REPORT #209 March 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

The biggest problem in Belize with literacy is READING COMPREHENSION. Speed and reading ability.

The biggest problem in education is the quality of primary school education in the rural villages. ( About 300 of them!)

The problem with government statistics, is that they talk about literacy and NEVER about comprehension. Yet comprehension is the more valid statistic. It is always lower than literacy rates.

We do have some statistics in Belize from UNESCO. They may change slightly from year to year.

Belize enjoys an inflow of immigrants from nearby countries. More because of land availability and stability of government than for any other reason. That said, it is obviously going to be reflected in the literacy statistics for native Spanish language speakers who are new immigrants, rather than native born locals. English in the primary school system, like in the USA, is the great leveler. The provider of cohesion in this country.

By districts, of the six districts, this is how they fare!

  • COROZAL DISTRICT 63% literacy. Comprehension unknown!
  • ORANGE WALK DISTRICT 71% literacy. Comprehension unknown!
  • BELIZE DISTRICT 91% literacy ( includes the port city)
  • CAYO DISTRICT 68% literacy. Comprehension unknown!
  • STANN CREEK DISTRICT 70% literacy. Comprehension unknown!
  • TOLEDO DISTRICT ( number missing )
In the question of literacy versus comprehension. If an adult can read a child's infant school primer, like JANE CHASES BALL. That person is literate. In comprehension, if they do not know what it means, they lack comprehension.

People learn to become literate through self-interest and necessity. When we started the first Northern Fishermans Cooperative many years ago. Most village fishermen members were literate, or around 88%. But only around 23% were judged having comprehension of what they read, or had any reading speed capability. Because the cooperative represented their livelihood and how much they earned; within 12 years, literacy jumped to 98% and Comprehension also jumped from 23% to 98%. The two percent missing were simply adults who had never gone to school much. It was too late to teach them to read, they relied on their children to translate Annual Reports on the figures needed to show their "second lobster payments" and profit and loan of the business. They still were very astute though.

The same thing will happen when you get local governments running districts and rural people have to protect themselves from the townies, when a National Government represents their rural district inputs and the GRANT allocation system to Districts effects their villages and their vote means something on how the money and services are distributed. Both literacy and reading comprehension will also jump nationwide into the 98% bracket. It is participation and self interest that provides the impetus.

In the meantime though. Nationwide, the literacy rate is around 70%, but some of this may be in a different language, like Spanish.

Most Belizeans must know a smattering of three languages. This can get confusing.

It is said, that 8% of the population is completely illiterate. But the lack of a decent reading comprehension level is probably more than 50%.

Males and females that go through the primary school system give a literacy rate of EVEN by gender.

Even the standards for literacy in Spanish for incoming immigrants are EVEN between male and females. It seems to depend on where they came from and if primary schooling was available.

The most literacy and reading comprehension retarded are the highland Maya. With a poor rate of 47% literacy and a lack of Reading Comprehension level in the 84% range.

Reading Comprehension capability and literacy capability can be traced to the remoteness of a village and ethnic culture. Where the services of government does not reach, so does the low capabilities reside. Nor did the State/Church school system change things much in these villages in the last 50 years.

To boost literacy and reading comprehension, it is going to be necessary to duplicate the processes found to succeed in the Co- operative movements. This means bringing local government and responsibility for government programs and money allocations to the people, in particular the remoter rural communities and villages. Once they have local government responsibility and handle the funds of government themselves, it is expected that both literacy and reading comprehension will jump within a six year period, from self interest and need. This presumes a change in the way we govern. A political change that was denied by a Political Reform Commission made up of townies in the old colonial capital in the year of 2000. This change in attitude and culture on a NATIONAL scale is not expected to happen over the next 3 years, while the current political party retains power. The status quo was voted back in by the townies of the old colonial capital who control things in government on political reform. Stagnation of the known is the rule, or norm in a townie orientated plantation colonial model of governing the six districts.

The figures on literacy and reading comprehension will only change drastically for the better, when we change the method of government, to one of more participation by locals in the rural areas.

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