Academic journal article NACTA Journal

A Comparison of Student Knowledge and Perceptions toward Agriculture before and after Attending a Governor's School for Agriculture

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

A Comparison of Student Knowledge and Perceptions toward Agriculture before and after Attending a Governor's School for Agriculture

Article excerpt

Abstract

The goals of this longitudinal study were to 1) identify the demographic profiles of students who attended the 2001 and 2003 Virginia Governor's School for Agriculture (VGSA); 2) identify students' knowledge and perceptions of agriculture before and after attending VGSA; and 3) identify students' perceptions toward current agricultural issues (i.e. biotechnology, animal rights/welfare, the environment, etc.) before and after completing VGSA. Results indicate an increase in the students' knowledge of agriculture after completing the VGSA each year data were collected (2001 and 2003). In addition to an increase in agricultural knowledge, students were more confident in their knowledge as indicated by a decrease in the number of "not sure" answers on the post-test. The class of 2003 differed from those in the 2001 class concerning their perceptions of biotechnology. Students in the 2003 class enrolled in a biotechnology course, unavailable in 2001, which may have altered their perceptions. Students in the class of 2001 also showed a stronger knowledge of general agricultural literacy in comparison to the 2003 class. This may be due to the fact that nearly 50% of the 2001 class had taken an agriculture course(s) versus only 20% of the 2003 class.

Introduction

Today's US population continues to become more suburbanized and less knowledgable about the many aspects of agriculture. Many would agree with the need for a basic understanding of agriculture and its importance to our country and citizens (Frick et al., 1995). According to Fishbein and Ajzen (1975), students' and parents' personal experiences, observations, knowledge, and values about agriculture affect their attitudes and beliefs about agriculture. May (1969) concludes that people base their perceptions on past experience and knowledge; therefore, if a person has limited knowledge and experience about a topic, then he or she cannot accurately perceive it.

Several authors (Case, 1993; Coulter, 1985; Mallory & Sommer, 1986) have researched the lack of agricultural literacy and the relatively poor public image of agriculture. Horn and Vining's (1986) study found that fewer than 30% of a sample (n=2000) of Kansas students, primarily of European descent, could give correct answers to basic agriculture questions. Kansas is one of the top agricultural states in the U.S. If fewer than 30% of high school students in Kansas can give correct answers to agriculture-related questions, certainly students in more urban areas may have even poorer knowledge. Agricultural educators clearly need to increase students' knowledge of agriculture.

High school students' knowledge and perceptions about agriculture can be influenced by a number of factors including the media, family, involvement in agricultural clubs (i.e. 4-H and FFA). According to Whitaker and Dyer (2000), journalists have been trained in how to write but are ill equipped to fully understand their influence in the complex relationship between agricultural producers and consumers. If parents are influenced by ill-informed journalists, they may not encourage their children to enroll in a high school agriculture class or pursue an agricultural degree in college.

Only 31% of Virginia's middle school, high school, and technical centers offer courses in agricultural education (Virginia Association of Agricultural Educators, 2002). In addition to agricultural education classes, students can also gain agricultural experience through participation in the National FFA Organization and/or 4-H. In Virginia there are approximately 9,000 FFA members (National FFA, 2003). This figure represents only 1.6% of the total student population in grades 7 to 12 in Virginia's public school system. Approximately 28,800 (13.9%) of Virginia 4-H members are between the ages of 14 and 19 (Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2003). As indicated by the aforementioned statistics, a small percentage of students have the option of enrolling in an agricultural education course or are involved in FFA and 4-H. …

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