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Food technology courses in schools not keeping pace, researcher warns


Zoe Satherley
1 February 2007
Food technology courses in high schools are not keeping pace with new food innovations, changes in how we use food and new eating patterns, a Southern Cross University researcher has warned.

And even though there is a great breadth of study in nutrition and related areas, the effect that many new generation ‘dead’ foods can have on health and wellness is not being studied in depth.

Lecturer in education Angela Turner believes the Food Technology curriculum taught in NSW schools has not kept pace with current knowledge, given the study of food innovations has been removed from the Stage 6 syllabus.

Angela recently delivered a joint research paper, written with Southern Cross University education lecturer Dr Kurt Seemann, on the subject.

The paper puts forward the proposition that the current Food Technology syllabus needs a rethink for the core areas of study, and that there is a need for a more coherent framework in which to assess student learning.

Angela said NSW high school students were not being given the opportunity to study in depth the new societal values that have influenced innovation in food products and how we make our food choices.

Her research shows that the teaching of food technology was comparatively more advanced in the 1950s when there was a strong science focus on lessons, many of which were delivered in a science lab.

Today, the emphasis has fallen back to culinary skills and only minor components are taught about major subjects of importance such as bio-engineering, the genetic modification of foods and the more complex nutritional aspects of food, she said.

The multi-million dollar bush food industry isn’t reflected in the curriculum, and neither are the links between naturopathy and food, nor the strengthening of values that link eco-sustainability with synthetic food.

In terms of keeping the Food Technology curriculum contemporary, these three drivers in particular, as well as new societal values, should be reflected in the core curriculum, but they are not, Angela said.

“Some teachers are still teaching what they taught 20 years ago,” she said.

“Given the heavy emphasis on information communication technology skills required from the syllabus, and the anecdotal evidence that a significant proportion of teachers in the technology field struggle and resist – more than one would expect – cultural and technology change, they may also be falling short of the qualification standards that the profession itself is beginning to set for teaching technology in secondary schools.

“Many are still teaching basic cooking skills and steering students into the hospitality industry and as a consequence, are not preparing students for careers in areas like bio-engineering or the creation of new food products, where there are skills shortages.”

Angela believes the Food Technology curriculum has failed to keep pace with the changing economic climate, and as such, has had relatively low esteem as a job pathway into the food science and technology industry.

A national food industry study undertaken in 2003 for Food Science Australia revealed students equate Food Technology studies in school with the hospitality industry, not with the more diverse field of food science and technology.

“Some experts argue that traditional cooking and culinary skills are becoming redundant in the economy due to the dramatic changes over the past 20 years in technological food innovations and the heavy demand for ‘take-aways’ and ‘ready-to-eat’ convenience meals in the home, as well as the societal changes reflected in the modern ‘eating out’ culture,” Angela said.

She hoped her research would contribute to the debate on curriculum design in the area of food technology and challenge education authorities to provide depth not breadth of exposure to the major industry practices.

Photo: Angela Turner believes the teaching of food technology in schools is not keeping pace with current knowledge.