In Latin America and Caribbean

A new and independent report commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank indicates that there is a crisis in the education system. In fact, Belize is at the bottom of the academic ladder in Latin America and the Caribbean. The government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually but the returns in education access, quality and equity are poor. There are more youths outside the school system, but few will gain employment and according to the dismal report, a whole generation is at risk. News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at the report.

“Despite high levels of public spending on education, glaring inequalities in access and quality persist at all levels.  Coverage and access at all levels of education are insufficient and inequitable.  Many of these enrolled in the schools will repeat or drop out before graduating.  Many children are still not achieving satisfactory levels of performance on exams.  There is a serious shortage of trained and qualified teachers at all levels of the system, and there is limited enforcement of accountability.  Spending in the sector is inefficient.” - Challenges and Opportunities in the Belize Education Sector; Education Division, IDB

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The annual financial plan for education is quite often the largest chunk of public funds set aside for investing in the development of students, from preschool through to the tertiary level.  Every year, there is overwhelming emphasis placed on the need to bolster the existing education system and nowhere is this more evident than during the budget debate to usher in the new fiscal calendar.  Notwithstanding a constant injection of capital, the sector is grappling with a severe decrease in output.

The recently published results of a comprehensive study conducted by a team of researchers, commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2009, indicate that Belize’s education system is in crisis.  The overall problem, a wide-ranging series of issues beginning at the kindergarten level, is taken within the context of the Caribbean.  Comparatively speaking, only one in every three children aged three and four are attending school.  That ratio has remained fixed since the survey was conducted five years ago.  In Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, eighty percent of their infant populations are enrolled in preschool.

Attendance in primary school is also down from 1999, when ninety-five percent of children were present in the classroom.  That fraction has since reduced by three percent, along with it the possibility of achieving universal primary education, as a Millennium Development Goal by 2015.  The completion rates are also well below the average in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Two out of every five children attending primary school will accomplish that level within an eight-year period.  The trend also indicates that there is a high repetition rate, as well as a higher dropout rate among boys in primary school.

The problem, however, is not limited to students alone.  The low content skills also reflect a low level of teacher training.  In an attempt to assess the subject knowledge of current and potential primary school teachers, they had to sit the very same Primary School Examinations administered to their pupils.  Only a third of the teachers who took the tests scored an A in the exams.  One in every five teachers were unable to score a C.

While there is nominal improvement in the number of students at the secondary and tertiary levels, more than half of those of secondary school age remain out of school.  In 2009, a growth of eight percentage points was recorded among students accessing sixth form education and beyond, whereas other English-speaking Caribbean countries have more than doubled that figure.

Ethnically, the number of Mayan children accessing education at all levels is significantly lower than other groups in the country, particularly in secondary school where only forty percent is in attendance.

In conclusion, the results of this study, according to the summary provided by the research team, suggest that the teaching methods currently in use are dated and revolve primarily around teachers and not so much their students. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

We’ll continue to follow this story about the crisis in the education sector in the days to come. 

Channel 5