IDB Technical note paints the harsh reality of Belize’s Education system

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has issued a Technical note on the Belize Education system after examining the years of 1999 through 2011, which were broken down into individual time periods within 10-year segments. The report is alarming and paints the reality of the country’s education in a 43-page document. Essentially the report details that over the past decade Belize is paying far too much for education but getting little from it.

The report goes on to point out that despite high levels of public spending on education, glaring inequalities in access and quality persist at all levels. “Many of those 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.”

Looking at school attendance, it shows that Belize continues to be among the lowest in the Central America and the Caribbean. The report explains that preschool coverage is very low compared with the regional average. Primary school attendance has been on the decline since 1999. While 95 percent of the primary school-aged children were attending school in 1999, only 92 percent were going to school in 2009. Over the last decade, Belize has made modest progress in expanding education at the secondary and tertiary levels. Education coverage is increasing only among the wealthiest students. Children in rural areas have particularly limited access to secondary education. At all education levels, attendance of Maya children (Yucatec, Mopan, and Ketchi) is lower than children from other ethnic groups.

The report also looks at the completion rates in Belize which shows that the country is below the average in comparison to the other countries in the study. Only two in every five children enrolled in primary school complete this level in the prescribed eight years. Approximately 60 percent of secondary-school students complete school on time. Completion rates are also higher among girls than boys enrolled in secondary schools. At the tertiary level, graduation rates are lower than at the primary and secondary levels. The internal efficiency of the education system in Belize is low, with a large gap between the number of years that children attend school and the number of grades actually completed. In 2009, 83 percent of Belizean youth aged 15 to 19 years had completed primary education, significantly lower than the average in neighboring countries.

The reports indicate that performance on primary and secondary exams is poor. Fewer than half (44 percent) of standard six (eighth grade) students who took the national primary school examination (PSE) in 2011 obtained an overall grade of satisfactory (50%/D) or above. There are large regional differences in student achievement levels on the PSE, which is evident in the performance of students in the secondary level.

According to the report, there is a high level of inequalities, inequities and inefficiency in the education system in the way financial aid is given to educational institutions. This was observed more at the secondary school level. To reduce those challenges and to ensure that those living in poverty and those with special needs receive the adequate assistance, the Ministry of Education (MoE) through aid from IDB, has introduced financial reform through the Financing Allocation System (FAS). The main objective of the new FAS is to guarantee greater equity in school financing and to ensure that students have equal access to a sufficiently broad and relevant curriculum. Students need secondary education to escape poverty in Belize.

The report also indicates that although the Government of Belize’s (GOB) commitment to education is strong compared to neighboring countries, in 2011 almost 50% of the MoE’s recurrent budget was allocated to primary education; a 8% decrease from 2001. In 2011, public recurrent spending per student was highest at the tertiary level, where the government spends approximately BZ$4,187 per student at the University of Belize and BZ$3,203 per student at junior colleges.

The reality is that a large portion of Belize’s teaching force remains untrained, and teaching styles and materials are outdated, says the report. The percentage of untrained teachers is one of the highest in the region with the lowest numbers of trained teachers at the secondary level. A majority of the professors at the tertiary level are not qualified.

While the challenges are great, the recommendation is to focus on increased efficiency, quality and equity. The report discusses policy options that seek to improve educational outcomes with the same or fewer resources. There has been no official response or comment from the GOB regarding the IDB report.

San Pedro Sun