Schools and teachers will become more accountable to parents for the quality of education delivered to their children, when the Parents’ Bill of Rights and Responsibilities and other proposed amendments to the Education Rules, become law.

The Ministry of Education has hired a team of consultants, Trevor Hamilton and Associates of Jamaica, to help prepare the draft legislation, and on Monday, April 27, began two weeks of consultations on the new rules with various groups, starting with the media in the morning and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the afternoon. The consultations were held at the Institute of Technical Vocation and Employment Training (ITVET) in Belize City.

Chief Executive Officer, David Leacock said valid comments and suggestions from the consultation would be incorporated into the draft amendments, which would then be returned to the Minister of Education Patrick Faber for final approval, before it goes to Cabinet for further evaluation, and before it is taken to the House of Representatives.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights unambiguously defines the parents’ right to an affordable public school education for their children, where they can learn in a safe and supportive environment, free of any form of discrimination.

Parents also have the right to free access to information about their child’s education and any opportunities, such as a school’s feeding program where such resources are available. Parents Bill of Rights encourage parents’ active involvement in their children’s education, defining the parents’ right to be consulted on how school policies are developed, and to be able to meet with their children’s teachers and to participate in elections to the Board of their children’s school. All parents will get a copy of this Bill of Rights, which also grants them the right to a copy of any booklet of school policy and rules for their child’s school. Parents are also entitled to file a complaint and to appeal against any decision regarding their school education.

With these rights come responsibilities. Parents will be required to send their children to school prepared to learn and to monitor their children’s attendance and punctuality, and also to communicate regularly with the teachers to ensure that their children are following all school rules and policies. Parents will also need to provide a supportive home environment to complement their children’s lessons in the classroom.

The Bill of Rights also recommends that parents volunteer their time to help the school where possible and to be active in Parent Teachers’ Association of their school.

Under the National Accreditation Council of Belize Act, a School Inspectorate will be created and the Council will appoint a Chief School Inspector, who will inspect schools to verify and assess the quality of teaching with regard to the curriculum, books and other teaching materials, the leadership provided by the school management and the quality of the learning environment, such as the state of the school buildings, furniture and other facilities. Since school management is responsible for the children’s welfare and health, there must be an adequate drinking water supply for the children, and proper clean toilet facilities.

Any inspection report will be sent not only to the school management and principal, but also the Parent Teacher Association, the Teaching Services Commission, the Board of Teacher Education, the Chief Education Officer and any other interested party the minister may designate.

The new law also has teeth, penalizing any attempt to obstruct an inspection or to deny the schools inspector any information requested, with a fine of up to $5,000, and up to three months hard labor in prison!

The Education and Training Act and the National Accreditation Act will both be amended to improve the schools’ accountability for students’ performance on all assessment examinations.

The Education Rules will also be amended by Statutory Instrument to legislate certain ministry policies already in effect, such as the amalgamation of certain schools, the licensing of church or private schools, schools’ eligibility for government funding or assistance, the location of these schools, explicitly defining the quality and standard of school facilities which must be provided.

The new rules also define the procedures under which school managements and school boards must operate for any school or junior college which receives government aid or funding.

The Reporter