Hands-on learning hooks students into local job options

Issue: Volume 98, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2019
Reference #: 1H9qcs

Going on to tertiary studies after leaving school isn’t always the best option for all senior students, and Queen Charlotte College in Marlborough is finding its hands-on training in aquaculture is perfect for students with a practical bent and a passion for the outdoors.

Many students at Queen Charlotte College have family in the local fish farming industry, which is huge in the region, and some go on to jobs with local companies after graduating. But the skills they learn on the college’s aquaculture course open an array of opportunities.

The school’s principal, Betty Whyte, says, “We have had students going into the forces such as the Navy with their boating skills; two went off and did super yachts skippering and crewing; some go off into scuba diving, and one student went to study marine biology.”

Betty says the course has been effective at picking up some students who weren’t succeeding generally, and helping them to achieve. “If you find something they are passionate about, they will excel.”

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic species like fish, shellfish and plants. In Picton, where Queen Charlotte College is based, mussel and salmon farming is a key industry. The sector provides a clear jobs path within the local community, and there are close links between the school and companies such as King Salmon. Each year the top student is awarded a scholarship through the Marine Farming Association to develop further skills in aquaculture. Some students continue on to do aquaculture diplomas.

Betty believes the partnership model could be adopted elsewhere, as there is potential for schools in many regional areas to provide learning opportunities that align with their local economy. “It could be tourism, or forestry, or agriculture – every area has something that schools can hook into.”

The focus for some students is academic learning, while others develop practical skills such as boat driving, as the course is a mix of hands-on experience and learning in the classroom. In 2018 there were 40 students on the course. The students have the opportunity to get out onto a barge where they learn to drive it, or dive off it as they develop diving skills.

Point of difference

Year 12 student Alex Aldridge says, “Aquaculture is different from everything else. It’s something new. We learn close-up about how species get farmed.” 

Aquaculture is offered from Year 11 up at the college and covers everything from mussel farming, skipper training, health and safety and first aid. Students studying Level 3 can also gain their National Certificate in Aquaculture, and get the chance to visit local sites involved in the industry, such as mussel farms. 

Year 12 student Alexandra Thom-Parker is in her second year. “I want to be a marine biologist. I love the sea and I’ve grown up around it. I’ve always been fascinated by sharks and marine animals.”

Betty says, “We also use the theme of marine farming in other curriculum areas. For example we might take them into the kitchen and learn how to use the mussels and salmon as a food supply. Or looking at the statistics from the marine farming in maths.” 

Unit standards plus skills

There are clear unit standards related to aquaculture, but the students also learn other skills including communication and time management. When learning about boating and diving, they have to work closely with their workmates and learn about working in teams.

The school has a small experimental line across the bay and students hang mussels off it and get a chance to observe the growth process. They also need to maintain the line and keep it clean, just as they would on a mussel farm.

The partnership between school and the industry players creates a better understanding of marine farming in the Picton community but also helps fund school projects, with the profits from the two mussel lines being donated back to the school every time the lines are harvested.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:34 pm, 25 January 2019

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