by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /
We have tried to identify Who’s the Enemy in our Education Systems in Belize and open our eyes to why so many of us live desensitized to daily life in this new global and digital age. Now, it’s time to move on to the next stage. Are we ready and willing? Mega-sized problems that continue to plague our nation everyday lie not only in areas of Education but in other key areas that prevent us from improving our standards of living. Quality health care is not available or affordable to everyone throughout Belize’s cities, towns, and rural areas. Employment for professionals is not available on a competitive basis, but rather only to the few who (whose families) are lucky enough to have the right “political connections”. The fact remains, though, that even if our Education systems do not meet all the challenges that confront an Independent nation, teachers in Belize remain grossly underpaid, undervalued, and unappreciated by too many. I extend kudos to BNTU and to all educators who are bravely fighting (the government) and trying to improve this unjustifiable and unfair condition.
Most students and educators in Belize know well that since our Independence in 1981 the country’s Education Systems are due for a total revamping and upgrade. Outdated and ineffective Colonial Systems of Education that we (Government and Church) insist on maintaining and following no longer meet all our nation’s pressing needs in this global and digital Age. If indeed they do meet all our nation’s needs, then where is the growing network of successful vocational, technical, and scientific professionals “educated in Belize”? Where are the dozens of successful “educated in Belize” entrepreneurs who continue to receive every incentive possible from the government to build and boost the nation’s economy, year after year? Why don’t we have enough tax revenues from successful industries pouring into government coffers to be able to provide free education up through university level to all our Youth? Where is that thriving network of “home-educated and prepared” business professionals in the financial field who are steering Belize toward becoming an exemplary “success story” in the Caribbean? Where are the professionals, “educated in Belize”, who maintain a thriving Industrial Base in this jewel of ours? Where are the local graduates of Technical and Vocational Schools throughout Belize who everyday build, fortify, and enhance our growing cities and communities in all six Districts, from North to South and East to West? As an Independent nation we ourselves, not only immigrants and foreigners, must be able to build, support, and invest in our communities — business wise and in every other way. An abundance of legal professionals trained and educated abroad and working in our midst is not enough to steer us into prosperity.
Teachers could work much more effectively in classrooms everyday (Primary or Secondary) if they did not feel that they had to coerce students to memorize Math and Science sections of a government-mandated or Commonwealth-copied curriculum, just long enough so the students might pass government-required examinations. Moreover, students may be able to memorize lessons just long enough so they can pass exams, but many of them do not understand or “learn”. Worst of all, even though we can now boast of having our very own institutions of higher learning, universities in Belize, hundreds of their graduates each year cannot enter (find work) into the country’s workforce of professionals. So, where can/do they each go after graduation? University Degrees are not awarded only to be framed! Our young people work very hard and incur many debts to be able to obtain a quality/higher education — they want and need to work and use that education “in Belize”.
Beyond the profound issue of Learned Helplessness being perpetuated by non-changing Colonial and Commonwealth-copied Systems of Education in Belize, no one wants to live within the confines of a sluggish economy, a staggeringly expensive health care system, and growing unemployment. We want and need Education Systems that can deliver and produce graduates who are eager, ready, and qualified to take over the reins of the country. On the other hand, those who have controlled those reins (or still do) also need to hand them over to qualified and home-educated Belizeans! Those of us, especially the policymakers in government, who have grown used to accepting hand-outs, must also realize that no one will hand us on a platter: neatly typed, fully explained, and ready-to-use Education systems to match many of the needs of Independent Belize today. We must first want such systems and then work hard together to create them! We parents, educators, the government and Church policymakers have to break free from that Colonial mindset of learned helplessness that perpetuates the belief that only “Massah’, or someone from abroad, has all the answers. Let’s not continue to live hopelessly out-of-touch and blinded to the truth that we are now “on our own” — simply because it’s convenient to remain idle! No country ever achieves success by copying and pasting another country’s (someone else’s) version of success, whether in Politics, Economics, or in Education. So, yes, it’s time to let go of any old Colonial ways that no longer serve us; but let’s not then hopelessly and pitifully wait for someone else to move us on. Only we can move ourselves forward!
While I worked as a teacher and Vocational Guidance Counselor in both American and Belizean high schools, at the beginning of each school year I encouraged each student to set SMART goals for himself/herself: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound. No one simply hands out success to a student; rather, he/she must first set himself/herself on a path to success and then work steadily to achieve each goal set — no giving up no matter how rough the school year may get. Likewise, no one will simply deliver productive Systems of Education to Belize’s policymakers, administrators, and educators. First, we must want systems that are fully functional and able to produce the educated and professional citizens we need to support and develop the nation. Second, we proceed to create working systems by gathering input from everyone, including parents and educators, not only from the government, church, or professionals in the field of Education. Third, we put the systems in effect, work with our students and continue to learn and grow with them, and finally we amend them as often as we may need. Let us, today not tomorrow, take the next steps to strengthen our obsolete and cut-in-stone Systems of Education so they can serve us much more effectively and productively.