Home economics education is key ingredient in a rich menu of career options

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
At a recent residential school for home economics teachers. Dr Jay Deagon says students should be encouraged to explore the wealth of opportunities a studying home economics can offer.
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Teachers from across Australia have attended CQU workshops in Home Economics education – and the experience could even prevent food poisoning deaths.

Aspiring and experienced teachers have flocked to the kitchens at CQUniversity Rockhampton, for unique training to teach Home Economics and Hospitality in high schools. Senior Lecturer, Home Economics and Hospitality, Dr Jay Deagon welcomed 21 participants to the Food Technology Residential School in April, for four days of intensive workshops at CQU’s Trade Training Kitchen.

CQUniversity bills its Bachelor of Education (Secondary) as a rare Australian teaching degrees that offers a specialisation in Home Economics, and its most recent residential school included students from Bachelor and Diploma degrees, pre-service teachers, and experienced educators.

Dr Deagon says the workshops focused on safety, and inspiring young people for a lifetime of food preparation. 

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“As many out-of-field teachers quickly learn, it is one thing to know how to cook, but teaching young people how to cook is quite a different story,” she says. 

“Busy school kitchens are high-risk learning environments that need efficient and skilled teachers to lead the way.”

Exploring a smorgasbord of professional pathways

Dr Deagon told EducationDaily that she believes studies in home economics at secondary schools should be given more promotion, because of the way the skills learned can underpin so many other career pathways.

“At the heart of every household, is a need for knowledge in home economics – from managing a budget, understanding how to live sustainably and how to deliver food that is nutritious,” she says.

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The educational and practical skills available within a well-delivered home economics curriculum, she says, are vital for people working in a variety of sectors, from entrepreneurial visionaries to small business people – as well as those seeing careers in hospitality or finance.

“And as cost-of-living pressures rise, knowing how to sustain yourself is critical,” she told EducationDaily.

Workshops help cook up life-saving education

To attend the recent workshop aimed at beefing up the knowledge of teachers keen to work in the field, she says she was thrilled to see participants travel from as far as Darwin, Melbourne, Normanton, Roma and Brisbane to join local Central Queensland students, with Dr Deagon revealing that most were new to the home economics discipline.

In line with the new Australian National Curriculum, training included kitchen safety and organisation routines, precision knife skills, inclusive education, and behaviour management. 

“In a world of online learning, this practical hands-on workshop is an essential key to becoming a confident and competent school-based cookery teacher,” Dr Deagon says.

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A project to teach safe fried rice preparation was a particular highlight, as participants realised the multifaceted learning potential to include the design process, food waste reduction and left-overs use, allergies and gluten free cookery, cross-contamination and food poisoning prevention, understanding of carbohydrates and healthy eating, cultural awareness and Australia’s engagement with Asia, agricultural rice growing practices, sensory testing, and experiments with different rice varieties.

Dr Deagon says its food handling education and experience that could also be life-saving.

“If not handled properly, cooked rice left at room temperature can be deadly – I explained ‘fried rice syndrome’, identified by microbiology experts, and potential for food poisoning from a bacterium called Bacillus cereus,” she says. 

“As the teachers responsible for passing on knowledge about ‘the danger zone’ of room temperature food and microbial contamination, we explicitly teach safety and prevention strategies, we must ensure that current and future generations have the foundational knowledge and life skills that Home Economics offers – to keep them safe, healthy and alive!”

Confidence to become practical adults

Mareeba State High School teacher Suzy Toner travelled for the residential school and described the experience as “a perfect introduction to the joys and challenges teachers face when teaching a large class in a commercial kitchen”.

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“The course helped turn my passion for cooking into confidence to teach Food Technology and to deliver Home Economics in line with the Australian Curriculum in the classroom,” she says.

“Dr Jay’s knowledge, care, passion and dedication to teaching Home Economics is contagious, and has inspired my pedagogical planning and practices in the kitchen, classroom and workshop.”

In June, Dr Deagon will share her knowledge to the wider world when she travels to Ireland to present research on Home Economics teacher training. 

“Despite the misconceptions, misunderstandings, prejudices, and hang-ups about Home Economics, we are still here, visible in the new Australian Curriculum and teaching youth how to be effective and practical adults,” she says. 

“We urgently need more highly skilled teachers in this discipline to continue our work to keep individuals, families and communities safe, healthy and informed about the food they cook and eat. “

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live