A few days ago, Dr. Joseph Muscat, Malta’s Prime Minister visited the Agribusiness Labs at the Mosta (Żokrija) Secondary School, while launching the public consultation on the first ever Agriculture Policy for Malta.
Following my visit at the Kirkop Secondary School a few weeks ago, I was directed to visit the Agribusiness Labs in Mosta to better understand the investment that is going into the VET (Vocational Education & Training) system.
So this morning I drove to Żokrija. I immediately felt at home when the first one to greet me at the gate was a friendly puppy, whose name, I later learned, is Ċikka! She merrily leapt towards Mr. Dirk Muscat as if to show me that he was the guy to talk to.
Mr. Muscat, the VET officer responsible for Agribusiness education, is a chemistry teacher by profession and is passionate about Maltese agriculture. I asked him how he became interested in this line of work and he confessed that he is reminiscent of the time when he used to play in his grandfather’s fields and care for the rabbits they used to keep in their backyard. The perfect grounds to learn agriculture!
During the visit, we walked through the various sections of the training area where I also met Mr. Shawn Vella, who was right in the middle of a practical session with a group of students. Agribusiness practicals take place on a beautiful stretch of arable land, combined to an adjacent rabbitry, aquatic area, and a soil-less vertical patch. It was also nice to note an array of endemic plants and some fruit trees, which create the perfect grounds for pollinating insects such as bees.
I was informed that the labs took off in 2012 by means of pilot project. At the time, a group of seven students had undergone training, and eventually successfully passed their O’Level in Agribusiness. Today there are around 40 students making use of these labs.
Mr. Muscat pointed out that some of the students continue their practical work out of their own free will during their break time. Each student is assigned a particular task, giving the students a way to become more knowledgeable through practice, respectful towards our environment, and more accountable for their actions.
Coupled with the practical work, students also learn the scientific side of agriculture within the school premises. Plant & soil science, aquatics, and genetics are some of the subjects taught. More agri-related topics such as nature conservation, beekeeping, fish farming and pet care will be implemented in the future as part of the applied sciences syllabi.
Education at Secondary level is one of the many important loops in the chain for continuous Agribusiness education. Now, the various loops in this chain need to start getting connected. We still see very little agri-training at Primary level for instance (apart from the impeccable work that’s been going on through EkoSkola). Also, once the students finish their secondary education, they can choose post-secondary training at MCAST or University. Yet, we need to give priority to certain aspects in order to create one continuous chain; resources need to be used wisely and there needs to be better consolidation between different entities.
Although it’s great to see a marked difference in attitude, agribusiness studies, especially practical work, is still snubbed by various key people within the educational system. Agriculture is sometimes considered as a minor subject, which may not be worth the investment. If one considers the community-based drive that we are witnessing at the moment, one may get to the conclusion that these naysayers are cut out from reality and need to get their feet on the ground! Things are moving in the right direction but we still need a lot of work to fill in the blanks and connect the dots.