REPORT #196 Mar 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

by Silvia Pinzon
Belize Development Trust

A dream may come true for Prime Minister Said Musa, of the small country of Belize. With 284 primary schools, with 55,000 primary school students and 33 secondary schools with 12,000 students, the Prime Minister has dreamed of bootstrapping Belizean education and economics by providing all school children with computer savvy and experience.

In this regard, the Prime Minister on his travels around the nation of Belize during the past year, carries with him a few brand new computers and they are donated to schools that have the accompanying infra-structure ( electricity ). According to the Reporter newspaper, the Prime Minister's small program is suddenly receiving a boost.

Mr. Ken Burkitt, once a casual resident of the tourist/lobster fishing village of Caye Caulker, who owned and operated a bar and restaurant there; has started a Foundation, called "Children On- Line Worldwide". According to Mr. Burkitt, the Foundation already has 300 computers ready to ship to Belize from the U.K. At the moment, Mr. Burkitt is in Belize, accompanied by education ministry departmental civil servants travelling around the country of Belize, surveying the schools for the information technology programme.

All in all, a GRANT from the Foundation has been promised, for 3000 computers over the next full year. We can only hope that these computers will be NEW ones with accompanying CD-ROMS in game format, covering subjects like Geography, World History, Mathematics and the like. CD-ROM games covering school subjects are highly popular in wealthy countries. In the past few years, efforts to organize the gift of computers to Belize, by Belize Development Trust supporters, has been thwarted by complications with the bureaucracy, customs fees, various taxes on shipping charges and other such things such as, packing and shipping costs. Only the most persistant donor has managed to succeed in getting a few computers through to the schools. Caye Caulker was one such success.

Mr. Ken Burkitt however, has the private ear and support of the Prime Minister and is in Belize on his invitation. The dream is to equip all primary schools, no matter how remote, with computers. Those schools without electricity will presumably get it. The dream also includes internet access for all primary schools. The High Schools theoretically have it already, through an arrangement between the Education Department and the Belize Telecommunications Authority (BTL), the communications monopoly that has resisted modernizing rural district communities for 20 years or more, because of projected low profit capability. Because of the telecommunications monopoly contract and intransigence from BTL about remote rural telephone and internet service, it is unlikely that if the dream comes true of computers to every primary school in Belize, the internet access capability part will ever become a reality in the next three years. At least during the time frame projected for fulfillment of getting these 3000 computers in all the primary and high schools. This situation makes the emphasis on game/educational CD-roms more necessary in the interim period, until the BTL monopoly expires.

No matter the final outcome, it is a marvelous wonderful step in the right direction. May the dreams of Prime Minister Said Musa and Mr. Ken Burkitt come true!

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