Viewers may know the Gwen Lizarraga High School’s Evening Division is known as a second chance educational program for youths and young adults who missed out on an opportunity on a high school education.
But today, Gwen Liz became the home of an innovative pilot program to make education even more accessible to high schoolers of all ages. It was launched this morning, and 7News was there to find out how it will work. Daniel Ortiz has that report.
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Belize’s Secondary Education Sector took a major step into the present this morning with the launch of the Gwen Lizaragga High School Evening Division 'Open School.'
The open school is a pilot project sponsored by the Commonwealth of Learning, and it is being supported by the University of Belize. It is the first of its kind where students will be able to use the internet to access a large portion of the secondary school curriculum.
The programme will make certain subject areas available online:
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education
"The concept of the Open School is really to tear down the walls, the physical structure of the schools - it's putting everything online and using the technology. So in effect we're hoping that students across the nation or people who are not students who need a good quality education or need that kind of support will be able to access quality available resources on this website and through this initiative."
Dr. Cynthia Thompson - Assistant Provost, UB
"UB embarked on this project to support the opening of an Open School at Gwen Lizaragga High School in fulfillment of its mission to contribute to the development of Belize and in fulfillment of the mission of the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA) of which UB is a member."
So, what is an open school?
Frances Ferreira - Education Specialist, Open Schooling, COL
"It is the physical separation of the learner from the teacher for much of the time, the use of unconventional teaching methodologies in information and communication technologies and the general flexible approach. However, I want to make it clear while it is a flexible approach, it is not necessarily a curriculum that is just loose and there is no assessment. The Gwein Lizaragga School just like the other schools across the Commonwealth follows the curriculum of the conventional school and they will sit the same examination as the conventional school."
So, how is it different from a conventional school?
"The difference come into the approach, the methods that we use to take the education to the adult population, to the youth who cannot because of circumstances attend the full time conventional school. It has the potential of complimenting the conventional school system in using ICT's to scale up education."
The facilitator referred to ICT or Information Communication Technology. Simplified, it means that Evening Division students will be able to use the internet to access materials that their teachers will post online.
"The learners in this initiative will use both print base and online content and will attend face to face sessions as well as online learning sessions. As I have alluded earlier, Open Schools can address the needs of its various constituencies and therefore, the online component will allow adults and out of school youths a program to study in their own time, space and pace."
So, how accurate and true-to-the-curriculum is the information posted online?:
"There is sometimes a concern for the quality of the online content. I was always amazed by this question because I am a teacher by profession and I was a school principal of a conventional school too and I know what is happening in conventional school classrooms but nobody - especially the media really worry about the quality of the classroom because it is assumed it is good quality and everybody would always questions the quality of online and distance education. I can assure you when you have good quality distance education it is indeed good quality. What if the teacher would come in today unprepared and tell the children 'open your books and read' - only content which has been pre-reviewed and improved and approved by the pool of teachers are published for use. To explain this to you - if the Math teacher (at the back) develops content before they can publish it - teachers from other countries, say Barbados or Jamaica - they will review the content that was put online by the Math teacher of this school and if they are happy they will approve it and then only will it be published."
The Ministry of Education has high hopes for the program to grow
Hon. Patrick Faber
"It is true that we're doing it through a physical facility here today but we're hoping that it will blossom to go beyond this initiative here at Gwen Liz today. We're hoping it goes across the country, we're hoping that teachers for instance are able to access the resources and to put on resources and can get ideas from educators across the world."
As noted in the interview, the Open School has been made possible through the joint effort of UB, Gwen Lizarraga Evening Division, the Commonwealth of Learning, and the Frazer Valley Distance Education School in British Colombia, Canada.
According to UB, this pilot project will form the basis for the development of Open Schools country-wide and for the development of the University of Belize Open and Distance Learning Unit.