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Knockalva, no way! - Young people avoiding agricultural institution

Published:Saturday | September 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMClaudia Gardner
Students of the Knockalva Agricultural School tend to peppers in the institution’s aquaponics system. Knockalva has the distinction of establishing the first aquaponics system in Jamaica with funds granted by the USAID.


The Knockalva Agricultural School in Ramble, Hanover, is begging for new students as it is operating with just 33 per cent of its capacity.

The school was built to accommodate 300 boarders but now has only 102 students enrolled, and recently appointed principal, Zavia Ramgeet Robinson, says due to the undersubscription, applications are still being accepted from persons who want to study at the institution.

Ramgeet Robinson attributed the low number of students at the school to the fact that it was never a beneficiary of the Education System Transfor-mation Programme of the Ministry of Education.

"The school's administration had not revamped the curriculum offerings to suit the emerging education landscape. While the education transformation programme agenda set out to upgrade schools, Knockalva, which is a vocational institution, was not cited for transformation and, as such, the programmes became less relevant as all-age schools were phased out," said Ramgeet Robinson.




Having been appointed to lead the institution two weeks ago, Ramgeet Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner that she has already started to put measures in place to get more young people and adults in Hanover and other sections of western Jamaica interested in pursuing studies in evening or weekend classes in agriculture there.

She said Knockalva is reviewing its memorandum of understanding with the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), the HEART Trust/NTA and a Texas-based university, in a bid to improve its offerings.

"A majority of our current students are from Westmoreland, and we plan on aggressively engaging the west in promoting agricultural training to those citizens.

"We cater to students ages 15 and older; students with CXC passes including math, English and agriculture are placed in year two rather than beginners' level. Our programme includes Vocational School Leaving Certificate, CAP (TVET certificate) and soon to come on stream will be CASE Extension Diploma," said Ramgeet Robinson.

The Knockalva Agricultural School was a point of focus for Prime Minister Andrew Holness while he was the leader of the Opposition.

In March 2015, Holness had called for a change in focus for Knockalva, and recommended that the institution be converted to general-education institution, along with the Sydney Pagon Agricultural School in St Elizabeth.

At the time, Holness said approximately $150 million was being spent on both schools, but in order for agriculture to be promoted widely, "maybe the consideration should be the spread of agricultural education generally throughout the schools".

Holness had also expressed concern about the focus on agricultural schools at the secondary level, and contended that these institutions had not performed at the expected levels.

He suggested that there should be a rethinking of the idea of allowing students to specialise in agriculture at such an early stage, and instead allow it to be a post-secondary endeavour.

For Ramgeet Robinson, the 76-year-old Knockalva has a proud tradition having produced outstanding alumni, many of whom hold major positions across the Ministry of Agriculture.

"Their legacy is astounding. I've had the privilege of meeting a few and I'm impressed. The coalition I've met has been quite supportive, and I look forward to working with them and others in continuing the legacy of being outstanding models for Knockalva Agricultural School and agriculture in general," said Ramgeet Robinson.