(Source: UN Stats)
Universal education – we’ve heard a lot of talk about it, but the reality today is that the number of children of primary school age who should be enrolled and in classes has been dropping steadily over the last six to eight years. That is according to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education, David Leacock.
Minister of Education Patrick Faber commented at the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Belize National Library Service and Information Systems (BNLSIS) on Friday, May 7, “There are about 11,000 children who should be in primary school who are not in primary school today. That is shocking!”
Faber said that when he heard the stats in a recent meeting, he had to leave the room for 10 minutes to regain his composure.
“We have become so complacent and we believe it to be satisfactory. And it is not!” he lamented.
Some have asked, said Minister Faber, if these statistics don’t embarrass the Government? “I make it plain so that we can understand that it is all of our business to fix what is wrong with education in this country,” he furthermore commented.
The primary school enrollment rate is about 83% now, whereas it was once in the 90’s, Faber said.
He noted that one of the Millennium Development Goals is to achieve 100% primary school access by 2015.
“There was a point when we used to be able to boast about the system doing well particularly at the primary level,” Faber recollected.
A UNICEF summary sheet on Belize claims that the primary school net enrolment/attendance between 2003 and 2008 was 97%. Leacock elaborated when we spoke with him today, Monday, May 10, that this net percentage does not take into account the absolute numbers. “Within the last six, seven, eight years there has been a steady decline,” said Leacock, noting that Belize has not kept apace with the growing demand for seats in the classroom.
“Even though we are enrolling more students, as percentage of school-age population, that percentage has been declining,” he added.
Asked whether the 11,000 children not in school are mostly from the rural or urban parts of Belize, the CEO said he was not certain, but noted that there tends to be less education coverage in rural Belize. He also did not have on hand the information to detail which specific locations had the most children out of school.
Amandala asked: What is the Ministry’s immediate plan to address the problem? “We have to try and build more schools,” Leacock responded.
He said that there are also issues with the repetition and the drop-out rates.
“In some cases, it may be that they [the children not currently in school] have never been to school,” he elaborated.
A Belmopan primary school opened only last October (2009) is “bursting at the seams,” he told us. That school is Kuxlin Ha Government School in Maya Mopan/Belmopan City. “Some of the children going for the first time are ages nine and ten,” Leacock shared, citing one of the problems as the distance between their homes and school.
Of note is that only a portion of the 6,500 primary school students who sat the Primary School Examinations recently will transition on to secondary school.