The quality of education at Mzansi’s agri colleges, unemployment amongst agricultural graduates, and a debate about whether the department of higher education and training should take over the management of agri colleges across the country.
As issues like these came into the spotlight in recent months, some leading institutions are keeping quality training for the future farmers of Mzansi alive and well. Food For Mzansi spent some time Hayley Rodkin, chief director for agricultural education and training at the Western Cape department of agriculture, to find out how their Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute does it.
Rodkin says the institution is actively positioning itself as the top agri college in the country and is putting students at the heart of the day-to-day operations.
Management is also working around the clock to add new courses – such as occupational certificates on orchard and vineyard foremanship and livestock farming – to the curriculum, which will get students ready to thrive in the workplace form the get-go.
Rodkin spoke to Tiisetso Manoko and answered five quick questions.
What are your biggest challenges and how do you work around them?
The recruitment of students with appropriate academic profiles from the historically disadvantaged group into the formal education and training programmes remains a challenge. Budgetary and human resource capacities are another element of challenge.
However, the college and the Western Cape department of agriculture are continuously promoting agriculture as a lucrative sector to work in, with numerous careers that exist within the sector.
The department and the college are also engaging [continuously] with school kids through career exhibitions to highlight agriculture as a career choice.
Where do you think you need to improve as a college?
We need to increase our accommodation availability. We need to increase the reach of Bachelor of Agriculture and diploma students by providing telematic classes at our decentralised centres and increase the offering of learnership programmes to create articulation opportunities for the students in the province.
The Western Cape is an agricultural province. What are you doing differently to ensure that as many young people as possible, especially in far-flung areas, get access to learning about agriculture?
The college has successfully facilitated short courses in agriculture at the four decentralised centres, situated in George, Oudtshoorn, Bredasdorp and Clanwillian, as well as the main campuses.
The college recently implemented successful recognition of prior learning where workers within the industry got the opportunity to be assessed on their experience and prior learning to obtain a full or part-time qualification.
Do you think placing agricultural colleges under the auspices of the department of higher education and training will be beneficial to the colleges?
The discussion around this topic is taking place on various levels and I am aware of the current narrative, but agricultural colleges will not be best served if they were shifted to the department of higher education and training. This is more so, given the significant role of the (agricultural) industry in the delivery of the curriculum at these colleges.
What have been your milestone as a college?
One of the biggest highlights will have to be the successful three-year diploma, which includes workplace-integrated learning in the third year on farms across the province. [Also, the] successful completion of the 2020 and 2021 academic year in the same calendar year, and still producing good results. This could not have been done without implementing a hybrid model of teaching and learning, which combined online and contact classes.
[Other highlights include] developing and improving partnerships with stakeholders in and out of the industry to ensure that students, and the college at large, benefit from such.
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