In her role as National Agribusiness Subject Advisor, Melanie Simmons thrives on instilling a passion for the primary industries in teachers and students throughout New Zealand.  

The Ministry of Education is currently making changes to NCEA and is undertaking a Review of Achievement Standards. On 30 September 2021, the Minister of Education announced the final NCEA Level 2 and 3 subject list for The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC), which includes Agribusiness as a standalone subject.  

This means a Subject Expert Group (SEG) will be convened to develop a complete suite of new achievement standards for Agribusiness, which had previously only been supported as a subset of Business Studies.  

Melanie has been selected as a member of the Agribusiness SEG, which will also have tertiary and industry representatives, and looks forward to bringing her knowledge and industry connections to the redevelopment and strengthening of this subject.  

In 2020, Agribusiness was taught to 3,057 students in 97 schools. The year before, 93 schools taught the subject to 2,500 students, around 60 percent of whom were located in urban settings.  

Traditionally, there has been a lack of understanding of career pathways in the primary sector, says Melanie. 

“A massive amount of innovation goes into ensuring that New Zealand stays ahead of the game for such a small country that exports an enormous amount of its produce. But people think the primary sector is only about things like working on a dairy farm, 4am starts and polluting the environment – that’s the perception we’re fighting against. 

“They don’t think of working in Germany doing a marketing programme for Brancott Estate Wines or writing code for Fonterra to put electronic billboards up across Tokyo in Japan, but that’s also working in the primary sector,” she says. 

Curriculum gap filled 

Melanie was part of a collective of teachers from eight schools throughout New Zealand, enlisted to collaborate and write the original suite of Agribusiness achievement standards, which would provide teaching and learning across all eight primary sectors and their value chains. The initiative was led by St Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton, which supports Melanie’s role by providing her with an office base. 

“When the Ministry for Primary Industries identified they need 50,000 more skilled workers by 2025, the question was, ‘where are they going to be coming from?’ If students aren’t being introduced to the scope of career capability within the sector, or even the scope of the sector, then they are unlikely to opt for careers in that sector. 

“A gap was identified in the curriculum around business and innovation in the primary sector and the lead schools reached out to the industry and universities to see what the industry wants from graduates and then did a trickle down to the NCEA standards,” she explains. 

A small number of Agribusiness achievement standards are currently available at NCEA Levels 2 and 3.  

“The standards all focus on future-proofing, innovation, value-adding, and sustainability. You’re looking at what is happening now and next, not what has happened in the past.   

“To stay ahead, you need to be constantly forward-thinking, so the subject involves a lot of class discussion and students doing their own research, investigation and learning. It’s an exciting subject to teach because you’re not expected to have all of the answers – you’re there to facilitate,” says Melanie. 

As well as being a tangible and relevant subject, Agribusiness is fun to teach, says Melanie. 

“There’s scope for students to be able to explore really big ideas and have big classroom discussions. I think students and teachers really like the diversity in the subject,” she says. 

Growing job opportunities

Bruce Reiche from Awatapu College, Palmerston North, has been teaching Agribusiness at the school for the past four years.  The Economics, Accounting and Business Studies teacher says that for a variety of reasons, the Decile 4 school decided to introduce Agribusiness as an NCEA subject. 

“We don’t get many rural students, but I thought Agribusiness is an area where there are growing job opportunities.  

“The generic Business Studies standards are geared towards big business and pitched at a different level. I think the Agribusiness standards are much broader in the contexts to which they can be applied. I also thought a lot of the Agribusiness standards are great for life skills,” says Bruce. 

The course includes concepts such as climate change, sustainability, equity, how and where wealth is generated; which are interesting to explore with students, adds Bruce.  

Support for Agribusiness teachers 

Melanie says her role as a nationwide subject advisor is varied, interesting and rewarding.  

“Essentially, my role is to help schools to implement Agribusiness into their curriculum and then I support the teachers while they do that in a variety of different ways. It often starts with a face-to-face meeting where we discuss how Agribusiness might benefit the students at that particular school, in that particular area.  

“I do some moderation of tasks and bench marking of student work with those teachers, either online or in person. I also help them source industry contacts or initiatives that they can use in their teaching context. I run cluster days and try to organise PLD and industry-specific PLD days, and I have discussions directly with the industry to highlight how they can work with schools,” says Melanie. 

The subject is multi-disciplinary and cross-curricular, and Melanie believes that many teachers would be able to teach it.  

“It takes professional development and a willingness to understand that, but sometimes you just have to have confidence. It’s a newish subject area which isn’t actually that new, it’s just a new industry-specific twist on a bunch of different subjects. 

“I think it incorporates all the best bits of technology, maths, business, accounting and science into a very real-world subject that the students can relate to.” 

The Agribusiness programme has also recently received funding to establish a Network of Expertise (NEX) and an Agribusiness Teachers Association.    

“This funding will now allow us to widen the scope of service we currently provide to offer regional professional development workshops, regular communication to members on industry news, industry contacts for guest speakers, case studies and updated resources for teachers,” says Melanie. 

Membership to the Agribusiness Teachers Association is free and open to those teaching Agribusiness or any topics within the primary sector in secondary schools throughout Aotearoa. 

To find out more, see www.agribusiness.school.nz

This article has been reproduced with the permission of the Ministry of Education.

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