REPORT #232 April 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

In the general debate of Development Issues held on the Belize Culture List, we have been getting some good debating stuff from a young new thinker, a Mayan student from the remote Toledo Hills, subsistance culture of slash and burn agriculture. Unlike many of his student compatriots, he was an admirer of the martyr Julian Cho who died under mysterious circumstances in the Toledo Hills and widely believe to have been assassinated. By whom, no one still yet knows.

Our student Valentino Shal, is a student at the University College of Belize branch in the far away port town, of the old capital of Belize City. Among young people today in Belize he is one of the more forthright outspoken debaters and critical thinkers. Something Belize is sadly lacking in any serious quantity, due primarily to fears of political persecution.

Valentino charges that the UCB branch that is the founding and largest branch of the University system nationwide in Belize, is misguided in their approach to education. He is not getting the quality of education he thinks Belizeans need. We on the culture list generally agree with his first hand assessment.

He says, the system of education is basically booklearning and re-gurgitation of memorized things for tests. He does not think this is preparing students for the real world of Belize, a pioneer frontier land of vast opportunities, that requires critical thinkers and people who have the ambition to identify opportunities and go after them to make a new life and career as entrepreneurs. The country of Belize badly needs entreprenuers.

The major charge is that there is no critical thinking going on. He is not being challenged enough on Belizean issues, possibilities and offered the challenge to learn how to identify opportunities and grasp same for development in Belize. He claims that the methodology at UCB is still a relic of teaching used in the old colonial past with a paternalistic government. Students are being trained to fit in slots in society, as in the manufacturing class divided society of Europe. This means training for government jobs, as there are few other jobs in Belize and actually very little and probably less such jobs in the future, if political reform can ever get these same townies to turn the country around. While there is a role in society for people trained to be government workers, technicians and clerks, the outlook for such jobs in Belize is pretty slim and rare. Nor is it ever expected to change. We might strike oil someday and be able to hire all these townies and give them the job and security they so crave. This means the faculty and administration of the UCB branch in the old capital should form some committees and review the emphasis and syllabuses to re-orient the educational system to more practical entrepreneurial use and practices.

Valentino charges that there is very little contact with the local business environment of the nation of Belize and the opportunities that are in the six districts. The usual small survey work and internships are not what is needed for the country and it's graduating crop of students. In this, we agree also. It is an old assessment reached more than twenty years ago by others in the community of the nation of Belize and has been thrown at Belizean educators ever since. With some success in different places, but complacency and routine old ways seem to be the norm and the splurges of original educational thinking soon revert to the old way again.

Valentino the student says there should be more critical thinking. In Belize, as in many third world countries restricted under old style monarchist, empire building autocratic colonial governing systems, the ability for educators to actually try to liberate the minds and intelligence of students is severly limited. The questioning Socrates method of critical thinking can swiftly be construed by those in political power as a threat to their private agendas. Thus faculty that take the step to do critical thinking style teaching, questioning society and it's mores, government and it's results, the economy and financial affairs as in Comparative Politics might soon lose their jobs, and perhaps be blacklisted, prosecuted through the courts and so on. It has happened before many times in Belize and will probably happen again in Belize, as long as we keep an autocratic governing system.

Valentino envisions a culture of learning in which questioning the status quo, searching for answers, the mutual discussion of pro's and con's and other stimulating intellectual discussions would produce a Belizean student better prepared to be an entrepreneur. Alas, I fear the political persecution factor may be against that happening. It certainly seems that this factor is uppermost in the minds of faculty and administrators. Valentino envisions the University of Belize system as becoming a method of producing people who will transform Belize, to improve conditions for all and to achieve sustainable development. I'm sorry to see such a promising student be stunted by a mediocre faculty, but there does not seem to be any answer in an environment, particularly like that of the old town of the port Belize City. He might do better to transfer to Corozal, they are more liberated over there and more independent minded. The port town environment which is home to the largest UCB branch in the country is notorious for the cultural dependency on a Boss Man, the massa mentality of the olden slave times of some many many generations ago, but carried forward to this very day by most of the intellectuals in that major town and fostered by those townies that run for political office to control the government and leach a living off the government revenue from district producers, as 'leaders and rulers".

Will UCB the port town branch ever change? Unlikely say observers, or they would have done it by now. If you want a better education, move to Corozal, Orange Walk, or San Pedro, Valentino. That's the best advice I can give you. The port town educational branch is a dud of old fashioned European conservatism.

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