World first has fuelled desire to learn

Posted on 2015-02-20 by Wil Mc D

Creating a world first by blending clean technology fuels has been the catalyst for Otaki College’s pathway to establishing a Trades Academy in the community. Principal of Otaki College, Andy Fraser, who was appointed in 2013, has joined up with Clean Technology NZ to establish a teaching project whereby students join in on developing strategies to reduce emissions and environmentally sustainable practices. The students are working on blending emulsions fuels into school vehicles to reduce emissions. In all, 28 Year 12 and 13 students are involved in the project.

Otaki College is doing this to create more relevant opportunities for students to learn and engage in programmes that have better connections across education into tertiary and then employment in what is a growing industry in New Zealand and the world – clean technology. Students’ participation in this hands-on programme will earn them credits towards achieving their NCEA Level 2. This will be done using a curriculum framework called Vocational Pathways which relates a student’s learning to a particular sector or industry. A student can choose from six Vocational Pathways: Services Industries, Social & Community Services, Manufacturing & Technology or Construction & Infrastructure, Primary Industries and Creative Industries. So in this case, students will be awarded a Vocational Pathway in Manufacturing & Technology. Otaki College’s initiative with Clean Technology NZ will offer students more relevant, practical and industry focussed courses.

Arthur Graves, Group Manager Youth Guarantee says: “New Zealand has poor retention rates of 15-19 year olds remaining in education. The priority is for students to achieve NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, achieve valuable qualifications and skills and to ensure more young people are progressing to Level 4 (apprenticeship level) or above (diploma or degrees), on the New Zealand qualifications framework. Initiatives like this one in Otaki is helping students achieve the qualifications they need.”

Andy Fraser immediately saw a practical outlet for his senior chemistry students and talked to Leigh Ramsey at Clean Technology NZ about collaborating and within a matter of weeks, the students applied their knowledge of chemistry to a hands-on project. “We have these amazing minds and initiatives which already exist in the community, and I needed to tap into them for our students,” he says. “This pathway has given them the practical application they needed to make their learning relevant and inspirational. I have discovered so many creative opportunities in Otaki. I simply listened to the people and joined the dots,” says Andy.

Leigh Ramsey had developed a blended fuel comprising diesel, water and a magic additive. And now, in a global first, two vans, a bus and a tractor run on the blended fuel. But the student involvement in this global first project is not only limited to the chemistry of mixing the ingredients, they have discovered that emissions have been reduced, maintenance costs are down and the vehicles achieve better mileage. They are being educated on what can be done to ensure a cleaner and greener future for New Zealand.

The next stage is to extend this hands-on experience to other aspects of learning. Andy has found enthusiastic support from Sue Hurst, Strategic Projects Analyst with the Kapiti Coast District Council (KCDC), Tina Sims, Chief Advisor with the Ministry of Education, and Kelly Gay, Executive Dean, Trades and Technology, from Ucol. Sue had been pioneering youth employment in Kapiti for 13 years while Kelly was keen to expand the Ministry’s Vocational Pathway and Trades Academy model into the Kapiti local authority.

A successful Trades Academy has been established in Palmerston North where students from participating secondary schools spend a day a week learning a number of trades and earning credits towards NCEA Level 2. Many have successfully transitioned to apprenticeships, employment in the region or gone on to fulltime tertiary studies at Ucol. “Learning in a Trades Academy gives students real life skills and qualifications and using the Vocational Pathways young people can choose their study options and see how it relates to future job or career options,” says Arthur Graves. “ Students can get relevant qualifications and a Vocational Pathway which will set them up for their next steps, whether it’s into tertiary study, industry training or employment.”

Andy Fraser has visions for his students to learn from a Trades Academy based right in Otaki but realises that its one step at a time and in the interim, his school has teamed up with a secondary-tertiary network out of Ucol in Palmerston North. Ucol, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Kapiti Coast District Council and Otaki and Paraparaumu Colleges, will administer a six week STAR course that has environmental sustainability as its focus. The courses, available to students from Kapiti secondary schools through to Manawatu College at Foxton, will provide automotive and carpentry tuition with an environmental flavour. For example students will look at alternative ways of building homes that are fully energy efficient, with their work earning NCEA credits. “These opportunities are critical for young people in Otaki. It will give them energy and will help them better engage in their own education,” Andy says.

In five years time Andy wants to see a burgeoning Trades Academy based in Otaki. He believes this is the direction the curriculum should take to meet the needs of 70 percent of students who decide against university in favour of working and contributing to Otaki and the surrounding region. Andy also wants to see polytechnics such as Ucol firmly established within secondary schools, designing courses and working with a revised curriculum.  “I’d love to visualise a healthy blurring between secondary and tertiary,” he comments.

As for Otaki College. Andy’s legacy is for it to be the “energy college”, a place where everyone is energised and leaves the gates with a pathway for life. Andy also has a hobby horse or, more accurately, a hobby bike he’d like developed. If students can learn to blend fuel, they can design and build an electric bike powered with recycled laptop batteries. They’d be utilising the tools of maths, measurement and construction he says. “It’s time we brought back our can-do attitude and we can do it here in Otaki.”


Andy Fraser, Principal, Otaki College (06-364-8204).