EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez

Posted By: Marty

EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 10/22/13 10:51 AM

by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

In many of my articles I focus on suggesting urgent changes that should/could be made to Belize’s Education system. I also encourage Education policymakers and educators to stop living in the past, and start adapting teaching methods that are more in line with 21st Century ways of working, learning, and living. However, I realize that being human we tend to be very sensitive, and my repeated promptings, i.e. “we should or should not” and “let us or let us not”, may eventually end up annoying the very people who the promptings are meant to inspire and/or stir to action. Therefore, this week’s article focuses on highlighting positive actions that are/can be taken by many parents and educators in Belize who work everyday with young people. Stressing the positive to our Youth, through our actions, is most effective, and provides them with memorable consequences and lessons that can help them grow and mature. Parents and educators who make concerted efforts everyday to provide positive examples, at home and at school, for young people to follow are Belize’s greatest heroes.

October is recognized as “Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month”. Parents, educators, and students who bravely address this very real and extremely harmful issue, that surfaces almost everyday in homes and schools across the country, strengthen the very foundations of our society. Positive actions against this unwanted, violent, and self-deprecating occurrence that surfaces everyday throughout society, including in politics, can be as simple as recognizing and reporting those who display bullying behavior. On the other hand, standing up to one or more bullies for one’s and/or someone else’s safety and dignity is never easy; we may actually be physically hurt each time we choose to “stand up” and refuse to be a mere bystander to bullying behavior. Reporting or standing up to bullies, nevertheless, helps immensely to create emotionally safe schools and communities. Without physical and emotional safety, learning is almost impossible.

It’s almost impossible to conceive of any one person being born a bully. Bullies, just like difficult students, (not synonymous) can be found in almost every school today, starting with very young students all the way up to adults. However, they are not born that way; as they slowly grow, they learn to mimic the negative, abusive, and violent behaviors around them, starting from in their home environments. Unfortunately, each time we label them, we conveniently place them in unwanted categories, and without realizing it perhaps, enable them to keep digging themselves deeper and deeper into very lonely holes everyday – at home, at school, and throughout the community. Conclusions of many well-documented research studies carried out by educational psychologists show that the more we refuse to be truthful, direct, and positive with bullies and difficult students, especially at school everyday, the more they seem to lose any sense of dignity they may have and desperately want, and the more they keep reaching out in all the wrong ways to try to get our attention. Being positive, therefore, means trying to help both sides: bullies and victims.

Bullying is not just shoving another student in the hallway at school, or physically abusing and hurting another student as a way to get attention. Bullying includes writing nasty notes, gossiping, hiding books from students, and taking their lunches; it goes all the way up to cyber bulling on the internet (now accessible on cell phones and I pads) and outright gang intimidation. Bullying by educators includes aiming unkind and harsh comments to students to humiliate them in front of their peers. It is totally unacceptable that today young students all over the world today are being bullied mercilessly to the point of committing suicide when they can take it no longer. Being positive means choosing to address, not ignore, this behavior! It means not readily stereotyping bullies or victims. It means addressing an actual person and his/her behavior, everyday, not just addressing a label. Most importantly, it means not remaining silent, but being willing to intervene and accept the challenge of working with both bullies and victims to help them (re)gain the dignity they so desperately need and want. It means finding ways to discipline our young people, starting from birth, no matter how challenging that may be, but with dignity.

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 10/28/13 10:54 AM

Education in Belize: Difficult Students (From Challenges to Solutions)
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

In previous articles I reviewed both positive and negative ways to deal with “Difficult Students” who constantly misbehave at school.  Dealing with Difficult Students   Effective Ways to Deal with Difficult Students  Dealing with Loud and Playful Difficult Students  I encouraged teachers to have unbending and effective classroom management, and I suggested positive ways for them to deal with repeated and distractive behavior of students.  However, several parents recently contacted me to complain about several difficult students whose constant power struggles with teachers at a high school in Belize City hamper the learning process of other students. 

While re-reading my previously published articles, I noticed a reader’s comment to suggest that today’s difficult students need “a good paddling” as they used to get in the past.  Once more, I remind readers that we cannot live in the past!  This is 2013 and we need to adapt classroom management methods that are in line with 21st Century ways of living and learning.  Previous civilizations constructed huge temples and pyramids (Maya ruins in Belize) by using slave labor forced out of thousands of its citizens; however, no matter how magnificent those temples and pyramids turned out, we do not build monuments that way today.  Likewise, many teachers used the paddle regularly 50 years ago to “straighten out students”; but teachers do not use paddles today for many reasons.  Many research studies, conducted by well-respected professionals and many books that followed, show long-term negative effects of corporal punishment. 

According to current law, corporal punishment is not allowed in schools in Belize.  In other words, even if paddling was used (or worked) in the past, it is not a viable solution today to stop unwanted student misbehavior.  So, do we simply throw up our hands and let misbehaving students do as they wish at school?  The answer is a loud and resounding NO.  Loud, distracting, and unwanted student behavior at any school is as totally unacceptable today as it was in the past.  It impacts others negatively, and it totally disrupts the learning process of the entire class, including the perpetrator(s).  Not only does it show total disregard and disrespect for teachers and for the other students, but it goes against school rules and regulations.  Rules and regulations, after all, help to keep us civilized as opposed to barbarian!

We educators know that managing student behavior is a complex task, one not as simple as “follow steps 1, 2, 3”.  Actually, the lack of simple formulas for enforcing effective classroom management explains why many difficult students often surface (even thrive) in schools.  Some educators today ignore the misbehavior of difficult students because they don’t know an easy way to end it.  Demerits, detentions, and suspensions are temporary interventions to temporarily slow or halt misbehavior; however, they don’t address the root causes of why students break rules, or chronically and aggressively misbehave.  Other than ultimate expulsion, there is no guaranteed solution to permanently end student misbehavior.  Nonetheless, we should always make every effort to halt student misbehavior at school as soon as it starts.  Immediate and/or temporary interventions work for a while, but they are not enough.  As educators, parents, and as a community we also need to address “head on” the actual roots that create difficult students.  After all, no one is born a difficult student, but rather is created out of, shaped by, and continuously nurtured by his/her home and surrounding environment. 

Many schools claim to have outright “Zero Tolerance” for any type of misbehavior from a student.  However, life is not black and white.  For this very reason, teachers and administrators (who are the ones who usually know students best) should be allowed flexibility to deal with difficult students.  Who better to work effectively with them?  Many graduates (and their parents) of the last school where I worked have high praise for their former principal.  He was quite creative in doling out punishments for difficult students; however, his hands were not tied as to how he could deal with them. His many forms of creative discipline “worked” because he was free to discipline students in many ways, and still be able to respect their dignity. 

So, yes, let us immediately address any unwanted behavior in students, and nip it in the bud; but let’s not stop there!  By looking deeper we’ll realize that loud and misbehaving students are screaming out for attention, and from a total lack of dignity – they have none or have never been shown any.  These are students who, deep inside, believe themselves to be inferior, inadequate, and unworthy. They’ll hide and mask these confusing and unhealthy feelings from themselves by trying to always “be in control” -- hence their constant, loud and destructive behavior at school.  (Are there any difficult students who are high achievers?)

I suggest that we firmly discipline difficult students by enforcing strategic and effective interventions, not packaged methods, to show them that each action, good or bad, bears a consequence.  Let’s show them how to rise above their negative behavior at school by acknowledging, not condoning, their individual needs and out-of-school triggers of constant misbehavior.  Yes, firmly discipline them; but also model for them how to deal with conflict -- they don’t know how.  Modeling, however, will not be successful if it’s full of implied threats, is militaristic or mindlessly robotic.  Chronically misbehaving students usually live fully rooted in confusion and want to know that someone cares about them in life.  (More intense or aggressive behavior may indicate a desperate need to know!)  We show care by teaching them how to develop responsibility, i.e. for actions and consequences.  (Does paddling do that?) 

“In School Suspension” provides several forms of effective and much-needed discipline for difficult students; it also affords the dignity that these students crave and desperately need.  San Pedro High Introduces New Suspension Program  In Belize, rehabilitative discipline is widely misunderstood.  Most administrators, teachers, parents and students protest that not enough punishment is involved.  So, by not intervening and helping difficult students while we can, do we “cut off our nose to spite our face”?  Countless research studies in developed nations show that rehabilitation (for criminals or students) benefits society in the long run, whereas punishment alone does not.  Does hard labor punishment, repeated detentions, or ultimate expulsions help difficult students rise above their misbehavior?  Harsh punishments may appease administrators, the community, or school by giving them a feeling that justice and restitution is served.  However, after difficult students serve out punishments, no matter how harsh, or are ultimately expelled, they’ll go right back to being their old selves – or perhaps worse.  If no one cares (enough to rehabilitate them) why should they care?  Unfortunately, society pays the ultimate price.

Already, I see the many comments, “Ah, the good old days when I went to school!  We knew what to do then; we did not have all the problems that schools have today.”  Effective and strategic interventions, not memories, will help difficult students -- and ultimately society.  Already, I can hear that all-too-familiar question posed to me so many times by educators in Belize, “Whose side are you on?”  Learning neither chooses sides nor good guys over bad guys. We may have the most qualified teachers in the world, but if no learning takes place in their classes, we have no Education.  Wherever difficult students seem to be winning their power struggles with teachers, it’s time once more for us to Wake up and smell the coffee.
Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 11/11/13 10:36 AM

Strengthening the Balance, Part II (Leaders)
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

Last year November, I wrote an article to remind students and teachers alike of the importance of always maintaining and Strengthening the Balance between each other in the classroom and while at school. Teachers and students will work productively and smoothly when they treat Education in the classroom as a two-way, not one-way, process. In other words, despite what many people (especially parents who had limited schooling) may have believed in the past, or may still do, students are not sponges who merely go to school to soak up knowledge from a teacher in the classroom; neither are they clay for teachers to mold. Instead of absorbing an Education, like a sponge, a student learns under a teacher’s guidance and instruction when the student participates in the two-way process, and makes the effort to contribute his/her portion of a 50/50 endeavor.

A teacher’s 50% of the two-way process (Education) includes providing students with academic expertise and guidance in the subject(s) that he/she teaches, and motivation to encourage each student in the class to want to learn about the subject introduced to the class. However, in order for learning to firmly take root, each student must provide the other all-important 50%, and act on the motivation that the teacher provides and on his/her own intrinsic motivation. Each student’s all-important 50% of the two-way process includes, paying attention and participating in class, reviewing and studying the material presented in class, and completing assignments and class projects.

In addition to the academic expertise that a teacher presents in the classroom, and the oral and written academic work that each student completes, inside or outside the classroom, it is crucial that both student and teacher maintain a mutual respect for each other at all times. Should that fine balance of mutual respect become lopsided and off balance, chaos in the classroom will ensue. Words like discipline, obedience, power, desperation, mistrust, and fear will take on new meanings, and even become confusingly synonymous to teacher and student. Power struggles between teacher and student slowly creep into the class and replace teaching and learning.

A student who loses respect for a teacher will easily become frustrated and fall into an unending struggle of trying to win power struggles. In turn, a frustrated teacher can be pulled into the same struggle. Student: You can’t make me do anything! Teacher: I’ll show you who’s in charge here! Consequently, when neither a student’s or teacher's energy is focused on Education the learning process (for everyone in the class) turns bumpy or comes to a halt. Who is to blame? Who is not providing his/her 50% responsibility? Who is not respecting whom? Whenever a student loses respect for a teacher, or vice versa, the scale tips. It’s crucial, therefore, that both sides (student and teacher) of the two-way learning process work everyday to keep and strengthen that fine but necessary balance of respect for each other.

I firmly believe, and will always stress, that students should look to teachers as leaders, and always respect and follow them as leaders. Leaders, on the other hand, know when and how to take action and intervene; they know how to implement consequences. A teacher is a leader in the classroom, and carefully studies and plans each move, and does not count on making lucky moves. In addition, as a leader who wants to solidify and strengthen his/her following (classroom) of students, a teacher strives to build and develop trusting relationships with students, presents well-prepared lessons, and provides stimulating motivation to students. Having been a high school teacher since 1978, experience has shown me that what helps to maintain that delicate scale firmly balanced, not easily tipped, is taking/making the time to “listen” to students, especially those who seem lost and most in need of a leader.

A teacher who is a strong leader will constantly challenge students to “work hard” and put forth their very best efforts, and not be satisfied with mediocre, careless, or below-average work. A strong leader/teacher provides an excellent role model for a student’s moral and academic development. On the other hand, a teacher whose focus is on power and authority rather than learning will often threaten, not challenge, students with lots of home/school work. (It’s no secret that parents sometimes help with very heavy loads of homework that students have.) But, do strong and effective leaders need to flaunt their power? I feel that it’s a matter of attitude. No strong leader/teacher should accept repeated excuses for poor work (or lack of) from a student; however, “no excuse” should not also close the door to seeking out solutions to help a student improve his/her participation and 50%. A teacher who threatens, more than challenges, students will quickly lose their respect, and vice versa. This, in turn, could create a class full of difficult, unmotivated, and under-performing students. Both student and teacher, therefore, must provide his/her complete 50% effort in order to prevent that scale and delicate balance of mutual respect from tipping.

Finally, and without any doubt, a student who does not provide his/her 50% of the two-way process (requirements and responsibilities in the classroom) loses the most: the ability to learn, and the ability to reach his/her potential. This student also causes the entire class to lose because constant power struggles between student and teacher can crush any incentives a teacher may have to put forth his/her best efforts to lead students in the classroom everyday. With no incentive, only a salary, a teacher may be inclined to put forth mediocre efforts to teach everyday. This leads to tension and mistrust between teacher and student, and destroys the delicate balance and appreciative relationship that keep teaching and learning smooth and successful for students and teachers. By accepting and respecting a teacher, everyday, a student strengthens the delicate balance. Students usually respect well-prepared, calm and consistent teachers over power-driven teachers who are hyper and tension-filled all the time. In turn, teachers respect students who are well-behaved and usually prepared for class, and who make an effort to participate in class and take cues from the teacher – not those who are the opposite.

Author’s Note:

These articles 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. If we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, then we can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, fellow educators!

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 12/14/13 09:48 AM

Taking the Risk
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

As we approach the end of 2013, I publicly ask the Education policymakers (government and church), principals, school administrators, teachers, and parents in Belize:
1.      Are we satisfied with our Educational Systems in Belize today?
2.      Have we improved any Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary school in Belize this year?
3.      What have we learned this year that could help us to improve our schools in Belize, so that we can more adequately educate and prepare students for life in Belize in 2020?

It is widely accepted now, especially by our country’s 21st Century youth, that Belize is not one of the quaint “ends of the world”, as it was previously described by Aldous Huxley and once considered to be by the rest of the world. On the contrary, Belize (not British Honduras) has today boldly taken its place as its own Independent and Sovereign nation in a new century and global age of instant communication. Our children and grandchildren have been born into, and live in, a modern Age of Technology, and so they also see themselves as being on the same stage as everyone else around the world today. Consequently, now more than ever, young Belizeans need our help and guidance to help them adequately prepare to face the challenges of a rapidly changing and advancing world of technology and global economics. 

As we close out this year and approach a New Year, I remind all those powerful Belizeans who seem hell-bent on living in the past, and anyone who stubbornly refuse to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Gone are the Colonial days of yore, of rote learning and memorizing to pass imported tests, of having to wait for outsiders to recognize and reward our young and intelligent citizens. Today, Belize boasts its very own institutions of higher learning; and young Belizeans no longer have to travel outside of Belize to seek and obtain professional academic preparation. Moreover, many forms of higher education are available online through the internet. 

Today, not everyone who leaves school only looks for employment. We live in an era where we encourage entrepreneurship, in an era where we can be on the same level as everyone else in the world, in an era of literally having the entire world at our fingertips through the use of computers and the internet. Fairly soon (already) we won’t use or need paper anymore, whether at school or in the commercial workplace. Many teachers in secondary and tertiary schools in Belize now request that students complete homework on the computer and email it to them.  Some popular local newspapers are no longer printed and sold “on paper” anymore, but instead are accessed on a screen at the touch of a button, including newspapers sold on paper. These newspapers are accessible by anyone from anywhere in the world.  (Our magnificent trees thank you!)

Who, in Belize’s education systems, predicted that all this would happen? Who can predict what will follow in the next ten or twenty years? What skills will our Belizean youth need for success in the new global labor market and economy? Can or do PSE proficiency exam results today for primary school students in Belize predict their life outcomes? Can or do CXC (or whatever name is used today for Caribbean O and A level examinations which mimic original British GCE similar examinations) outcomes predict a high school graduate’s success or failure in the next five years? Are our primary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Belize offering curricula to students today that invest in their future, and in the future of a strong and self-sustaining Belize? Are we bothering to even try to integrate the various learning styles and multiple intelligences of our young Belizean students today? There are so many questions to ask about Belize’s failing educations systems today; however, no answers whatsoever have been provided to questions previously asked. 

Why is no one in Belize bothering to ask and seek responses to the very pertinent and imminent questions about how our schools in Belize are run?  Does no one have a vision for where we would like Belize to be in the future?  Does no one care what kind of schools our children and grandchildren attend today?  Despite many (expensive) professional development workshops advertised and conducted for teachers and educators in Belize each year, do any good ideas that are introduced through them ever get put into practice?   Or, do those ideas simply remain ignored because they conflict with existing procedures already established by political and church Education policymakers in Belize? 

This week’s article and Blog asks many questions but answers none.  The reason for this is because education policymakers (government and church), principals, school administrators, teachers, and parents in Belize are the ones who have the power to improve our school systems.  They, and only they, (no one from outside the country) can make a difference and “put into practice” educational reform to improve our schools in Belize.

I clearly and vividly remember the early morning program, “Wake up and Work!” broadcast loudly over the only radio station in the country, each workday of the week during the mid to late nineteen sixties (1965 – 1969).  Marching bands trumpeted their music over our only radio station starting at 6:00 a.m. each morning for about a half hour.  Before and after each marching song, the announcer and broadcaster would exhort and incite Belizean workers to wake up and work everyday!  Whether the program was political or not, it succeeded in “waking” people up!  Likewise, now I loudly urge all Belizeans, especially those mentioned in the opening sentence of this article, to wake up and do something to improve our education systems to prepare our youth to lead Belize in the next decade!

Finally, I remind everyone that no top revenue-producing industry is guaranteed to last forever.  Tourism may be great and expansive one year, yet stagnant the next.  Sugar, citrus, oil or oil products, may be in great demand one year, yet once replacements or substitutes are found or created for them, they will be quickly forgotten.  Lumber (products) may be needed and in great demand one year, yet its use outlawed the next.  What I’m saying is that we can never rest on our laurels and assume that if we have it good today in one area today, it will always be that way.  This, most of all, applies to political parties (democratically elected or not) who may be placed in as well as taken out of power by the very same people.  Consequently, I urge all Belizean adults to “take the risk” and invest physically, financially, and emotionally today in providing our youth with a worthwhile and valuable education for which tomorrow they will thank you. 

Author’s Note:
These articles 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. If we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, then we can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, fellow educators!

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 12/28/13 10:24 AM

End of Year Notes
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

As we approach the end of 2013 I would like to thank readers of and my Guidance Counselor column for their loyalty and participation/comments, or sharing my articles.  I am thrilled to note that, this year, readers from Belize as well as 32 other countries in six continents read my blog and Guidance Counselor articles; many readers, including Belizeans, expressed their concerns (via blog, email, and various media outlets) regarding Education in Belize as well as in other countries.  Despite the fact that the Belize Education System classifies me as a “retired” educator, I still look forward to tackling and discussing many more challenging topics on Education, including some that many powerful people would prefer not to discuss publicly.

This year, I grew another year older and wiser as a parent and “retired” educator; however, I remain very concerned about the direction(s) in which youth throughout the world today seem headed.  Interestingly enough, my parents before me and their parents before them probably thought likewise.  However, this year and several times since 1999 (Columbine) in the USA there have been violent mass shootings and suicidal massacres in Elementary and Secondary schools by students of all ages.  Moreover, each year now, in an effort to create bully-free schools throughout the world, the entire month of October is devoted to trying to counter and diminish bullying in schools, and foster a greater awareness of this violent and hostile problem. Considering these psychologically and physically damaging and all too familiar occurrences in schools today, as we end this year I directly pose more pressing questions to all readers, especially parents and educators throughout the world,

  1. Do young people today know what it is (or how) to empathize with others?
  2. Have we taught our young people, past or present, the great value of experiencing empathy?
  3. Is it really their fault if they (youth) choose to stay on a very indifferent or self-centered road, as so many of them now seem fully entrenched on?
  4. Unlike robots, can students “learn” values without experiencing empathy?
  5. In this highly-advanced and rapidly-advancing Technological Age, are we adequately preparing our youth to live in a world of tomorrow, where many of us adults today will not exist?

A “no” answer to any one of the above questions signifies that already our young people are in big trouble, and are fully headed for even worse!

Many hostile and dehumanizing criminal events often disrupt daily life in Belize today.  They not only keep increasing an already high level of poverty and crime in our society, but very negatively affect our once world-renown peaceful way of living.  Worse even, they are causing our youth to feel less and less human, and become more and more violent and indifferent toward each other.  Yet, political leaders, Education policymakers, and the overall public in Belize seem to stubbornly and adamantly prefer to think that the problems caused by and/or among our youth today will probably or eventually “blow over like a lee sea breeze”.  Well, no matter how often that very convenient Belizean phrase may be used by those who are “in charge”, current problems, especially in schools, will not just blow over.

Today, many people in our global society feel no empathy (not sympathy) whatsoever for others.  As a result, the rich keep getting richer and the poor even poorer, and this vast polarization keeps getting wider.  The new Pope, leader of the Catholic Church, considers this concern a top priority and constantly reminds everyone of the urgent need to address this situation.  Unfortunately, many rich and/or poor parents today do not have the time to teach or show (by example) our children how to cope with conflicts — internal or external. It also seems that both the busy professional/career parents and the extremely poor ones who are always away from the home now expect schools alone to teach values, including empathy!  But, should schools bear that responsibility?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines em-pa-thy as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feeling”.  The full definition provided includes, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.  In simpler terms, we empathize with others when we try to identify with them and make an effort to understand their circumstances and behavior(s), especially if they are different from ours.  Teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, social workers, politicians, and all those who work directly with the public (all ages) must make an effort to have/experience empathy for the people with whom they deal everyday.  Those who administer Human Resources in corporations, unions, or any institution are required to be professionally trained and qualified to empathize with employers and employees.  English teachers explain to students who must study great works of literature (plays, novels, short stories, poems, etc.) that the way to appreciate them is by trying to empathize or live through the characters that each author portrays, whether they be rich or poor, good or evil.  The opposite of empathy is indifference, or “I could care less about you”.

Before our modern and global Age of Technology, “parenting seminars” or “motivational speakers and coaches” were rare, yet today they are needed more and more.  Society used to hold Elementary schools responsible only for teaching students the 3 R’s or basic Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the only responsibility of schools today.  More and more, social and emotional learning, SEL curricula, are being introduced in schools in developed countries like the USA.  Just as we learned to use (and copy, i.e. CXC) the British system of Ordinary and Advanced (O and A) Level examinations, I am sure that we could learn to work more positively and productively with young students in Belize today by studying how schools in other countries implement SEL curricula.  One such school in the USA (Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility) stresses the 4 R’s with students:  Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution.  Without a doubt, these type schools advertise new job descriptions and preparation/qualification requirements for teachers.  In the peaceful and compassionate spirit of Christmas, I encourage policymakers of our Belize Education System to adapt similar SEL curricula to help provide young students with much-needed coping, communication, and resilience skills that so many of them just are not getting at home anymore.  In another article I will provide detailed examples of SEL curricula.

Once more, thank you readers for your loyalty this year and for your participation and comments, going back to when I first loudly urged everyone in Belize to, Wake Up And Smell the Coffee.

On the article that received the highest readership and got the most comments this year was, Belize: A Nation at Risk

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 fining the best path to follow, fellow educators!

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 01/21/14 10:51 AM

Who’s the Enemy?
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly

As we start a new year in this rapidly-advancing Age of Technology, the Belize National Teachers’ Union is once more trying to “raise awareness on key national issues”, and is “seeking justice for the work that teachers do”. Thinking along those same lines, to raise awareness and seek justice, I wonder what classrooms in Belize today would look like if the powerful school policymakers from the Ministry of Education and Education Department were brave enough to switch places with teachers and school administrators for a day. Likewise, some teachers could also switch places with students for just one day. Switching places in the classrooms between Education policymakers and teachers, if only for one day, would provide an eye-opening opportunity for policymakers to understand what really happens in classrooms everyday vs. what they think or expect happens in classrooms everyday. Likewise, it might be quite eye-opening for our very hard-working teachers to also experience first-hand what many students deal with everyday in the classrooms in 2014. After all, students throughout Belize today also need to know who “gat yu back” (“has you covered”).

I strongly believe that a one day switch between Education policymakers and teachers could serve to encourage the “powers that be” to want to look for more productive ways to help teachers challenge students today to learn. After all, a fair salary for teachers is but one of many other valid reasons for the current BNTU impasse at the negotiating table with the government’s Ministry of Education. The “teacher for a day” experience might also open stubbornly and tightly-closed eyes to appreciate just how difficult it is today for teachers to motivate and enable students (all levels) to effectively learn. This experience could also show MOE policymakers why many Primary and Secondary students in Belize’s classrooms today do not or cannot learn/master so many parts of a curriculum that is totally non-Belizean, and offers no value to them. Perhaps, after a one day MOE switch with teachers, BNTU officials may never again have to ask the Minister of Education, “…weh happen to you, weh happen to you”.

Before making the one day switch, however, I would encourage policymakers and administrators as well as teachers to review Strengthening the Balance, Part II (Leaders) to review key goals that both students and teachers should concentrate on each day while in school in order to keep fully focused on Education and learning. 2013 End of Year Notes could also remind educators and policymakers of the importance of our always trying to empathize and be sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, though, they must always keep in mind that Education and learning is not only what transpires everyday between a student and teacher. It takes a village!

The Enemy “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly

For the record, trading places between some educators and students has been done before in other schools, though probably not in Belize. However, the results of trading places for a day in schools throughout Belize would be rather interesting, I am sure. It should, though, be done for one main purpose only that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics: to encourage policymakers and educators to want to understand and fulfill the needs of students today. In this new age, feeling empathy for students is but the first step in a long and difficult journey that our Belizean educators and policymakers must stop putting off and putting off! That “lee sea breeze” of teachers’ industrial actions and discontent will not just gradually blow away. Actually, by continuously ignoring our young people’s needs, year after year, election after election, we have created our own enemy – one that has become far more dangerous and destructive to our people than any hurricane that has ever reached Belizean shores.

So, what happens after we attempt to walk in students’ and teachers’ shoes for a day? A benefit might be that students who switch places for a day with educators would get a true perspective on just how difficult and challenging a teaching career really is. In turn, teachers might get a much better understanding on just how difficult it can be nowadays for students to stay focused in the classroom. What might school policymakers and powerful politicians learn as they try to walk in teachers’ shoes for a day? (Note: Teachers from 25 years ago do not automatically know what a teacher today must deal with in the classroom.) Most importantly, politicians and policymakers would see that teaching is not just a job but a vocation! Teachers are paid to work in schools during a school year; nonetheless, most teachers never stop working, even after they leave school after a full day of teaching. Inside and outside of school, they keep striving to find better ways to involve and motivate their students – help them to learn. Many teachers spend their own hard-earned money from meager salaries to buy class materials to enhance their classrooms. Moreover, if students keep failing (are not learning) teachers will struggle, inside and outside of school, to find out why, so that they might try to “fix the problem”. How many teachers in Belize are provided with continuing education on how to effectively teach?

I know from lifelong experience that teachers work late into the night correcting students’ papers and preparing detailed lesson plans to help students learn. I wonder if highly-paid school policymakers, i.e. Ministry of Education, work day and night to prepare and/or improve Education Systems that enhance classroom learning. Do/would they spend their own money to meet teachers’ and students’ ever-changing and mounting needs in Belize today? Just how much responsibility must we each assume/take on to ensure that our young people learn today so they may lead us tomorrow when we need them?

Now, in this growing conflict of “ignoring students’ needs” where do parents fit? What blame, if any, do they share? Are they also a part of the enemy confronting students today? Too many times parents are quick to accuse and/or blame teachers and schools for students’ failures. It’s much easier for a busy parent to point fingers of blame at teachers, whenever the son or daughter is having difficulties (academics and/or behavior) at school, than it is for the parent to make every effort to find the cause(s) of the child’s problems at school. As an experienced guidance counselor and teacher, as well as parent, I feel strongly that too many parents in Belize (and throughout the world today) have no idea what growing problems are preventing students from learning everyday.

Education is successful and productive only when all sides, not just student and teacher, participate in the process of learning. All sides include Education policymakers, parents, and an entire community; and each side needs to participate and contribute its share to the learning process. Productive schools are not those that merely graduate thousands of students who can pass multiple local and foreign examinations. Productive schools successfully motivate students to always want to keep learning, so they can be productive for themselves, for their country, and for the world. This is a basic fact of why and how we learn that too many people, rich and poor, refuse to accept. Unfortunately, too many Belizeans prefer to accept a simpler definition of Education: being able to pass many examinations.

Who, then, would be willing to try the above-suggested classroom switch scenario? I am sure that the one day switch would result in chaos. However, with or without such a switch, school policymakers, parents, and entire communities throughout Belize must stop assuming they know what goes on in schools, or what “should” go on in schools. That assumption is but mistake No. 1 in a long line of misconceptions that contribute to an unproductive Education System in Belize that does not serve the nation (jewel) as it should!

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 02/02/14 10:00 AM

Next Steps?
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

We have tried to identify Who’s the Enemy in our Education Systems in Belize and open our eyes to why so many of us live desensitized to daily life in this new global and digital age. Now, it’s time to move on to the next stage. Are we ready and willing? Mega-sized problems that continue to plague our nation everyday lie not only in areas of Education but in other key areas that prevent us from improving our standards of living. Quality health care is not available or affordable to everyone throughout Belize’s cities, towns, and rural areas. Employment for professionals is not available on a competitive basis, but rather only to the few who (whose families) are lucky enough to have the right “political connections”. The fact remains, though, that even if our Education systems do not meet all the challenges that confront an Independent nation, teachers in Belize remain grossly underpaid, undervalued, and unappreciated by too many. I extend kudos to BNTU and to all educators who are bravely fighting (the government) and trying to improve this unjustifiable and unfair condition.

Most students and educators in Belize know well that since our Independence in 1981 the country’s Education Systems are due for a total revamping and upgrade. Outdated and ineffective Colonial Systems of Education that we (Government and Church) insist on maintaining and following no longer meet all our nation’s pressing needs in this global and digital Age. If indeed they do meet all our nation’s needs, then where is the growing network of successful vocational, technical, and scientific professionals “educated in Belize”? Where are the dozens of successful “educated in Belize” entrepreneurs who continue to receive every incentive possible from the government to build and boost the nation’s economy, year after year? Why don’t we have enough tax revenues from successful industries pouring into government coffers to be able to provide free education up through university level to all our Youth? Where is that thriving network of “home-educated and prepared” business professionals in the financial field who are steering Belize toward becoming an exemplary “success story” in the Caribbean? Where are the professionals, “educated in Belize”, who maintain a thriving Industrial Base in this jewel of ours? Where are the local graduates of Technical and Vocational Schools throughout Belize who everyday build, fortify, and enhance our growing cities and communities in all six Districts, from North to South and East to West? As an Independent nation we ourselves, not only immigrants and foreigners, must be able to build, support, and invest in our communities — business wise and in every other way. An abundance of legal professionals trained and educated abroad and working in our midst is not enough to steer us into prosperity.

Teachers could work much more effectively in classrooms everyday (Primary or Secondary) if they did not feel that they had to coerce students to memorize Math and Science sections of a government-mandated or Commonwealth-copied curriculum, just long enough so the students might pass government-required examinations. Moreover, students may be able to memorize lessons just long enough so they can pass exams, but many of them do not understand or “learn”. Worst of all, even though we can now boast of having our very own institutions of higher learning, universities in Belize, hundreds of their graduates each year cannot enter (find work) into the country’s workforce of professionals. So, where can/do they each go after graduation? University Degrees are not awarded only to be framed! Our young people work very hard and incur many debts to be able to obtain a quality/higher education — they want and need to work and use that education “in Belize”.

Beyond the profound issue of Learned Helplessness being perpetuated by non-changing Colonial and Commonwealth-copied Systems of Education in Belize, no one wants to live within the confines of a sluggish economy, a staggeringly expensive health care system, and growing unemployment. We want and need Education Systems that can deliver and produce graduates who are eager, ready, and qualified to take over the reins of the country. On the other hand, those who have controlled those reins (or still do) also need to hand them over to qualified and home-educated Belizeans! Those of us, especially the policymakers in government, who have grown used to accepting hand-outs, must also realize that no one will hand us on a platter: neatly typed, fully explained, and ready-to-use Education systems to match many of the needs of Independent Belize today. We must first want such systems and then work hard together to create them! We parents, educators, the government and Church policymakers have to break free from that Colonial mindset of learned helplessness that perpetuates the belief that only “Massah’, or someone from abroad, has all the answers. Let’s not continue to live hopelessly out-of-touch and blinded to the truth that we are now “on our own” — simply because it’s convenient to remain idle! No country ever achieves success by copying and pasting another country’s (someone else’s) version of success, whether in Politics, Economics, or in Education. So, yes, it’s time to let go of any old Colonial ways that no longer serve us; but let’s not then hopelessly and pitifully wait for someone else to move us on. Only we can move ourselves forward!

While I worked as a teacher and Vocational Guidance Counselor in both American and Belizean high schools, at the beginning of each school year I encouraged each student to set SMART goals for himself/herself: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound. No one simply hands out success to a student; rather, he/she must first set himself/herself on a path to success and then work steadily to achieve each goal set — no giving up no matter how rough the school year may get. Likewise, no one will simply deliver productive Systems of Education to Belize’s policymakers, administrators, and educators. First, we must want systems that are fully functional and able to produce the educated and professional citizens we need to support and develop the nation. Second, we proceed to create working systems by gathering input from everyone, including parents and educators, not only from the government, church, or professionals in the field of Education. Third, we put the systems in effect, work with our students and continue to learn and grow with them, and finally we amend them as often as we may need. Let us, today not tomorrow, take the next steps to strengthen our obsolete and cut-in-stone Systems of Education so they can serve us much more effectively and productively.

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by Gustavo Ramirez - 02/19/14 09:55 AM

Quality Schools
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

“Workers will not work hard unless they believe there is quality in what they are asked to do.”
William Glasser, M.D.

During the last few weeks, the entire country of Belize witnessed with great concern the plight of hundreds/thousands of educators and teachers whose pressing yet ignored working and workplace concerns had finally reached a boiling point. These professionals work very hard and tirelessly everyday to provide an education to our young people; yet they remain unappreciated by many, especially by those who control their very salaries, workplaces, and living conditions. BNTU (Belize National Teachers Union) and its members and backers staged many public rallies and demonstrations countrywide to showcase teachers’ concerns to the government and to the country. Extremely unfair and low teacher wages was the overwhelming concern, but very large class sizes, and insufficient continuing professional education for teachers were among other continuously ignored concerns that were not financial. After several BNTU public rallies, and meetings between union and government officials, the Prime Minister and Minister of Education finally ceded. In a press conference, the Prime Minister (was forced to?) addressed the dismal plight of educators and education in the country. Resolution: a promise of a mere 4% raise in teachers’ salaries in the future. However, did teachers win their fight? Did their recent rallies and demonstrations help to resolve their pressing concerns?

As I stated in a previous article, in order to keep learning we must constantly and consistently keep feeding our genuine love and enthusiasm for Education and for learning. Enthusiasm!How long can/will it last? This is not something that we should merely do once every few years, perhaps through rallies and demonstrations, nor is it something that we can expect others to do for us. The alternative to actively and constantly improving our Education Systems, including their management and staff, is to do nothing and end up with failing schools that produce graduates who do not or cannot contribute to society. This is definitely NOT the alternative that the developing and not-so-recently Independent nation of Belize wants or deserves today.

Recently, I noticed genuine concerns being aired on social media sites regarding the rapidly sinking (totally dismal) status of some high schools in Belize. It was noted that in each school no form of discipline is present or used/administered daily. Worse even, developing one’s “god given talents” is not a part of any of these schools’ goals, only repetitive and blind academic pursuit each year. According to the concern posted on Facebook, each of these sinking schools has fallen into “chiastic structure”, miriness, and even life-threatening chaos. In (ancient) Literature “chiastic structure” refers to the literary use of repetitive patterns or motifs to write/present the work, poem or book. (Wikipedia) Likewise, schools literally fall apart when they are run with a total lack of vision and goals, and with no structured administration and/or classroom management. The repetitive pattern in each sinking school can be seen in their dismal existence, repeated day in and day out, with NO goals or vision and no structure whatsoever, i.e. anything is acceptable as long as some form of (blind) academic achievement is haphazardly pursued. This is my interpretation of “chiastic structure” in several high schools and middle schools in Belize City.

Education in Belize: Next Steps points out definitively that the outdated and ineffective Colonial Systems of Education that the Government and Church in Belize insist on maintaining and following today, just as they did long before Independence in 1981, do not meet the nation’s pressing needs in today’s global and digital Age. Interestingly, before our country achieved Independence, we used to have very productive vocational, agricultural, and technical schools in Belize that did not stress mere academic pursuit, but intensely pursued the development of one’s “God given talents”. Today, these schools no longer exist. Key phrases: “used to … no longer”. Why? Who, from his mighty and regal throne, decided he could change the vision, goals, and objectives of these schools, or others? Those vocational and technical schools that existed before Independence served Belize well; but now they no longer exist! It’s time to immediately address this pressing need to provide non-academic/non-literary training, and fill this gaping hole in our nation’s far-from-developed existence.

I wonder if our leaders, in this global and digital age, realize how very important it is that we always have qualified “hands on” workers or laborers. Of course, now that we have universities in Belize many young adults today want to pursue a university education. That ambition is admirable. However, we will always need farmers, carpenters, plumbers, architects, electricians, maintenance engineers, automobile technicians and many other professionals who are not afraid to “get their hands dirty” while working. Having worked for many years as a Vocational Guidance Counselor, I know that not every young student aspires to work in an office or with a computer, or anywhere that requires “dress appropriately and professionally” everyday. Nevertheless, we should encourage and respect each student’s choice(s) and also feed their enthusiasm for learning – even for non-academic or literary pursuits. In so doing, we can ensure that our cities and towns will not come to a total standstill due to a lack of much-needed “hands on” workers.

Let’s not rely on outsiders and foreigners to accomplish the work necessary to build, enhance, and productively maintain/supply Belizean towns, villages, and cities from North to South, and East to West. Let us train and produce: farmers to grow our crops; construction professionals, including carpenters, to build our homes/house and office buildings; skilled technicians to ensure that all vehicles and all things motorized or electric always work; maintenance/sanitation engineers to ensure that we always live clean; workers to repair our roads and streets. Even for much-needed entertainment, let us keep opening paths for and producing creative artists from among us to entertain us all. Or, do the current learned Education policymakers (government and church) comfortably assume that “outsiders” will do such work, thus Belizean students only need aspire to get umpteen academic passes in CXC and the other foreign made-and-corrected examinations? If we want to provide quality education to our Youth, those in control of Belize’s Education systems need to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 03/12/14 10:37 AM

Effective Discipline
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”

What constitutes effective discipline? Why should we raise our children subject to some form of discipline? How do we properly enforce discipline everyday in our homes and schools? If we do not continuously discipline young people how will they comprehend that there are always consequences to any bad choices they make? We cannot address these questions comprehensively in just one article; however, we can discuss what discipline is about vs. what it is not. Most parents and teachers think of discipline as the system of (self) control that we use to bring out the best behavior in children and in ourselves. Schools focus on discipline mostly as a system to prevent and/or cope with students’ behavior problems. However, no matter which definition we use, I feel strongly that we should not consider discipline to be merely a system of punishment for adults or children, or have punishment be its major purpose.

Unlike half a century ago, and before Belize became an Independent country in 1981, today we are an increasingly multicultural and multiclass society with ever-growing and changing needs. The largest and most notable change throughout our jewel today is that now we are very much part of a digital and global society in a fast-advancing Age of Technology. Consequently, to the dismay of many (older) adults and schools, and very unlike the past, there can no longer be a simple approach to raising children and providing them with effective discipline at home and in school. Nonetheless, despite whichever age we live in, if we want to raise and teach our children effectively and responsibly, we cannot ignore their unwanted or unacceptable behaviors. From the time our children start to creep we should start administering some form of discipline to them in order to introduce and keep structure and order in their lives. Adults who provide no form whatsoever of discipline to children only increase and multiply the chaos and frustration that already exist in every home and classroom throughout society.

As young Belizeans struggle to develop from infants into mature adults, one of their very important daily needs is for adults (society) to guide and monitor their healthy physical and emotional growth. We can effectively nourish their emotional growth by providing and exposing them, from a very early age, to some form of structure in their lives, and by spending quality time with them. We provide discipline and structure simply by setting clear limits and expectations for them, not by continuously overindulging them with food and material things, or giving them every new technical invention/gadget sold for entertainment. On the other hand, if we ignore our children’s daily behavior, whether good or bad, or constantly overindulge them as if to make up for ignoring them or not spending quality time with them, we add to and multiply the existing chaos in which we live today. A harmful extreme that some adults choose is assuming that they have the right/duty to punish and humiliate children/students in the name of discipline. Adults who do this, not only stunt children’s emotional growth, but also risk losing control of themselves. Humiliated children, and the adults who administer harsh punishments/humiliation, will end up feeling helpless and frustrated.

Parents and teachers/educators share one very important thing in common, even though many times they are each others’ worse critics: they discipline and guide children/students toward healthy emotional growth. On one side, some adults (many from the older generation) insist that only the “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy or corporal punishment works when it comes to disciplining and correctly raising children. However, when put into practice whether at home or in schools this form of discipline can at times become extreme, repressive, cruel, and abusive or violent. On the other side, some of today’s more academically educated adults, especially new parents, prefer a more psychology-backed “timeout and share feelings” version of how to discipline young people. In between both widely-differing extremes there are hundreds of other alternatives and guides offered to parents and teachers on “the right way to discipline young people”. Is there, though, a right or wrong way to discipline our children and set a foundation for their healthy emotional growth in this rapidly-changing global and digital world?

There are countless resources available today on “discipline”: hundreds of books have been and continue to be written on discipline based on various (scientific) studies of young peoples’ behaviors; dozens of interactive “how to” websites exist to promote forms of discipline that work at home and in school vs. those that do not; hundreds of seminars and workshops of all lengths and prices are offered by professional speakers to parents and educators on the subject of effective discipline and how to use it with/on our children. With so many differing options and opinions available, how do parents and educators/teachers reach a consensus on what discipline really is about, or how best to enforce it to raise better-behaved children?

No matter which resource we (parent or teacher) choose, let’s make every effort to set a strong foundation of good behavior in our children and in our families. How? Let’s try to teach them (our) values, and show them from an early age how to positively express their feelings instead of whining or throwing tantrums. Very importantly, let’s make every effort to ensure that our children always feel safe, physically and emotionally, both at home and in school. There may be times when we are unable to eliminate their bothersome behaviors. However, the solution is not to keep changing methods of disciplining children/students or keep trying alternate methods offered in the most-recently-published book or study. Rather, from a child’s earliest age, let’s focus on trying to prevent behavior problems, i.e. stealing, lying, cheating, talking back, bullying from ever surfacing. How? Let’s start by accepting them, from day 1, for who they are not only for who we/others may want them to be or become. Let’s respect and support each child’s/student’s integrity by trying to help him/her build a strong sense of purpose and self-esteem.

Finally, let’s try to deal with behavior problems that may exist in our children or students in a practical and constructive/positive way, not in a purely punitive way. After all, the very purpose of effective discipline is to nurture, not weaken, a healthy sense of one’s self-esteem and emotional development. We should use various forms of discipline to strengthen, not weaken, our bodies and souls.

Author’s Note:

These articles are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They do not offer simple answers to complex problems. Rather, they are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, parents, and the community. These articles are written to encourage readers to discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the many ways in which we currently try to educate them, at home and in school. We can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, parents and fellow educators!
Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 10/01/14 10:04 AM

Bullying in Schools / Need for Empathy
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

"Bullying... a public degradation ceremony in which the victim’s capabilities are debased and his or her identity is ridiculed." Alan McEvoy, Ph.D.

October is recognized as National Bullying Prevention month each year in the USA. The entire month is dedicated to combating bullying in Primary/Elementary and Secondary schools -- by placing a spotlight on, and educating others about bullying, in all its ugly forms. Whether physical, emotional, or digital, i.e. via online social media, bullying envelops its victims with many negative and harmful academic, social, and lifetime consequences. Is the pervasive problem of bullying in schools ever accidental, or fully intentional? Does it ever rear its ugly head in schools in Belize today? If it does, is bullying a reflection of our society and/or living conditions?

Belize is a small country and is made up of a blended mix of under 350,000 multicultural/multiracial peoples and ethnic groups. In some tourist brochures we boast to the world that in Belize our varied cultures and ethnic groups of people coexist peacefully, and live harmoniously side by side. That is quite a proud claim. But, do our schools have "working" and effective (not just written) policies and responses to reports of abusive behavior by bullies, regardless of whether they be peers (other students) or perhaps even staff? What educational or social research project has ever been carried out in Belize, or published, to document the nature and extent of bullying, or absence of bullying, in our schools? Do we have policies on bullying in all our schools, or offer continuous staff training to deal with bullying of/by student peers, or provide any intervention or prevention programs in primary and secondary schools throughout our multicultural and multiracial jewel, Belize?

During my first year of high school in British Honduras, in 1965, I experienced and suffered hurtful emotional bullying. I will not hide or bury that fact. Perhaps, because I started studying at an all-boys high school at the young age of 12, when most of my student peers were much older than I was then, that set me up as an easy target for (older) bullies. Nonetheless, bullying against me back then went mostly ignored by everyone else, including staff; so, my only choice back then was to try adjusting and studying in what at times felt like an insecure and untrustworthy place. Thankfully, long sessions each weekend, to study and practice the art of meditation and Judo, did eventually prove to be of great help, and encouraged me to be comfortable with my young self. (Kudos to Dr. D. F., my Judo instructor then, and also my very first ESL student/client in Belize -- student teaching student!) Because I once was a victim of bullying, I have always made every possible effort, as educator and administrator, to immediately step in and stop any perceived bullying of a student, male or female, by another or by various others. Moreover, I have provided workshops to students, where each student had to live in a stranger's shoes for an entire day. These workshops have been extremely helpful in introducing the concept of empathy to students.

However, based on my experience since 1978 as a professional educator, what is even sadder than observing a total lack of empathy in some students, is observing how many times students and staff opt to ignore public bullying at schools. Unfortunately, indifference and neglect by student peers or staff can be just as damaging to a victim of bullying as the very abusive and degrading act itself of public bullying! Many times students/staff choose inaction (i.e. not my problem, so why get involved) or at times even outright complicity. I feel strongly that by providing continuous education to students about the root causes and negative effects of bullying, we can help students to better understand and accept each other, and combat bullying and discord in schools.

I contend that whenever a male student, regardless of his age, is being publicly bullied, whether at school or anywhere in the community, that is NOT the time or place for anyone to encourage him to "learn to fight back like a man", or "work it out". Too often, bullied students (victims) throughout the world have gotten these type messages thrown in their faces; and unfortunately, in trying to "fight back" or "work it out" too many victims of bullies have ended up slaughtering dozens of innocent others, including their very own selves. We are now living in the 21st. Century, not in Ancient Sparta where young boys (Spartans), starting from the earliest age possible, were purposefully raised in environs of uncompromising brutality so that they could learn how to become ruthless and vicious killers and gladiators. It is illegal to raise dogs to fight viciously today, even though some heartless owners do it anyhow -- for their own sickening entertainment and betting purposes; so, why suggest learning to "fight back" as an option for young boys who are victims of bullying?

Many world-renown neuroscientists, psychologists and educators have pointed out that it is possible to reduce bullying and other kinds of violence. How? After conducting many scientific research studies of students and societies, these professionals conclude that we should introduce empathy to our children at a very early age -- starting in infancy. Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes, in order to be able to comprehend what that person may be feeling, or going through, at various times. I have stated in previous articles/blogs, that I fully support the findings and conclusions of these professionals: empathy is not only helpful for, but a basic requisite of productive human social interaction. Practicing empathy helps us to develop a sense of morality, as opposed to living like wild animals or gladiators.

So, if indeed we all do co exist so peacefully, side by side in this jewel of ours, Belize, then WHY are our violent crime and murder rates up so high? Do people always murder, steal, or refuse to trust one another as a direct result of having to live under/with high poverty and unemployment rates? Is the bullying of young people and students (unlike many past/present major political or public scandals in Belize) a "lee sea breeze" that can/will quickly pass over and eventually be forgotten? Repeated bullying of a student can lead to his/her very severe and negative sense of hurt and depression; and, as we have seen many times before, some victims (who feel totally unaided and ignored) ultimately and hopelessly seek revengeful destruction of property or life -- and suicide to end their pain. So, in addition to reacting to public bullying of young people in our schools and communities, lets try to prevent it from ever occurring.

In addition to introducing and encouraging empathy in our children from an early age, what else can/should we parents and educators do to minimize bullying or bad behavior of children? Are there preventive measures that we could introduce from in early childhood to stop bullies from ever emerging to physically or emotionally abuse their peers, or those who are different from them? I have said it before, and say it again: In order for Education (learning) to be successful, we parents and educators should first make every effort to try to understand and accept our youth for who they are; more importantly, we need to also strive to teach and encourage them to understand and accept themselves. Perhaps, when/if our youth feel accepted, they will be likelier to make an effort to understand and/or accept behaviors of other "different" persons -- no matter how different in age, physical size, race, sex, etc. others may be. In simple words, we parents, educators, and entire communities could set the examples for our youth today, by first walking the walk with them, instead of merely talking the talk down to them.
Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 05/07/15 07:55 PM

Education in Belize: Unrealistic Systems of Education

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason." Immanuel Kant

Throughout Belize during the month of May, thousands of teenagers anxiously and excitedly look forward to their high school graduation. After four years of hard work, they will finally be able to "breathe" from under the daily scrutiny of teachers, school administrators, other students, and parents. For many Seniors it's also time to start taking O'level examinations. Unbelievably, as in Colonial times, throughout Belize and most of the British Commonwealth it really is not the total high school education provided and completed, but rather the outcome of O'level examinations (how many subjects are passed) that will determine which high school graduates get what jobs, and who will be admitted to local or British Commonwealth tertiary (post high school) institutions. After their high school graduation, some students who pass enough O'level examinations will qualify to go on to continue higher studies at home or abroad, if they can afford to pay the expensive tuition; some graduates will immediately start to look for and compete for an "increasingly limited" amount of potential full-time or part-time employment in Belize; and unfortunately, some graduates will merely linger around their communities for who-knows-how-long with no idea what they can/should do in life.

Regardless of whichever path most students in Belize may choose after their high school graduation, will they be prepared to go out into society as adults? As we prepare to congratulate thousands of excited high school graduates, as the graduation excitement mounts, as impressive graduation speeches are prepared, as we eagerly await Belize's young 21st Century adults, we dare to ask: What have they learned in high school? Are they prepared now to use their unique talents to daily confront and tackle Belize's ever-mounting and pressing problems? Has a Secondary Education prepared or qualified them to be able to carefully consider pressing issues (to think) in real life - outside the four walls of a classroom? After all, when most of them vote for the first time, totally unlike school examinations, there will be no right or wrong answer. Once any political candidate is elected there is no telling what he/she will do with the acquired power. O'level passes validate that high school graduates knew sufficient facts to pass examinations, organized around subjects, at a specific sitting. However, what does a student's high school diploma in Belize today validate or guarantee?

This is more than just not another Guidance Counselor attack about what is lacking in our Education System in Belize, or with those who manage it. Without a doubt, Belize is blessed with many outstanding and dedicated Educators - past and present. They will always be our unsung heroes. However, graduations are the appropriate times to urge Education policymakers, and governing legislators who control and administer our Education Systems, to "wake up"! Too many young Belizeans today cannot or do not dream big, either after dropping out of and/or after graduating from high school. Why? Too many of them look to their future through eyes of limitation, not opportunity. A quick glance at the lives that many young adults, especially males, lead in any city or town throughout Belize today is certainly not a reflection of "dreaming big". Young people's mounting alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, crime/murder rates, staggering poverty, and unemployment today are not reflections of "dreaming big".

Belize became a fully independent nation in 1981. Yet, since that time, what positive change(s) have we introduced into our country's Education system to enable high school graduates to leave school with the ability to positively interact with and ultimately improve their nation (Jewel) and themselves? Other than silos of subject-based information that we teach students (to use as future assets, i.e. O'level examination passes), what intelligent capabilities do we offer young people in secondary schools today? Are we teaching them how to think effectively in order to improve themselves and their communities, or merely how to memorize in order to pass examinations? Are we encouraging them to never ever fail by always testing and publicly grading them? Learning, throughout our lives, is triggered and enhanced by failure. "We learn from our mistakes." No baby learns how to walk the very first time he/she is placed on the floor; we anticipate that many falls and clumsy trial walks will come first before baby acquires the skill to walk - with no grades. What important life skills, not grades, do young people learn or acquire in high school today?

Each student's high school graduation marks a very important milestone and much-anticipated rite of passage and transition into adulthood and society. In today's rapidly developing and increasingly global and digital society, what significant improvements have we introduced into our Education system to meet 21st Century unique needs of each student? Newsflash for those who adamantly refuse to accept or introduce any "change" in our Education Systems, especially many traditionalists who insist that schools should forever stay the same as "when they were there": The education that we provide young people today is an investment in our present as well as future. The biggest investment in our high schools today, therefore, should not merely be more money, i.e. the type promised by politicians before/around election times. Our biggest investment in Education should always be that of helping students learn how to think effectively! Such an investment requires positive input from "the entire village", including government policymakers, administrators and educators, students' parents, and the communities where students live.

We should always expect that each high school graduate has learned how to think effectively, regardless of grades, and that he/she has an understanding of where each of us fits in our communities. Regardless of how many O'level examinations a high school graduate may have, or not have, we trust that after four years exposure to learning each graduate is capable of setting clear goals to be able to live and get ahead in 21st Century Belize. Most importantly, we should expect that high school graduates' experience has encouraged them to understand and accept the many roles of others around us, i.e. educators, parents, business men/women, politicians, and their very own roles as a young adults in Belize and the world today.

Kudos and Congratulations to each high school graduate, his/her teachers and parents, and to everyone who helped each student to reach this important milestone!
Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 01/19/16 11:26 AM

Education in Belize: A Legacy of Inaction
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

"A school is a place; people speak of 'going to school'. Yet a school is not entirely bound by its building." Peter Senge, Nelda Cambron-McCabe et. al. Schools That Learn

We are now living in the first month of 2016 and further into the 21st Century. I thank readers who follow my and Guidance Counselor columns, especially for their comments on each article. Thank you readers from Belize and from developed and undeveloped countries around the world. Your comments, positive or negative, regarding education systems in Belize reflect a genuine concern over whether or not schools educate students effectively today. They are, after all, the present and future of Belize, not the past.

I emphasize, as I did in previous articles, that a majority of us remain indifferent to the types education that our schools provide, or don't provide, students today. Keeping schools the way they always were, i.e. "like when I was there", is easy because it requires no additional effort from policy makers, parents, or educators. However, clinging to pre Independence (1981) colonial systems of education does not make time stand still in Belize, in a rapidly evolving world.

Updating our education systems, strategies, and practices is no longer simply an ambitious suggestion; it is now vital to improving student outcomes that will ensure that our jewel of a country survive and thrive. A legacy of inaction and indifference to today and tomorrow is costing us dearly. What are our visions for 21st Century Education in Belize? We are not keeping up with requirements for a global education in this new age. Why? Government's increased funding of education, or promises, and the creation of a university do not automatically improve education systems or make them more productive.

Previously, a reader asked me what needs to change in our schools today, and why. My response, like a knee jerk, screams loudly when we highlight the ever-slumping economic situation of our country today, its sinking tourism industry and fast-growing annual deficit; when we look directly into the face of today's frightening and unbelievable poverty across the entire country; when we question the rampant criminal behavior and murders (of locals and tourists) in both urban and rural areas; when we dare to question why a majority of small and local businesses have "closed shop", and are now replaced by non-natives; when we accept that Belize, once world-renown for being home to various cultures who live in peace and tranquility, is today listed among the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world; when we realize that a growing number of students, especially males, drop out of school each year; when we admit how very few graduates, high school or university, are afforded opportunities to establish a career in Belize each year; and finally, when we dare to challenge the fact that despite having full control our country's destiny, despite a growing poverty that has swallowed an entire middle class, we must pay exorbitant and outrageous monthly tuitions and fees, especially for imported textbooks, for our children to attend a high school. Each highlight screams overwhelming change. Yet, in essence our education system today remains fairly similar to the one of 50 years ago, when Belize was a British colony.

The aims and goals of schools should not focus only on preparing students to pass examinations. Rather, schools need to expose and help students learn how to think critically, instead of asking them to memorize information and grade them on well they remember it. A continuous development of critical thinking prepares and empowers students to face, tackle, and overcome what is negative in our communities, that which sinks Belize deeper and deeper into debt. We leave the next generation no choice but to overcome the many problems that we choose to ignore today. Let's prepare and enable them to fill new and older occupations that may exist, despite any preconceived notions we may have of those occupations. Let's provide them with multiple trade schools and vocational training that are just as vital as university training, sometimes more. Let's keep encouraging them to live Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, and "have a dream".

There are several ways to measure the effectiveness of the secondary or tertiary education we provide in Belize. Determine what percentage of students who graduate become the professionals that we urgently need to help develop a small and undeveloped nation; that go on to become financially productive members of our communities and help the economy grow; that graduate but then become but a mere statistic in today's high rates of unemployment and/or crime; that become illegal drug pushers because there is no other available work they can find. A simple measurement tool is to poll local employers to ask them how many new employees (student graduates) today meet basic requirements of 21st Century jobs, i.e. in Belize's tourism, healthcare, financial, or communication industries, especially in the field of software and technology. The most important measure of a school's effectiveness is found, not in diplomas or exam passes, but in determining whether, after 12 years or more behind a desk, students are prepared for today's global way of living. How many students who graduate college feel prepared? Their opinions/suggestions regarding the preparation they receive can be helpful. Of course, if all the measurement tools reflect effectiveness in our school systems, there is no need to take any action.

How do we educate students in Belize today? Have schools changed goals and objectives from 25 and 50 years ago? Above all, what stands out is the restrictive cost for a student to attend high school today. High schools are still run by churches and funded partially by the government. Secondary education has never been free. Yet, each year graduating classes are prepared mostly to sit O'level examinations in a variety of subjects. The very same O'level examinations were used 50 years ago, under a different name, to measure a high school graduate's academic knowledge in one sitting. (Despite breezing through graduation in 1969, my O'level exam results were disastrous; however, I refused to let those test results end or determine my academic and professional career.) No examination pass guarantees the learning and preparation that a student needs to survive today. We compete to survive in a world of computers and technology, of new occupations that keep growing, of entrepreneurs who help keep us on the map, and of much-needed business and health professionals -- not in a society that rewards O'level examination passes. Thus, schools today need to focus on providing students with learning that helps them to adapt to a new and global way of living.

British Honduras, our name in colonial times, is now but a memory and not found on any map. Nonetheless, a majority of us still refuse to or admit that leaving a legacy of inaction is leaving a legacy of failure. One article cannot possibly list detailed problems and solutions to change our education system; but, this clarion screams out, for our very survival, that we update ineffective colonial education systems. Our children's future, Belize's future, depends on whether we dare confront today's challenge to update our education systems and provide 21st Century, affordable, quality, and effective education to students throughout the country. I strongly encourage government and church education policy makers to address these concerns today and reverse a legacy of inaction. Unlike an often-used/over-used Belizean saying, education reform is certainly not a "lee sea breeze that will soon blow over".

Author’s Note:

These articles are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion among educators, students, and the Belizean community. If we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, then we can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, fellow educators!
Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 05/25/16 06:58 PM

Education in Belize: Breaking bad habits
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

"We need a lot more serious thinking about the present and the future, and a lot less time and energy spent on the past." Thomas Sowell, Stanford University

I commend the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) for defiantly standing up to Guatemala during its escalating armed border incursions into Belize. An age old, yet formerly non-violent, border dispute has now turned violent. Guatemala has defiantly stationed its military at Belize's Southern Sarstoon border, and may want to push armed contingents even further into our Southern and Western borders. Our government ignored the first armed encroachment, and then urged Belizeans to stay away from the Sarstoon border. Yet, we now have incurred loss of life on both sides. Many Belizeans have reached a boiling point (against their own government as well as Guatemala), and are taking defiant actions to protest Guatemala's armed bullying and the Belize government's sudden Sarstoon Prohibition law. BNTU members/teachers have set a positive example for thousands of students in Belize, and showed them the importance of "taking action".

Are we smelling the boiling coffee yet? We are now well into 2016, five years since my original outburst in Wake up and smell the coffee. Our peaceful jewel has now been jolted into reality! We always expected global authorities (our previous owners?) to defend us and take our side against Guatemala; but that is not happening. Are we losing Belize, or parts of it? Is the rest of the world sleeping, or is Belize sleeping? Either we were too busy since 1981 to actively pursue non-stop a definitive/final solution to Guatemala's claim over Belize; or, by habit, we were content with a mere "wait and see" attitude. Now, in today's frightful situation, we might see a need to break old (Colonial) habits of inaction. Belize can no longer ignore this claim, just because that's how we've mostly dealt with it. Similarly, especially during this graduation season, we might realize that thousands of students are entering into a very competitive world, ill-equipped to survive and thrive as independent adults. Why? We have not embraced radical change in our education systems. We are living in a new and global world, not in Colonial times. Failing to break old habits and replace with better ones is dangerous, and ultimately leads to unwanted results.

Nonetheless, what does today's escalating Belize vs. Guatemala conflict have to do with how Belize operates its education systems or schools? Both are very different topics, but the parallels and effects of not breaking old habits are striking. I am no politician, nor represent any political party. However, I am fully aware that Guatemala's armed military at Belize's Southern (Sarstoon) border is no "lee sea breeze" that will soon blow over. We no longer can ignore Guatemala's claim to Belize, an independent nation since 1981, just because we previously did so. What if they push our borders further back, or... Now, we have to act! In comparison, we cannot continue to educate students the same way that we, our parents and grandparents were schooled, merely because that's how schools have always been run. We must act to bring change to our classrooms.

Merely ignoring Guatemala's long-held claim to Belize will not help us to stay free, independent, globally recognized, and protected today. Keeping schools the way they always were, i.e. "like when I was there", will not make time stand still in Belize in today's rapidly evolving global world. (See Breaking Free Parts I & II) Either we keep schools the same, which requires no additional effort from government/church policy makers, parents, or educators, or we embrace change. That is not easy. Clinging to pre Independence (1981) colonial systems of education, and refusing to update our education systems, strategies, and practices will sooner than later jolt Belize into reality, just like Guatemala suddenly did at our Southern border. Of course, we do provide thousands of students with an education, and they do graduate each year. But, does that education include learning how to tackle and solve sudden difficult problems that life may throw one's way? It should, if we want to ensure that our jewel Belize will survive, compete, and thrive in this global 21st Century and beyond.

A legacy of inaction and political indifference to Guatemala's claim to Belize is now costing us dearly: human lives, armed border infringements, and perhaps more. Our indifference to embracing change in 21st Century education systems in Belize is also costing us dearly today. We are not providing students with the requirements for a global education in this new age; we are simply running schools the way they always have been run. Are we teaching students how to actually think for themselves, or merely asking them to memorize answers in order to be able to pass standardized colonial type examinations, year in and year out? Our elected leaders today are educated; some have degrees. Will/can they think critically to finally resolve Belize's age-old dispute with Guatemala? What's the acceptable solution for both sides? Perhaps, the answer to this problem was not provided to them to study/memorize for today's very difficult test.

Students: when we enter an election booth to vote for politicians, there are no right or wrong answers as in most classroom tests. Rather, before we cast a vote, we must carefully consider current issues, politicians' qualification, character, past history, success or failure(s), perhaps the feasibility of the many promises they may make. Or, we can merely vote the way our families and friends have always voted -- perhaps by habit like we've always done. Today, perhaps we see the consequences of choosing to always vote by habit, and along the usual family or party lines. Citizens should always choose leaders who are able to think critically and tackle problems -- like having to defend us against a bully.

I am proud to have worked in the education systems in Belize, starting in 1978 as a teacher at St. Hilda's college, and most recently (2010-2012) as guidance counselor at San Pedro High School. While working with hundreds of students I protested vigorously that our education policy makers and administrators showed little, if any, effort to embrace change in the education systems. Adding many new schools (buildings), opening universities, increasing education funding, and including new subject matter in a curriculum is all very helpful to the country; but it's just not enough. The "how" and "why" we teach students must also change, just as often as "what" we teach them -- if we want their education to grow and be productive. Every year there are thousands of students who leave (graduate) our schools, as new ones enter; yet, few changes are offered in "how" and "why" they learn.

Now is such an appropriate time to remind students that in life they will be confronted with many situations that have no right or wrong answers, or simple and easy multiple choice guesses. Consequently, in schools we educators might want to use less "right or wrong" tests to grade and advance or fail students. Rather, from the earliest age possible, show and encourage them to think critically in order to learn, instead of memorizing "correct" answers. The high dropout rate in schools, especially among boys who are unable to sit still all day in a classroom, or memorize lessons, will decrease the more we give them creative reasons to be in school, rather than merely having to be there. In this fast-developing technical world, let's break age-old Colonial classroom habits; provide students with more process-based (problem solving) instead of knowledge-based (memorizing facts) learning. Students may want to learn more by having to analyze (Math and Science) problems for themselves, by having to research the internet repeatedly for solutions to problems with no known answers, by being allowed to work directly and under the guidance of successful entrepreneurs -- instead of merely sitting in a class all day or memorizing book answers. Learning could be more creative if it's not bound by what the book or teacher says. So, let's break the old habit of advancing (or not) students through school only when they pass tests based on memorized facts. Or, we can keep schools just like when I was there.

Author’s Note:
These articles 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 Belizean community. If we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, then we can learn from our mistakes as well as success.

Posted By: Marty

Re: EDUCATION IN BELIZE: Column by by Gustavo Ramirez - 09/01/16 07:10 PM

[size:14pt]2016 New School Year (Students Classroom and/or Learning Challenges)/size]
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

As we start a new school year in 2016, I salute and validate the hundreds/thousands of teachers and educators in Belize who work enthusiastically everyday to help young Belizeans keep alive and glowing that spark of "wanting to learn". I will always cherish the experience of working closely with young people, starting in 1978 in Belize as a high school English and Spanish Language/Literature teacher, up to 2010-2012 as high school guidance counselor. A large part of any attempt to educate young people, in both Primary and Secondary schools, includes never ever giving up on trying to understand why/how, day in and day out, so many students must struggle so hard to learn. Why is it that some students behave so very well in school, and progress each year with hardly any problems, while others seem so hard-to-handle/teach? Why does learning just never come to some students without a multitude of problems?

Without a doubt, trying to understand and then help students everyday try to overcome their learning challenges can be very challenging and exhausting -- for teachers, administrators, and especially parents. Nonetheless, my own experience as teacher, guidance counselor, and parent in encouraging and helping young minds confront, understand, and overcome their struggles so that they could keep learning, always rewarded me with the most positive and fulfilling feelings in the world. (Although, it really never brought financial fulfillment.)

Teachers and educators in Belize, thank you for recommitting yourselves to the Education process in this 2016 school year. You have chosen a most noble profession: helping and enabling students to learn each day.

Students: Welcome to a new school year. Many of you are now attending a new (high) school, and obviously have every reason to be fearful of what/who you do not yet know. That, believe it or not, is quite normal for anyone who attends a new school - no matter what level. My experience of many years, working in various types schools (private, public, charter, continuation) and with all kinds of students, has proven that you will quickly forget any such fears. Before you know it, perhaps by the end of September, you will have made dozens of new friends of all ages, especially your own; and, you will each have met new teachers, many of whom you will like and find to be most inspiring.

Moreover, for those of you who are afraid that, perhaps, you are not good at, or will have a hard time memorizing new materials, please realize that there are many ways to learn, other than just by memorizing the material and/or learning by rote. In school, you will be presented with many fun ways to learn, whether in the classroom, while participating in athletic/sport programs, and/or during extra curricular activities.

Please know that many teachers today are aware that standardized testing may not always measure a student's intelligence and/or learning abilities. So, always feel free to reach out to your teachers and Administrators/Principals at school. They are there to help you! Remember, getting a good education means much more than just getting good scores on tests. Your professional educators at school are well-trained and have devoted most of their lives to helping each of you learn.

Most importantly, realize that your (new) school is also your very own community! Both you and your school exist to strengthen, validate, and improve each other now. Be ready to grow at school: physically, emotionally, academically, and in so many other ways. Above all, be ready to enjoy your school career.

Teachers and Administrators/Principals: Welcome to a new school year and to the challenges of working closely everyday with hundreds of (new) students: helping them to learn and master a new curriculum, and encouraging them to understand themselves and perhaps rough periods of their unsteady growth.

I am sure that you each already know what a large difference you each make in determining whether these young people will choose to improve their lives and ultimately prepare for a productive career, or whether they will opt to simply give up on themselves, after but a short time in school, and choose an easy way out: dropping out of school to join an illegal/criminal gang that promises to "have their back" and sustain them. Thank you each for positively influencing their young minds, and helping them to have confidence in themselves and in a promising future.

In addition, allow me to forewarn each of you that it will be quite tempting to fall into the trap of (mis)labeling students, especially the new ones, within the first few days/weeks of school. It is no secret that first impressions, especially negative ones, of students crowded daily into packed classrooms are never easy to brush aside or forget. Yes, there will be those "hard-to-learn" students, perhaps "troublesome" ones, perhaps those who simply "do not seem to care" about schoolwork, and/or those who refuse to participate or volunteer. Even if you are tempted to (mis)label students, remember that it helps immensely to start each day by reminding yourself that your students look up to you as their very own leader - and hero. With this in mind, you might take a step back from looking merely at their (mis)behaviors and (mis)labels and choosing to see instead students with learning challenges. You can then encourage them to learn, despite their struggles, by showing them that you too must/can learn how to deal with others, even those who (perhaps you mislabeled) make you uncomfortable. Remember that a school is always a community of learners, never a one-way street. Just as students may have different rates of learning, so too you teachers will each need to keep us with different rates of training.

It will help tremendously to understand that your students' learning challenges may range from the quite simple to perhaps the rather complex. Some students may have visual problems and not see well; eyeglasses and or sitting near the front/back may help. Some students may not hear well; hearing aids and/or providing additional writing material for them may help. Some needy students may even come to school hungry; perhaps a free or low-priced school lunch program may be beneficial. On the other hand, some students may have unique learning styles; and, where some of them show strengths others may show weakness. Just because they may be different from each other, though, does not make any one better than the other.

Students with behavioral problems/challenges should be referred to the guidance counselor; if necessary, these students should be referred to outside professionals when/if necessary. Remember, step one to being able to help students is always by trying to understand them.

Parents: Above all else, your children look to you today for direction and structure. If you think that sometimes your children drive you crazy at home, imagine what their teachers at school think of them... Understanding and accepting your children for who they are will always be paramount if you are to nurture and support them.

Without a doubt, you each have one of the most important jobs in the world: building/shaping the future of your children, and of Belize. No one ever said it would be easy; but the rewards and a productive future will be priceless! As we start this new school year, we also start the daily weekday morning madness/rush to be off to school on time; the noon rush home for lunches; the students' room messes/disasters and never-ending homework; the sibling rivalries and conflicts, inside and outside the home, including sometimes anger and/or aggression; the push to get your children to help to some degree with housework when they are not attending school; and most importantly, the effort to support their teachers and schools who are working hard to help your children learn.

Thank you for all that you do to help your children succeed at school. Thank you, especially, to each parent who makes every effort to establish effective and ongoing relationships with teachers and schools for the good of your very own children.

Communities: Your Indo-European roots, kom (everyone) and moin (exchange) originally came together to mean "shared by all". Latin communis (source) was then adapted by the French to become communer (available to everyone). So, when we refer to communities today we are not referring merely to specific physical locations, i.e. cities, towns, or villages in Belize. Rather, we are referring to places where daily life is shared and exchanged. "The community that lives together, learns together." This, in other words, is another way of stressing that each community should share mutual commitments with its schools.

As with parents, communities need to be nurturing and supportive of its young people, no matter how challenging this may be. Today, in this ever-changing 21st Century, all forces in each community in Belize needs to join together to help our young people meet the challenges of growing and learning. Integrating family, school, church, businesses/ professionals in their respective communities will go a long way toward establishing the much-needed leadership and teamwork needed to help young students (Belize) learn and grow.

May this new school year be a good and successful one for all teachers, students, parents, and communities in Belize!
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