“Our teachers play a pivotal role in growing agriculture in South Africa as well as creating awareness, especially high school teachers.” So said Lindie Stroebel, general manager of the Produce Marketing Association Southern Africa (PMA), at their fourth annual teachers’ recognition lunch.
Close to 100 life orientation, life sciences and agricultural sciences teachers from schools throughout the Western Cape attended the event at Stellenbosch University (SU), with their faculty of Agri-Sciences. The educators echoed Stroebel’s sentiment, adding that there’s not enough interest from learners in agriculture and it is becoming increasingly important to expose pupils to the sector.
The aim of the meeting was to recognise teachers as important role-players in raising awareness about career opportunities in the sector. Stroebel underlined the importance of empowering educators with information about the agri-sector, who should then share it with their students. “High school learners are like sponges; they absorb anything and are reliant on what their educators teach them,” she added.
According to Stroebel, the industry needs to be redesigned and it requires people who think differently.
She explains that it is talent that makes the industry work. “Once we look at talent, skills and attitude, we no longer look at race, class, age and gender.”
The program included speakers from various organisations like Devin Osborne of Aerobotics (a tech company that supplies farmers with drone and satellite technology that makes farming easier), Unathi Mantshongo of Vinpro (a non-profit company that represents SA wine producers and cellars), the owner and managing director of Agrijob (an agriculture career platform), Marianne van der Laarse and Monika Basson from SU’s Agriscience faculty.
Basson said teachers need to become their ambassadors and spread the message of the wonderful opportunities that exist within the applied sciences. “It’s impossible for us as staff here at Stellenbosch to go to every school and visit every classroom to share our passion with them,” Basson added.
The event ended with a networking lunch where teachers interacted with representatives from the university, PMA, and the speakers.
Noorder Paarl Secondary School’s life sciences teacher, Zelma Kulsen, said she felt honoured to be recognised for spreading awareness about opportunities within the agriculture sector. “Little is known about agriculture in the coloured community and schools, therefore more education sessions like today are needed,” she said.
Another grateful teacher, Mrs S. V. Bonani from Sizimisele Technical High School in Khayelitsha, said, “When it comes to education, enough will never be enough. More educational events on agriculture need to happen.” She also added, “New technology is coming to the forefront and our children are not aware of it. Therefore, it is our responsibility as teachers to take what we’ve learnt and share it in our classrooms.”
Grade 10 and 9 life sciences teacher Yolani Furunek said that it is important to teach kids in township schools that there is more to agriculture than just working on a farm.
She explains that when she started teaching, she realised that schools in areas like Philippi do not teach agriculture.
“The problem with this is that, should a learner be given land, he or she would not know what to do with it because they were not exposed to information about the industry,” she adds.
Closing the event, Basson highlighted that it is important to empower teachers with information. “The university cannot do it on its own. We need teachers and we are so thankful to our schoolteachers, for their passion and for what they do.”