I enlisted the President of the local Progress Association to help identify who we should invite into the classroom.  Someone in your community will also be willing to help with this task if you ask them.

Successful people understand why it is important to help inspire the next generation so don’t be afraid to ask.

An ex country lad, Jordan Knight, now residing in Sydney and contracted to design software for clients like Microsoft, was only too happy to give up 20 minutes of his day to chat via Skype. 

#4 Never underestimate the potential of disengaged students

You only have to look at the bios of famous entrepreneurs around the world to realise that the class clowns and disruptors are the potential entrepreneurs and possibly even your future boss.  I hear this repeatedly as I speak with young business people and primary producers who found the education system most uninspiring so they looked outside the classroom for learning.

During the Be Your Own Boss program I recall the impressed look on a business person’s face when asked a particularly intelligent question … wait for it … by one of those low literacy students I was warned about.  I rest my case!

microsoft's bill gates in his disruptive youth

microsoft's bill gates in his disruptive youth

#5 Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business!

Yes, this is the working title of my book and thrust of my key message to rural communities.  Educators, industry and community need to work together to ensure that our young people reach their full potential.  Educators cannot be expected to do this alone.

Bakery on Broadway in Wycheproof is a classic example of how a group of farmers, teachers, truck drivers and community leaders came together.  Love it!

For more information about the Operation Next Gen and Down to Business Projects undertaken in partnership with Community Leadership Loddon Murray and the North Central Local Learning & Employment Network, please follow this LINK

For FREE classroom activities and resources follow this LINK

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.