Hands-on agriculture teaching
They do things differently in the country.
When Taihape Area School agriculture teacher James Beattie wanted to talk to his class about what makes rabbits tick, he did the obvious thing: shot one and brought it along to school for the kids to dissect.
Beattie has been recently hired by the school to teach agricultural skills part-time.
Principal Richard McMillan said it was a first for the school to have the subject taught by someone on staff. It has up to 30 agriculture students – and given the importance of the sector to the New Zealand economy, hoped to grow this number.
The school has a farm minutes away on the south side of Taihape, where students get involved in the likes of fencing, stock work, soils, pastures, tree planting, and so on.
McMillan said the school hoped to add skills like bees and cattle to students’ repertoire as courses expanded. Beattie juggles being a block manager for a midsized Taihape farm business with teaching up to two days a week.
‘‘I’ve had a small class of NCEA Level 1 and 2 students who are all considering farm careers. Most weeks are a mix of theory in class and practical outside. Having a low teacher-to-student ratio means my students all get to try everything. They all get their hands dirty and experience real farming.
‘‘This term I’ve also got a day a week with younger students taking an agricultural option. This class is intended to open the students’ eyes to the farming industry, which is such a big earner for New Zealand, and the northern Rangitı¯kei in particular.
‘‘Currently, there are plenty of jobs available in the sector for school leavers and even more if they complete some tertiary training training as well.’’
It’s not just on-farm jobs that are available either. There were huge numbers employed in farm support roles, he said.
‘‘Truck drivers, machinery contractors, vets and vet nurses, fencers, shearers and wool handlers, engineers, mechanics, stock agents and merchandisers, fertiliser company staff, pilots, and all the other tradespeople who service our farm businesses every day.’’
McMillan said employing teachers ‘‘both qualified and actually working in their specialised areas to teach applied subjects is something all schools should be doing more of’’.
Agriculture students from Taihape Area High get up close and personal with a dead rabbit.