The Ministry of Education is pressing on with its goal of placing 1,500 school-aged children back into the classroom. In an effort at doing this, on Monday July 12, work began to rehabilitate and retrofit the old Venus Bus Terminal located on Magazine Road. In speaking with Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, he explained that the effort is part of the Restore Belize initiative.
Minister Faber explained that “the center located at the Old Venus Bus Terminal will help us tremendously in getting those
students off the streets”. He added that there are also plans to close the existing Excelsior High School as a four year high school and open it as a two year facility that will cater to children who are unable to make it into any high school. Students who are currently attending Excelsior will be transferred to other high schools in the city. Hon. Faber says that when the Excelsior program is opened it will be done so later on in the school year to allow for the existing high schools to take in students who are able to attend. This will also give the Ministry enough time to put in place the plans and to ensure that an opportunity will be given to those who don’t have a place to go in the regular school system. Teachers who are currently employed at Excelsior will be kept on to run this school. Enrollment at Excelsior is expected to be somewhere around 500 students.
At the Magazine Road building, Minister Faber says the concentration will be at providing an opportunity to some 300 children. The curriculum will be concentrated on vocational subjects where emphasis will be placed on the practical side more so than on the academics. However, Faber says that the theory aspect of teaching will not be abandoned completely. Also to be housed at the Magazine Road terminal building will be a ‘Satellite Kitchen’ which will be a pilot project for a nationwide feeding program. The Minister says that “we hope to provide meals to all of the schools in the city, not all the kids but to all the schools to a limited amount so that we cater to the very needy kids in the city who don’t even have a meal per day.”
In order to achieve this Hon. Faber says “we will try to pool everybody’s efforts together to try to maintain this program.” As it is, he says, many of the businesses in Belize City are approached by schools and they feel bombarded because there are many requests from many schools. With a central location, the businesses, says Faber, will be more inclined to contribute to a single organization rather than to many different schools. The entire program including the kitchen and the vocational school is expected to get off the ground by October of this year.
Minister Faber says that the program will be funded through a series of agencies. Already the Prime Minister has approved 200 thousand dollars to start the construction at the Magazine Road facility. The satellite kitchen will be funded through the Social Investment Fund for at least ¾ of a million dollars to put in the infrastructure. There is also funding being sought through the Southside Poverty Alleviation Program from which the program has applied for 900 thousand dollars.
The entire objective, says Minister Faber, is to on one hand have young people learn skills that will lift them out of poverty and on the other hand to enroll school-aged children below the age of 14 into a school. This will be done through a crackdown on truancy “so that if we find kids who are of that age they would not have a reason as to why they are not in school. Those who are graduating at 12 and 13 from primary school and are not getting into a high school we are going to ask them to get into that program.”
In an effort to achieve the goal of placing 1500 students back in the classroom, Hon. Faber says that the Ministry of Education will be looking at existing educational institutions like the National Cadet Service Corp, the 4H program. The idea is to fill these programs to capacity and to work with the existing entities that deal with the early primary school leavers and also of the lower secondary high schools. With this combined effort, the Minister expects that the goal of placing 1500 students back into the school setting is attainable.