Teaching the teachers about Agribusiness

Teaching the teachers about Agribusiness Melanie Simmons

4 November 2021

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

Based at St Paul’s, Melanie has been in the role since 2018, working as the National Advisor for the Agribusiness subject.

Melanie’s involvement with the subject stretches back to its very beginning. She was one of a collective of teachers from eight schools throughout New Zealand, enlisted to collaborate and write a suite of achievement standards which would provide teaching and learning across all eight primary sectors and their entire value chains.

Once developed, Melanie taught the new subject at Feilding High School and when the role of National Agribusiness Subject Advisor, based at St Paul’s was advertised, she says she jumped at the chance.

She believes being a teacher has given her credibility in the role because of the close contact, connection, and relationships she needs to form with teachers. It has also helped in encouraging schools to introduce the subject.

Last year Agribusiness was taught in 97 school across New Zealand catering to 3057 students, while in 2019 there were 93 schools teaching Agribusiness to 2500 students. Around 60 percent of the schools are urban based.

*“What that tells us is that while there was only an increase of four schools there was an increase in nearly 600 students, which means the subject is growing in those schools that are offering it,” says Melanie.

Her weeks are spent between visiting schools to encourage them to teach the course, answering the phone to teachers, often working in the classroom, who have questions from students on the spot, to moderating assessments or presenting at and attending industry events.

"Traditionally there has been a real lack of understanding of career pathways in the primary sector and it hasn’t been viewed as a high skilled qualification. People think it’s working on a dairy farm, 4am starts and polluting the environment, that’s the perception we’re fighting against." says Melanie.

“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,” says Melanie.

"The multidisciplinary course covers everything from business and economics through to technology and the sciences. Students who are pursuing careers in Agribusiness are doing extremely well with starting salaries between $60,000 to $70,000, and sometimes a car, phone, laptop, and a fuel card," says Melanie.

“There is still this idea you need to be a doctor or a lawyer to do well but they certainly aren’t the only career pathways,” says Melanie.

These perceptions are why she works so hard to capture both teachers and students across New Zealand and facilitate real world learning in the classrooms teaching Agribusiness.

She uses her Agribusiness class at St Paul’s as a testing ground of sorts, a place where she can try out innovative curriculum ideas and approaches before introducing them to other schools.

“If we’re teaching about the cashflow forecasts of a prawn farm we get them eating prawns, talking about where they came from, and can we produce them in New Zealand? Students leave the classroom invigorated and more than that they’re also saying, ‘we just had a mean feed in Agribusiness’.”

It’s moments like these that are the reason she does the job.

(Source: Nicola Martin - HMC)