More children are expected to gain access to education in Belize with the construction of 35 new schools and the provision of 5,300 additional places across pre-primary, primary and secondary levels. These are among the benefits to flow from a US$35 million loan and a US$461,000 grant approved by the board of directors of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to the government of Belize at their meeting in Basseterre, St. Kitts.

The funds will also help in the provision of furniture and equipment; and consultancy services to prepare detailed designs and supervise construction.

This is part of an overall attempt to increase access to basic education as well as help improve the planning, management and delivery of services.

Among the planned programme components are improvements in the learning environment through the development of an early stimulation and emergent learning (ESEL) programme; review of the school feeding programme; development of a schools’ maintenance policy and plan; development of an early identification system (EIS) for children at-risk of educational and societal failure; and development and implementation of a public education and communications strategy.

This is in sync with the goals and objectives of Horizon 2030, the Belize Education Sector Strategy 2011-2016, and its objective of supporting inclusive and sustainable growth and development. It also supports the CDB’s Special Development Fund 8 Cycle theme of inclusive and sustainable growth.

Five years ago, in 2010, the government of Belize asked CDB for technical assistance to help it address its dissatisfaction with the returns on investment in education. It also wanted a comprehensive review of the sector to diagnose the deficiencies, devise an overarching strategy for addressing them; develop an investment plan for funding the proposed interventions; and create a roadmap for undertaking the broad sector improvements required to ensure sustainability of student outcomes.

The subsequent sector diagnosis identified a number of critical issues including weak governance; absence of quality and relevance; and the need for increased and equitable access.

In the resultant education sector strategy (ESS) 2011–2016, Belize’s revised national gender policy highlighted education as one of five priorities areas to be addressed if the country was to achieve its development objectives.

Issues identified as contributing to low participation, high repetition, and dropout rates in basic education included poverty; the absence of financial and other resources to facilitate school attendance; lack of food and poor nutrition; inadequate preparation for formal education; cultural practices; and parental ignorance of the value of education.

The government subsequently drafted a programme to address the identified problems as well as the lack of sufficient places to increase participation significantly.