Food and fibre knowledge in decline

Date: 12.03.2012


A new survey reveals that 75 percent of students think cotton socks are an animal product and 45 percent of students can not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as a banana, bread and cheese originate from farms

Food and fibre knowledge in decline
Food and fibre knowledge among children is in worrying decline

A new survey has found student and  eacher knowledge related to food and fibre production has declined to worrying levels. 

The ground-breaking survey, undertaken by the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) with the support of Woolworths, reveals that 75 percent of students think cotton socks are an animal product and 45 percent of students can not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as a banana, bread and cheese originate from farms. 

It also found that: 

  • More than two-thirds of students mistakenly believe most logs harvested come from native forests
  • 40 percent of Year 10 students believe farming damages the environment
  • 46 percent of students see no link between the use of on-farm inputs and increased food production
  • 28 percent of year 10 students think natural fibres only come from plants
  • 27 percent of year students think yoghurt is a plant product
  • 21 percent of year 6 students think sugar is a man-made product
  • 37 percent of year 6 students and 29 percent of year 10 students believe cooking oil to be a man‐made (artificial) product
  • Only 55 percent of students identify that bread, cheese and bananas all originate from farmed products
  • Only 27 percent of students identify salmon as a farmed product
  • Only 57 percent of students link scientific research to farming
  • Only 45 percent of students link innovation to farming. 

"This survey is a wake-up call to government, industry and educators and comes at a time when the primary industries are being excluded from the national curriculum," Primary Industries Education Foundation (PIEF) Chair Cameron Archer says.

"The survey results are clear in demonstrating that this approach is not working. Our young students do not have enough of a basic understanding of where their food, clothing and building materials come from." 

The survey highlights the need for a long‐term, cross-industry, whole-of-government approach to school education and career attraction in order to meet the challenges related to food security in the next 50 years. 

"The primary industries sectors face a critical shortage in attracting new entrants at all levels of the supply chain. This will have serious implications in the next five to 10 years as we begin to understand the implications that an ill-informed public, climate variability and the skills shortage will have on Australia's ability to feed 70 million people here and abroad. 

"The people who will need to solve the problems related to food security are either currently in school or are yet to be born." 

The Primary Industries Education Foundation is a national initiative with a long-term approach to developing community understanding of food and fibre production and career attraction to the sector by meeting the needs of teachers to increase the teaching and learning in schools related to the topic. 

In the Australian Curriculum, the latest version of the draft Sustainability Curriculum contains no direct reference to sustainable food and fibre production, despite representations from industry and education bodies. 

The survey also demonstrates that 100 percent of primary teachers and 91 percent of secondary teachers believe it is very important that  students are taught about the origins of their food and fibre. 

The Primary Industries Education Foundation operates the website www.primezone.edu.au as a one-stop web portal for teachers to access resources related to the sector. 

Members of the Primary Industries Education Foundation include the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Meat and Livestock Australia, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Forest and Wood Products Australia, the Australian Egg Corporation and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation.