Ready or Not, Here We Are!
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

June is a month for Graduations, annual rites of passage and new beginnings for students in Belize and throughout the world. Young teenagers complete Primary/Elementary School (Standard 6) while older teenagers graduate from Secondary (High School), and adults graduate from Tertiary (Sixth Form or University). Most of the students who graduate from Primary (Standard 6) typically will head straight into a High School or Technical School, if their families can afford to pay for it, while students who leave or graduate from High School will enter the workforce, the military, or opt to continue studying, or choose a combination of employment and continuing education. Those students who graduate from a university with an Associate, Baccalaureate, or other degree are now ready to enter the workforce as career professionals. Nonetheless, each year brings more challenging and complex academic and career options. This month thousands of young Belizeans who are graduating, from Primary up through University level, face increasingly complex and pivotal crossroads and new phases in their lives. How ready, though, are they to make crucial decisions and take on the world? If they are ready, are there places for each of them in today’s world?

Speaking from actual experience, I can verify that when Sixth Form (Associate Degree level) was the highest level of academic Education available in Belize, students who graduated from Sixth Form had limited career choices: seek immediate employment and enter the workforce, or go abroad to continue studying or working, or both. I thank my Sixth Form English teacher (Peace Corp) for her guidance and encouragement, and my family for providing the support that enabled me to go abroad to study at the University of Wisconsin.

After “Pomp and Circumstance” is played several times this month in Belize, and graduates don their caps and gowns, what choices do they face? There are now several high schools, sixth forms and universities throughout the country that offer high levels of academic and vocational training. During my lifetime, and before that, students who completed Primary School on San Pedro, and in several Districts, had to travel to Belize City to attend a High School! Nonetheless, the various options facing graduates today are complex. Where does a Primary School graduate turn if his/her family cannot afford to pay the thousands of dollars just to register in a high school? Who will pay the remaining thousands of dollars in tuitions and books for 4 more years? What if a graduate is not accepted into his/her school of choice to continue studying? What if he/she is accepted but cannot afford the tuition and many other costs of that education? What about those graduates who cannot find or obtain part-time employment? Without part-time jobs many students cannot afford more schooling; it is just so expensive. What does a student do after graduating from school, any level, if he/she still is not sure what “next step” to take, or does not feel prepared? Are there “roads frequently travelled” that graduates might clearly see and follow? Many students who are graduating with degrees, know exactly what they want to do, and are fully academically qualified; but, they will not be able to find employment in their field, or perhaps in any field whatsoever. Youth of Belize, are you ready to face the world as it is now? Do you know where/how you now fit in your communities?

This week’s column poses many questions, but provides few answers. Actually, there is but one all encompassing question to direct to each graduate: Why wait until after you graduate school to confront the “now what do I do” questions? My advice: Don’t wait! Students, no matter at what level you are completing (or entering) school, never wait until after you graduate to explore your academic or career options! My previous columns address serious issues that arise during a student’s school career; those issues affect not only students, educators, and parents, but their entire communities. The most crucial issue for each student, though, arises at graduation: Now, what do I do?

In school, students usually view graduation as an event “way down the road”. Nevertheless, as a guidance counselor, I encourage students, Secondary or Tertiary, to always have and to constantly keep updating their individual short-term and long-term academic and career goals and options. urge students who plan to continue studying after they graduate to thoroughly investigate, from a year in advance, all the available information about the school(s) where they want to continue studying: registration/entrance requirements, minimum required grades, tuition, fees/costs, books, places to live etc. Students who plan to graduate from High School, or other level, and immediately enter the workforce should not wait until after graduation to start looking for employment. Students who plan to enter the workforce after graduation should be thoroughly checking out the job market a full term/semester (or more) before they graduate! Their resumes and cover letters of interest to companies should be completed, and mailed, “before” they walk on stage with cap and gown.

Belize has now fully entered the Age of Technology. See: Technology to the Rescue! Not everyone is at an advanced technology level; nevertheless, each student who graduates this month from a high school, or higher level, should be fully trained to understand and use computers. It is no secret that technology is now the primary driver of growth and innovation in most, if not all, major industries in Belize. Without a doubt, Tourism tops that list! A major industry that has also developed greatly in Belize, from since when I graduated from high school, is the Media. In the mid 1960’s the Media in Belize consisted of one radio station that signed off the air at 10:00 p.m. nightly, and three hardcopy newspapers that circulated weekly. There are now various television and radio stations throughout Belize, available online 24/7 (always), many hardcopy and online newspapers (headquartered all over the country), dozens of hospitality and resort websites, interactive websites and Blogs for public and private industries, commercial, political, personal and many other “Portals” to Belize. Each is accessible from anywhere in the world at the touch of a computer keyboard button or screen. Graduates: you are the ones who must continue to create, develop and improve all of our technology backed industries. Are you prepared and ready? Keep believing in yourselves, and have confidence in what you do! Do not be afraid to break old barriers! I salute your dogged determination, as I remind you that you are no longer “the world tomorrow”. Oh no --as of your graduation this June you are “the world today”!

Issues concerning students’ needs, bullying, aggressive behavior, coping, setting short-term and long-term goals, and technology were some of many issues previously addressed in this column. After graduation this June, are you ready, graduates, to confront these issues “head on” everyday in the workplace or at other institutions of learning? Please remember that bullying does not surface its ugly head only in schools. In the workplace all employees have to learn to adapt, adjust, and cope with much more than students do in school. Moreover, the further up the Education scale a student now studies (Tertiary) guidance and counseling is no longer what students may have become used to receiving. No one, at an advanced level of studies, will be there to hold your hand and walk you through your schedule of classes, or keep reminding you to attend classes, and complete homework and/or projects. A high level of student independence is expected in education systems post high school. Nevertheless, always feel free to request assistance when you need it.

So, after only a few brief paragraphs to give you a peek into what awaits you after graduation, are you graduates ready to take on the world after June 2013? Are you each ready to build and improve your financial education? Do you even have one? Graduates, as you each look back on school and on what you can remember, cherish what you consider as memorable. (For some of you, perhaps one phrase will describe your elation: “Thank heavens I’m out of there!”) But, regardless of how you may feel about your past school days, you each must now face: “Now what do I do?” Perhaps you did not prepare as much as you could/should have, while you were in school; but it’s never too late to make plans and take action! You each are just now starting a “new beginning”. After you hear the beautiful speeches given at graduation ceremonies, remember that no matter what your goals and plans for the future may be, you must take that “first step” in order to complete the next thousand miles! (A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.) Most importantly, remember that whether you enter the workforce, the military, keep studying, or whatever you may decide to do, you are each taking with you the very best wishes of your teachers and schools, your families, friends and communities. May your Commencement Exercises commence a productive new life for each of you and for our beautiful jewel, Belize!

Author’s Note:

These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!