Head of Agriculture and Primary Industries, Mr Mark Bokenham, believes bringing the farm into the classroom and encouraging self-motivated learners is key to developing students who will thrive in the sector.
It’s just after midday and two students are conducting PH tests on the soil of a wicking bed behind Br Emilian Hall. They are assessing for acidity and alkalinity, carefully managing the agriculture plot so that it will remain fertile and productive for longer. Watching over them is the Head of Agriculture and Primary Industries, Mr Mark Bokenham.
Country born and bred – Mr Bokenham operates a family farm at Kings Plains near Bathurst – he is keen for his pupils to get their hands dirty and gain first-hand experience. Nearby is a beehive the boys tend to with the ultimate aim of selling honey to market – and an aquaponics tank that grows vegetables and fish.
It’s part of Mr Bokenham’s “bringing the farm into the classroom” ethos; practical involvement is key. Of course, Joeys students also have excellent access to hands-on experience outside the classroom. The College’s 90-acre Outdoor Education Centre at Colo is split into seven paddocks. Recent floods forced the sale of the resident livestock, but when numbers are replenished the property runs 14 to 20 head of cattle, enabling boys to oversee the complete process of beef cattle operations from saleyard to butcher.
Practical experience: Year 11 Agriculture students construct a new cattleyard at Joeys’ Colo property.
“I want to get the boys interested in the industry overall,” Mr Bokenham says. “It is very much about agribusiness these days and knowing where the margins are and where you can make financial gain. The speed at which technology is developing means the industry is changing so fast.”
Joeys is at the forefront of this change. A revolution in agriculture is enabling remote farm management, lowering costs and freeing graziers to focus their energies on increasing production and innovation. Sensors that can monitor key indicators such as water trough levels, cattle movement and spraying conditions convey data to an app that can be accessed on a farmer’s mobile phone. It removes the need for manual checks, saving many hours on a daily basis.
The idea, Mr Bokenham says, is to give the boys the opportunity to manage a property remotely in real time. Via an alert on the Farmdeck app, a student can be notified of low water levels, for example, and then take steps to rectify it by calling our staff at Colo. Or he can analyse the daily GPS data to assess where cattle have grazed and move them as required so that there is minimal damage to grass cover.
Joeys is also looking into the idea of virtual fences, which section off areas using an electrical impulse.
“The boys don’t realise that in 10 to 20 years the way farms operate will be completely different, and I’m attempting to give them best industry practice so that they’re prepared.”
“Teaching is about building a discussion, not delivering a lecture; it’s about stepping back and letting the boys interact as independent learners.”Mr MARK BOKENHAM, HEAD OF AGRICULTURE AND PRIMARY INDUSTRIES
Learning for themselves: Year 9 students check soil PH levels at the campus agriculture plots and (right) Mr Bokenham, Head of Agriculture and Primary Industries.
It is particularly rewarding, he says, when boys take the knowledge they have learnt in class back to their family farm in the holidays and discuss it with their parents – when they understand why their dad is moving sheep from one paddock to another.
“I’m not trying to replace the great knowledge the boys’ parents have and it’s great when they come back to class and say ‘this is the way dad does things’. I’m just showing them that this is a dynamic industry.”
Mr Bokenham came to teaching via a degree from Charles Sturt University. He first taught at St Stanislaus’ College in Bathurst but he had a connection to Joeys through his son, Hugh, who attended at Hunters Hill from 2014 to 2019.
The nature of teacher satisfaction varies from person to person. Mr Bokenham says it’s all about supporting good educational outcomes and the sense of fulfilment that derives from watching boys become self-motivated learners who develop a broad understanding of their subject matter.
One of Mr Bokenham’s challenges is to make Agriculture and Primary Industries attractive to boys from the city or boys who have no background in farming. It is a challenge he relishes.
Broadening their skill base: Year 11 Primary Industry students ear-tag cows at Colo.
“There is so much more to agriculture now than just knowing about animals and crops – most of the jobs aren’t on the land anymore; they’re in industries that service the land and this opens up opportunities for people who perhaps wouldn’t normally consider them.”
Having taught at the College for three years, Mr Bokenham is well-positioned to comment on the qualities that make up a Joeys boy. He is particularly impressed by the way students collaborate.
“As a collective they are good at resolving things and work really well as a group. It’s part of what the College instils in them: the idea they are all in this together. They are good at listening to each other and are patient with those boys that might not know something. It’s great to see.
“In fact, I see the same thing with my son, Hugh. He and his Joeys mates still enjoy each other’s company and support one another.”
It’s why as a teacher he is happy to let students take an active role in the direction of the class.
“It’s about building a discussion rather than delivering a lecture. It’s often not me driving the lesson; it’s me stepping back and letting the boys interact. That allows them to grown as a learners and that’s what I want to achieve.”
Collaborative endeavour: Year 12 boys work together to build a cattleyard and (right) Year 11 Primary Industry students construct an internal fence at Colo.