New “Free” Schoolbooks

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 34            August 30, 2007

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One of the “free” textbooks to be used.

Although it brought good news to parents, the Government’s initiative to provide free text books to all primary school students enrolled in public and church run schools has also sparked much controversy. The books fell under stiff criticism by teachers who finally had the opportunity to review them and the Government has promised to do much to correct the situation.

    Whether the problem will be solved, or if the program remains to be criticized, it is still undecided. Regardless, 17,823 books in the five designated subject areas: Language Arts, Mathematics, Spanish, Social Studies, and Science, where delivered to Belize Elementary’s auditorium. Six processing clerks have been hired to prepare the books for distribution to the various primary schools.

    Prior to the books arriving in San Pedro Town, and the rest of the country, each book will be stamped with a number, the name of the school and student, for accountability purposes. When schools open next week, the various principals will work with their staff to distribute the books by class. Each child will receive five textbooks; one book for each subject plus a workbook for those subject areas which include them. According to officials, the workbooks are not expected to be returned, however the textbooks MUST be returned at the end of the school year. A system has been put in place where the teachers will collect the books and periodically access the inventory and condition of each book.

    According to Judy Diego, Manager of the Belize District Education Centre, booklets will be issued to school managers, principals, and teachers to guide them on how to manage the textbooks. Because children will be allowed to take the books home, parents will also be required to sign a contract, promising to keep them in good condition.

    A press release issued by the Attorney General’s Ministry and The Ministry of Labor, Education and Culture stated that Minister of Education, Francis Fonseca, convened a meeting with the President and Executive of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) and the General Managers of Primary schools yesterday, Monday, August 27th, 2007 in Belize City to discuss the status of the Government’s Free Text Program. During the meeting, he responded directly to questions and concerns that have been raised publicly regarding the implementation of the program. BNTU President, Jaime Panti, opened the meeting by clarifying the Union’s position on the Textbook Program. President Panti made it clear that the BNTU had expressed concerns about the consultation process and pointed out faults within the text, including the glaring error in the Spanish textbook which includes Belize as a part of Mexico.

    Responding to the Union’s concerns regarding the Spanish text, Ministry of Education officials reported on the agreement reached with the publisher to provide three (3) wall maps to each primary school in the country and for the reprinting of the text with the necessary corrections over the next four (4) to six (6) months. Following some further discussion, it was agreed that the Ministry would also move immediately to have an insert of the corrected map printed locally for inclusion in the Chispas Spanish textbook.

    The Ministry also used the opportunity to reiterate its policy position that the only textbooks students are required to have in the five core subject areas under the program are the books provided by the Government. While managements and schools are free to supplement the texts with their own resource materials, parents will not be required to purchase any other textbooks.
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