Topic: Important Role of Vocational Agricultural Education in Developing Rural Communities and Engaging with Rural Youth
Keywords: agricultural education, extension, young farmers, rural development
Agricultural education is the teaching of agriculture, natural resources, and land management through hands-on experience and guidance to prepare learners for entry into the agricultural industry. Agricultural education plays a pivotal role in the development of rural economies supporting the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable farming communities by equipping young farmers with the knowledge and skillset required to adapt any farming system. Several studies have highlighted the importance of an agricultural qualification in benefiting higher production rates and increasing economic returns within a competitive agricultural industry.
Exploratory semi-structured interviews (n=28) were conducted in Ireland to explore the purpose of agricultural education and the importance of educating young farmers within rural communities. The study sample consisted of college principals (n=6), college teachers (n=6), agricultural students (n=6), agricultural graduates (n=6), and policy leaders (n=4) in the field of vocational agricultural education within Ireland. All interviews were conducted in-person, audio recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed using NVivo software. An inductive approach was used for coding and identification of themes with repetitions, similarities, and differences recorded.
Findings from the study highlight the significant importance of agricultural education in developing young farmers both personally and professionally as they acquire new skillsets, new knowledge, and new ways of thinking in addition to fostering networking opportunities with like-minded people within the agricultural farming sector. The agricultural colleges in Ireland have a significant role to play in the development of these young farmers within rural communities enabling and equipping them with the skillset to function more efficiently in both the social and professional space. The findings also suggest there is great opportunity to broaden the nature of agricultural courses available to young farmers currently, in particular agricultural graduates in the area of continuous professional development for young farmers. Consequently, this paper will focus on the significant role agricultural education plays in developing young farmers within rural communities and the considerable opportunity that exists to connect further with young farmers within these communities in an attempt to enhance the transition from education to the labour market.