Curriculum, Community and Authenticity: Do Tasmania’s School Farms Have a Place in Modern Education?

Abstract:
This paper reports on a study of school farms in Tasmania. It is well understood that high quality agricultural education is crucial the future development of Tasmanian society and the economy. School farms represent a potential resource for both high quality agricultural education programming as well as an experiential “laboratory” available for various types of curricular and cross curricular work with students. Because they are so well established as authentic community-school partnerships that are, for the most part located in rural communities where there is considerable concern about aspirations, educational achievement, and retention (Abbott-Chapman, 2001; Abbott-Chapman and Kilpatrick, 2001; Cranston et al, 2014), we argue that Tasmania’s school farms continue to have an important role to play in a modern education system.At present a number of farm schools are operating but what they are actually doing with and on their farm properties is not well understood. Most of these farms have a long history and were built and developed in a very different social, economic and educational context. Those that have survived have done so with the support of community volunteers and genuine engagement on the part of rural citizens. In addition to strong multi-generational community support for school farms, a core group of committed teachers work in conjunction with community volunteers to deliver different levels of agricultural programming keep many of these farms alive.Today the position of school farms around the state is precarious and most are provided with little government financial or curriculum support. Indeed, a 2013 government audit of school farms recommended that they all be closed (Gallasch, 2013) which resulted in a public outcry in rural communities that caused government to shelve the audit and leave the school farms intact. This has not however increased the profile of school farms and/or agricultural education at the level of state education policy.The purpose of this study is to map the landscape of Tasmania’s school farms and their contemporary relevance. The research asks three questions: 1) where are Tasmania’s currently existing school farms/farm schools and what kind of agriculturally-related programming do they employ?; 2) what are the key successes and challenges faced by Tasmanian farm schools today?; and 3) how are Tasmania’s school farms integrating contemporary curriculum to deliver their programming? Of the more than 30 existing school farms in the state we have identified 20 that are currently operational at some level and which offer a program. This paper reports on semi-structured interviews with school farm educators and site visits to each of the 20 school farms.

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