Time for Belize to focus on free education and job development

By Wellington C. Ramos

I graduated from Sacred Heart Primary School in the late 1960s. After graduating from there, my family sent me to Austin High School. I was the first of my mother's children to be sent to high school because she couldn't afford to send my older sister and two brothers. They all had the academic potential to complete high school but because of lack of money they were forced to do something different. My sister moved to Belize City to seek employment and my two older brothers joined the Belize Police and Special Force.

There are many people graduating from high schools in Belize that lack academic potential but their families have the money to pay for their high school tuition so they end up graduating. When these people graduate from high school, some of them look down upon those who dropped out of high school that had the academic potential but whose families did not have the money to pay their tuition fees.

After one year of high school my mother could not afford the cost of sending me to high school anymore so I was forced to quit. I then went to work in Mango Creek for a couple months and from there I followed my two older brothers to Belize City. Shortly after I arrived in Belize City, I found a job at the British Forces Airport Camp where I worked for three years as a maintenance worker. In April 1973, I followed my two brothers and joined the Belize Police Force where I was employed until July 1978 before I migrated to the United States. Maybe, if I had completed my high school education, I would not have joined the police force. There are thousands of Belizean families who have to face this situation up to this day.

Every family in Belize still must pay high school tuition and buy the textbooks for their children who attend unless they get a full scholarship. The more children parents have, the harder it is for them to cope with their living expenses and still pay these high tuition fees and buy these expensive textbooks. I believe that it is now time for the government of Belize to grant free universal education to all Belizeans from Pre-K up to high school.

This could be established by legalizing gambling and taking the windfall money from our oil revenues to pay for it and put the money in a trust fund. However, money should also be invested in job growth to encourage businesses to create jobs for those students who graduate from high schools and colleges. People who work spend money and pay taxes and, when that happens, everybody in the country benefits because there will be less poverty, crime and idle individuals in our society. All the statistics I have seen as an educator in my lifetime, clearly indicate that there is a direct relationship between school dropouts and crime, poverty, gang involvement and other anti-social activities taking place in our country today.

In the Amandala newspaper dated May 11, 2012, there was an editorial article titled; "Education woes" which struck my attention. In Belize, it costs our government about $5,000 annually to house a prisoner in the Belize prison and about $1,200 to send a child to high school. Belize is becoming like the United States, where we are spending more money to incarcerate our youths as opposed to educating them. If we fail to stop this trend, then we will have more problems in our country so we better start spending the money to educate rather than incarcerating them. I have this funny feeling that there are a few families in Belize who believe that the oil money belongs to them and them alone but they are making a big mistake.

If they keep thinking like this and do nothing for the poor Belizean families, they will become a thorn on their side for future generations to come. We cannot continue to go around and give these nice speeches saying, "Belize belongs to us", while we continue to practice "Belize only belong to some of us". Remember that, when people start to feel hopeless, powerless and that their government doesn't care about them, then we will plant the seeds for a revolt that will eventually come.

Let us avoid having more of our children being deprived the right to an education by giving them the free education they deserve. The future of our country is to invest in job creation and education and we will be fine.

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