Female principal pushes transformation for Knockalva Agricultural School

By Javene Skyers Observer staff reporter skyersj@jamaicaoberver.com

Monday, February 13, 2017

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She may not have a background in agriculture, but equipped with the necessary management and leadership training and experience, the new principal of the Knockalva Agricultural School, Davia Ramgeet-Robinson, is set to lead the institution as it embarks on its transformation process.


Having been in the field of education since 2003, Ramgeet-Robinson, a graduate of the Mico College, has been actively involved in school administration and leadership, having previously served in the capacity as acting principal and vice-principal.


She explained that it was her background in leadership and management, rather than being an ‘agriculturalist’, that was responsible for her specifically chosen for the post; as the chairman had indicated that he wanted someone who could transform the school and propel it forward.


According to the principal, some of the key areas that are in need of improvement are that of the facilities of the school as well as its curriculum.


"If you look around, you’d recognise that the administrative building was built from the 19th century; and so many of the practices here, I along with the chairman and the school board, believe were dated," Ramgeet-Robinson told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview at the school.


"We are producing youths in agriculture; it’s a training ground, they need to be so trained in an ideal situation that when they go out into the real world they are able to function. We don’t want backyard farming and so persons need to be introduced to the new mechanisms and so I believe that’s why I was chosen to come here," she continued.


Ramgeet-Robinson, who took the control of the boarding institution located in Ramble, Hanover, last September, explained that the school caters to students at the post-secondary level.


"We have a high school next door, so we don’t do a regular curriculum. we do a secondary curriculum even though the school is sort of really neither.but we basically take students 15 years and older, so they are really at a post-secondary level when we take them. and we offer them subject areas that propel into CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education) primarily, but they are also able to go into the world of work," Ramgeet-Robinson explained of the school’s curriculum.


She added that the institution is aiming to move from offering the vocational school leaving certificate to that of the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica and the Caribbean Vocational Qualification, in addition to an umbrella certification to be provided by the institution. Ramgeet-Robinson said that she cannot confirm whether this will be realised and if so, how long it will take. She however stated that, from the board level, they are trying to transform into a community college for agriculture.


Meanwhile, the principal noted that with regards to working with her new staff, the response so far to the transformation process has been relatively positive.


"It’s dynamic, because for the first time I recognise the support staff is more than the academic staff, so I have only a complement of 12 teachers, but in total my staff is 54. so it seems like a small school but, based on the dynamics of the school, it’s needed," she explained.


The principal noted that many people will assume that since she has over 100 students, then looking after the school and its grounds would be easy. She maintained, however, this is not so, as the dynamics of agriculture have changed and many students attend the institution for different reasons.


"So some of them are here for various reasons, maybe as a last resort, some who come here definitely because they want to go to CASE and not necessarily to do farming," the principal explained.


She noted that, while the school has an active practical tutorial programme to go in hand with what is taught to students, they find a lack of interest among students with regards to the practical component of their agricultural studies.


"We have introduced CAP (Career Advancement Programme) and the challenge I’m facing with CAP is not that they don’t want the programme, the programme is actually in Crop Production but they are complaining that the composition of the CAP eliminates them going to a chemistry class and a physics class, that’s the complaint," Ramgeet-Robinson shared.


"They want to be a part of the normal programme because they feel they are left behind by just doing entrepreneurship and Civics and so on…you’ll find that they are interested in the education aspect and I think it’s the literal going to the field with a fork and that sort of manual labour they are not keen on," she continued.


She explained that the students are still exposed to the necessary theoretical and practical approaches needed to make them a well-rounded student in agriculture. The students are schooled in areas such as agri-mechanics and how to drive and operate a tractor, which Ramgeet-Robinson noted are just two elements of the full package exposing students to agriculture.


"Our subject offerings are unique, but they are quite solid, we offer the sciences, we offer subjects in agronomy, which is plant science, and we also offer subjects in animal science, particularly poultry care and piggery care," she outlined.


Highlighting that the subject offerings also included the traditional mathematics and english components, Ramgeet-Robinson noted that while the school does not facilitate the sitting of CXC subjects, the Knockalva Technical School nearby will facilitate students in this regard if necessary.


She explained that the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has granted the school with just over $14 million to revamp and modernize their piggery care unit as well as to outfit their labs. She explained that the existing biology and chemistry labs will be converted into Zoology and Botany labs respectively, with initial work to start this month.


"It’s not just sowing seeds and harvesting… the major challenge is how modern we are and what separates us from an ordinary backyard farm or a medium scale farm, that’s what I’m about now and through the help from the TEF and few others, we are really looking to revamp our programme and get on the ball again," she stated.


In addition to securing financial help from TEF, Ramgeet-Robinson has also secured a ‘trailer load’ of porcelain tiles through help from Food for the Poor among other individual benefactors to go towards the retiling of the school’s bathrooms, which is currently underway. Her other projects so far include the refurbishment of some of the offices in the administration building as well as repairing the damaged roof of one of the school’s greenhouses.


However, one of Ramgeet-Robinson’s favourite and treasured projects so far has been the creation of a learning resource centre.


"I was here one night and I watched the students, and they have this long, open space, and persons were just sitting around. and I said to myself, if the library is in the great house, which is closed off at a particular time, do how they access (it) without breaching security," she recalled.


She explained that she made the construction of the centre her first project and, as a trained teacher-librarian, felt the need to ensure it was a modernised facility that could be accessed by students in the nights.


"I felt that the students needed to be exposed, and we have the e-learning stuff. and so I asked Dr Grace McLean for 50 tablets, because I want them to borrow them like how they would borrow a book, so I’m having less paper and more electronics…the only thing missing is a circulation desk, but it’s a library that will be open for 12 hours for the day, so that’s a big deal for me," the principal explained.


Ramgeet-Robinson shared that, while the situation may seem daunting at times, the support provided by her staff and her own drive to learn and do more for the school have helped to keep the air of optimism alive for the school’s transformation. This, she said, is supported by the small but incremental changes that are happening on the grounds, which help to show people that they are going in the right direction.

    

 


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