Agriculture sexy in schools

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Bethany HiattThe West Australian

Record numbers of youngsters are enrolling in farm schools as the gloss fades on the mining boom and new career prospects open in agricultural industries.

Education Department agricultural education director Geoff Moyle said enrolments at its five residential colleges of agriculture have surged 20 per cent in the past five years, hitting a record high last year with 604 students.

While numbers for this year were still fluctuating, he said they were likely to be similar.

Mr Moyle said agriculture was increasingly seen as an exciting industry with a focus on technology and plenty of jobs on offer.

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"Everybody is talking about a downturn in mining and a renewed confidence in agriculture," he said.

"For young people looking at a future, that sort of stuff is of interest to them, that they're joining an industry that features the latest technology."

Up to a third of the students did not come from a farming background.

"It's not only about training farmers' sons and daughters, it's expanding as a destination for people finishing off the last two or three years of their schooling," Mr Moyle said. "We also offer qualifications in the trades areas."

Another reason for the increase was that boarding facilities had been upgraded at all five colleges.

"And we've invested in state-of-the-art machinery," Mr Moyle said.

Students were selected for their attitude and aptitude, not on academic ability. They divide their week between classroom lessons, trade training and working on a commercial-scale farm.

"We don't roll up our animals and put them away on Friday afternoon, they're there all weekend and need to be looked after," Mr Moyle said.

Neale Armstrong, principal of the Harvey campus, said it had reached its capacity of 150 students partly because of increased demand from girls.

Harvey Year 12 student Ben Ablett, 17, who plans to become a carpenter, said he chose the school because he preferred hands-on learning to sitting at a desk.

"I think other kids are starting to realise the opportunity is here for them to learn like this," he said.

Isobel Ayton, 17, also in Year 12, said she was still unsure what career she wanted to go into, but she liked having choices.

"Here it creates so many more opportunities, you can go down the agricultural road or the trades, and you can still get your ATAR and go to university," she said.

Demand for agricultural courses has also soared at Muresk Institute, with more than 1000 students training there last year compared with 200 in the previous two years put together.

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