Many Australian school students think yogurt grows on trees, study finds

Australians had just been coming to terms with the news that our school students were not performing as well academically compared with those in, say, Shanghai or Singapore.

In fact, according to a recent report cited by Australia’s ABC, Australian students were now two to three years behind in math compared to their peers in parts of Asia.

The country’s education minister Peter Garrett – yes, that’s right, the former lead singer of rock band Midnight Oil, for those old enough to remember – admitted as much only a week or so ago.

“While Australia has one of the best education systems in the world, international testing shows that our results have been in decline, as previous governments failed to invest in our schools,” he said in a statement.

“In particular, our neighbors in the Asian region have raced ahead of us,” he admitted, delivering the findings of an independent report into Australia’s education system.

What neither Garrett nor the recent NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) told us was that three-quarters of Australian children in their final year of elementary school believed that cotton socks came from animals, while 27 percent were convinced that yogurt grew on trees.

That’s right, Down Under’s favorite study so far — a national survey of year 6 and 10 students by the Australian Council for Educational Research — found yawning gaps in young people's knowledge of basic food origins.

According to the report, cited by the Fairfax press, in a hypothetical lunch box of bread, cheese and a banana, only 45 percent in year 6 could identify all three as from farms.

More than 40 percent in year 10 thought cotton came from an animal and more than a quarter of their younger peers believed yoghurt and scrambled eggs came from plants.

Nearly 20 percent of the younger age group — aged between 10 and 12 years — thought that pasta came from animals.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority knew where potato chips and coffee came from.

The Primary Industries Education Foundation described the findings as a ''wake-up'' call.

''We're a very urbanized nation,'' said the foundation's chairman, Cameron Archer. ''Food is relatively cheap. Everyone takes it for granted and we're quite complacent about our well-being.''

''I was surprised that some of these very, very basic relationships weren't understood,'' Archer said. ''It's fascinating you can have a big bale of hay one day and then milk to produce a few thousand lattes the next day.''

Garrett, who despite being bald appears somehow to have lost more hair during his few years as a politician, would be preaching to the converted (ex-fans of his music who probably mostly now have children of school age) when he said:

“For Australians to prosper in the coming Asian century, we need to provide the highest quality education to all our children."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.