By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant

According to Maya wisdom, 2012 completed a significant calendar cycle. Also, in 2012 Belize held General and Municipal Elections and the majority chose to keep most of the same people/party in government. The Minister of Education, his entire ministry, the Chief Education Officer, and Heads of various Churches continue to head/steer our Belizean Education Systems and Programs. However, how many of these leaders work directly with our young people on a day-to-day basis? How do they keep abreast of 21st Century challenges that keep “adding up” in Primary and Secondary schools throughout Belize today? The biggest challenge in this new era continues to be trying to move school boards, administrators, and teachers away from the antiquated, Colonial Era “one-size-fits-all” education philosophy that schools adamantly cling to in Belize. There are many other 21st Century challenges that confront educators and teachers every single school day in our rapidly changing world and new cycle of time. The largest challenge being faced right now is convincing those in charge to pay teachers a decent salary that they can “live on”.

Many developed countries are not fully satisfied or totally happy with their Education Systems. Belize is a fairly young (Independence 1981) and developing country, and current Education Systems remain quite under-developed. We have quite a ways to go to catch up with and be able to meet the needs of Youth in 21st Century Belize. Our greatest needs right now (to even approach being considered adequate) include:

  • many more computers in Primary and Secondary schools, not just one class/lab of a few computers for an entire school,
  • more affordable (or free) textbooks for students at all levels – from Primary to UB,
  • more affordable tuitions for Secondary and Tertiary level schools
  • more teachers who are professionally trained (not just a Sixth form education) to work with, help, and provide options to all students: slow, average, and advanced,
  • smaller classroom sizes (the current overcrowding in many schools of 36 + students and 1 teacher to a classroom is unacceptable),
  • professional curriculum planners (for all schools countrywide) to set programs of study that cater to students in areas of science (academics), commercial, industrial, tourism, et. al.

Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see that finally some high schools (not all) now provide at least one Guidance Counselor per school to students throughout Belize. Still, the vast majority of Primary schools do not offer this service. Young students in Standards 4, 5, 6 are in desperate need of guidance during this “epidemic of violence” in Belize. Today, guidance counselors can work toward making sure that high school graduates no longer face a future of “survival of the fittest”. I extend heartfelt congratulations and wishes for continued success to the Belize School Counselors Association!

As Belize struggles to move through 2013, I humbly yet boldly point out to the planners and leaders of our Education Systems: Belize today must educate and prepare its youth to live in the 21st Century! We can no longer rely on, and keep using, “Colonial Era” systems of Education. We need new systems of Education that cater to the needs of our Youth today. Without a doubt, we must always promote the basics or 3 R’s (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) as well as Sciences – especially Computer Science. However, in Belize today, are we “keeping up” with 21st Century technological advances throughout the world? How many students are using computers everyday at school? How many schools have IT specialists who work “only” on the upkeep and maintenance of their computer systems? One person per school to upkeep all the school’s computers, and also teach all students is unacceptable!

Contrary to what Colonial Era systems of Education advocate, Belizean students can no longer afford to attend school everyday only to keep doing the same precisely-defined repetitive tasks in the classroom! Our schools must go beyond preparing students for CXC or other “outside” examinations. Rather, it’s time to start training our students, beginning at the Primary level, in the skills of our own Belizean “creative processes”, and STOP using “outside examinations and results” to validate our students. If we wish to go from “under-developed” to “developed” it’s time we stand on our own two feet and educate our people, “in our own way” – not only how others (GCE and CXC etc.) choose to validate us.

Each student, not only the “art-oriented” students (authors, painters, poets, sculptors, dramatists, singers etc.), should be educated in the Belizean creative process. The creative process is one of the most successful processes used for accomplishments throughout History. Look at the great accomplishments of our Maya ancestors, and of 20th Century computer giants who created Microsoft (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and technological “social” programs such as Facebook, Twitter, and other industry-specific specialized computer programs that billions of people use today. After reaching the moon, and Mars, scientists and engineers can now create space ships/rockets that can travel for long periods of time throughout the universe to collect and interpret data. Were these achievements the results of only memorizing repetitive tasks to be able to pass someone else’s examinations? Without a doubt, the creators of computers and their programs dared to dream, be creative, and experiment! As we embark on this new cycle of time, this new beginning, let’s educate and encourage Belizean students in “creative processes”, and stop teaching/preparing them only for “outside examinations”.

As of today, not tomorrow, I strongly encourage the planners/leaders (the government) of Belize’s Education Systems to consider this: Despite the fact that an alarming number of Belizeans, including educators, are clamoring that our schools should not change, our schools MUST change if they want to meet the needs of our Youth today, and the needs of our nation in 21st Century Belize and beyond.

Author’s Note:

These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!