Exams amid the olives for students in coronavirus Italy

TODI, Italy (Reuters) – Imagine taking your final exams sitting at a picnic table under blue skies amid olive groves and chirping birds on a breezy spring day in the Umbrian countryside.

Board members at the Ciufelli Agricultural vocational school sit at separate outdoor tables wearing masks to ensure social distancing as they carry out a simulation of a final exam outdoors in this still picture taken from video in the Umbrian countryside near Todi, Italy, May 26, 2020. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

That dreamlike scenario is what awaits the students of the Ciufelli Agricultural Institute as coronavirus has made indoor exams unsafe and impracticable.

At the 185 acre (75-hectare) campus of the school just outside the walls of the mediaeval hilltop city of Todi on Tuesday, seven professors and one student did a dry run for oral exams due to take place next month.

All students in Italy take oral as well as written exams to get a diploma or degree. Normally, all are held indoors but this year written exams have been scrapped to avoid crowded classrooms.

The institute’s officials moved the all-important orals outdoors.

The professors, wearing masks, sat with their laptops and printers at picnic tables set out in a horse-shoe pattern around 19-year-old Matteo Lenticchia, who answered a stream of hypothetical questions about milk, cheese, food safety, consumption patterns and distribution.

They sheltered in the shade of trellises and trees. He sat in the sun, fitting for the grilling he received.

“In a sense, it actually relaxes you being outside immersed in nature,” Lenticchia said. “It’s much more relaxing to hear the sounds of birds than of cars or city traffic.”

In the five-year hands-on programme, students study all aspects of agriculture, such as how to run a farm, tend to animals, test soil types, plant and even how to use drones to monitor field humidity.

Umbria, a land-locked region in central Italy, is famous for its production of lentils – lenticchie in Italian. Matteo Lenticchia, whose remote ancestors were almost certainly lentil farmers, was born with farming in his blood.

Writing by Philip Pullella; editing by Philippa Fletcher