Quality Education: English, Math, and Science!
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

The recent 2013 PSE low proficiency scores bombshell has provided the local media in Belize with some hot news items for the country to follow for a few newscasts; it has also provided a few juicy and eye-catching headlines for online and hard copy local newspapers. Teachers are using this attention-grabbing bombshell to try to win the public to their side, and at the same time publicize their unfair working conditions, including salaries. Even the public finally seems interested in demanding a good Education for our children!

Still, no one seems to know what a good education really is. Until we know what it is, and want it, we will not be able to offer, nor receive a good education. Still, we refuse to accept/embrace any change(s) in our Education systems. Perhaps, I should name each article that I post to this Blog, including the Blog itself, Misconceptions of Education in Belize. Other than the constant and heated crossfire of accusations and embarrassments between the public (media) and local politicians consequent to the PSE bombshell, there are no signs whatsoever of any change in Belizeans’ concept, attitude, or concern for high-quality education for our upcoming generation. Most Belizeans continue to think of Education as a “their job” (schools and teachers) issue. In stubbornly refusing to change this misconception of Education, Belize also refuses to be “global”.

From entry level all the way up to corporate executive, most job descriptions throughout the (advanced) world today usually include this requirement in the ‘Position Summary’ or ‘Required Standards’,
  • Must have the willingness and ability to adapt to change, including advances in technology
However, in Belize the Education policymakers (government and church) stubbornly refuse to accept or implement change(s) in how we manage, account for, and fund our public/private Education systems. The public, especially Belize’s business community, must accept/embrace “change” in what ultimately makes a quality Education! Sadly, most Belizeans (government, church, parents, and business community) continue to refuse to let go of their outdated Colonial misconceptions of Education. Wake up people! Education is not a matter of just being able to pass foreign-made standardized tests. It’s way past time to replace O’ levels and A’ levels with our very own Belizean standards!

Starting a few years ago, teachers and administrators are occasionally required to attend one, sometimes two, expensive and professional-sounding “non-Belizean led” (government paid) locally held Education workshops, i.e. during summer vacation. Nonetheless, after each exciting (foreign led) workshop or seminar is completed, participants probably forget most of what was discussed by the time schools reopen and classes resume in August. Participants will return to work in the classrooms when schools reopen, exactly like they did before the workshop. (However, Education workshops led by qualified foreign professionals look impressive on resumes!) If classroom management changes are introduced and discussed at Education Workshops, there are no consistent follow-ups with participants to see if the changes are being implemented in the classroom, and/or if they’re making any positive difference(s) in classroom management. So, when participants (teachers or administrators) have questions or need assistance with making adjustments to what they learned in the workshops, who do they turn to? Each enthusiastic leader (businessman) of the workshops/ seminars always returns to his/her country after each workshop is completed. How do students, who most need the help discussed at these workshops, benefit from these workshops?

Some schools in Belize have websites, which they proudly display online. The Ministry of Education also has one. However, the websites are not interactive, nor are they user friendly – not for students, parents, administrators, teachers, or anyone who is looking to enter the field of Education as a career. They do not provide/offer the public any useful or specific financial information, or step by step instructions on how to complete academic requirements, or how to obtain information. In order to get financial information, parents of students who will start high school classes in August 2013 must attend (have attended) “very important” meetings with school administration, after they find out if their son/daughter is “accepted” at that school. Within 24 to 72 hours after these meeting, parents are (were) required to immediately fork out thousands of dollars for registration, tuition, and many other fees. If mandatory payments are (were) not made right away the student automatically loses his/her place at that school to another student. Why, then, should students (seniors) make any effort to check out a college from a year in advance if they can’t find anything out (financial or otherwise) until days before registration? What purpose does the school/institution website serve?

Actually, now that summer vacations for Primary and Secondary students have already started, the recent Belize PSE low proficiency scores fiasco will blow over, “like wah lee breeze”. When schools reopen and classes resume in August, everything will continue “as per before”. Unfortunately Education just has not been able to make its way to the top of the Agenda of “important” things to consider right now, and probably never will. Food for thought: What will 2014 Belize PSE scores look like? What will Belize be like in 5 or 10 years if the Education Systems remain the same?

According to the last several generations, including my own (high school graduation 1969), getting a quality Education in Belize means going to school everyday to rote learn and memorize several fragmented subjects, including English, Math, Science, Business, Social Studies, and perhaps now even some IT or Computer Science if it’s available.  Pass some O’ Level exams after 4 years, and you’re home free!  But, why is that a quality Education?

Is there one school in Belize (any level from Primary to Tertiary) that has an active program to implement the part of a school vision or mission statement (if it even exists in the policies of the school) that promises “to prepare young students to lead productive and fruitful lives in the community”? Other than the usual boastful political campaign promises made by Education policymakers (government and church) what are they doing to “hands on” prepare and train educators in the important task of preparing young students to lead a democratic, safe, and productive Belize? Did current teachers even undergo training or internships? Getting diplomas from a local university, and going into classrooms to teach without having worked before in an actual classroom is NOT teaching! Government and church leaders of the Education system, you are not preparing young students to lead us in the future only by preparing them to take certain required tests/exams.

Being able to pass several internal and external exams/tests in a few fragmented subjects does NOT meet the definition of having obtained a “solid education”. The past, present, and future definitions of a quality Education are never the same. A well-rounded education (like this Blog) is routinely ignored by  most of the country. “Let students worry over Education – it’s their problem; we already got ours. “

In Belize, “getting a good education” means:
  • Upon leaving Primary School: Score high (passing) in PSE examinations! Low scores will automatically mean no more education for you. If you pass PSE and want to get a Secondary Education, your family must be prepared to pay exorbitant costs of tuition and “other” fees, plus textbooks and uniforms required to allow you to get a high school diploma.
  • Upon leaving Secondary School: Get 4 or more O’ level passes! Without these “totally blown out of proportion passes” your diplomas mean nothing – you will not get a (good) job, or be accepted anywhere else in Belize or the British Commonwealth to pursue a Tertiary education.
  • Upon leaving a University or Sixth Form: Get A’ level passes and important-sounding degrees! Most important: Make sure you know the right people (this never changes) else the degrees also are meaningless.
I may be totally wrong, and Belize has the best Education Systems in the world!