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Agriculture Education Matters

Food security—from production to distribution—is one of the greatest global challenges facing us in the future. Read on to understand why agriculture education matters, and why it needs to have a global perspective. 

By Heather Singmaster and Jennifer Manise

Remember sprouting seeds in plastic cups and documenting the growth cycle? It's a time-honored tradition in schools. 

In biological time, it makes sense that the fundamental lesson hasn't changed. But in human time, our world has changed a lot since we did those experiments in school. In some ways, agriculture is the most local and the most global topic confronting societies today.

Agriculture has always been global. Consider the spice, rice, and tea trades of earlier centuries to now: trade is increasingly global given the ease of transport. Where did your coffee come from? Where are our soybeans going? When you travel abroad and drive by a farm, what company is responsible for those tractors? Where did the seeds from those crops originate? Geography, politics, and resource distribution: these are all key issues in feeding the world's population today and in the future.

Classrooms must reflect this. An informal survey of agriculture (ag) teachers done by the Asia Society and Longview Foundation found that 94% of the respondents believe that a global perspective should be integrated into classroom studies. When we asked which ag classes would benefit most from a global perspective, virtually every ag class taught in schools was listed. Yet, well over half of these same respondents do not explicitly teach with a global perspective in their classes. Those who do tend to teach one global lesson or unit, citing lack of resources to integrate a global perspective into their classrooms. 

Students with the cultural competence to work in agri-business (from the family farm to large trade businesses) will be prepared for the global workplace they will be stepping into when they graduate. It's not only a lost opportunity for students who lack cultural competence—it is also a disservice to anyone who will purchase and consume these products and who will elect the governments responsible for making agricultural policies for generations to come.

The National Council for Agricultural Education recognizes this issue and has identified the characteristics of a globally minded agricultural education teacher: 

  • is open to new perspectives and attitudes from students and others 
  • easily introduces global examples with authority and understanding 
  • regularly asks the question about the impact on global systems 
  • has an awareness of current global events with the ability to connect to students in a relevant way 
  • invites global perspectives into the classroom

The Global Engagement Strategy document from the National Council has some initial ideas for integrating global into the ag classroom. 

In our next blog post, we will share examples of innovative and effective ways schools are getting students to understand global food production and distribution and give you ideas of how to get started in your classroom.

Heather Singmaster is Assistant Director, Education, Asia Society and Jennifer Manise is Executive Director, Longview Foundation. Follow Heather and Jennifer on Twitter.

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