Qualification of Teachers Outlined in New Education Act

The Education (Amendment) Act, 1996 was signed by the Governor General on January 8th and Gazetted on January 11, 1997. It is an Act to amend the Education Act (No. 6 of 1991), to make better provisions in respect of the operation, management and regulation of schools; to provide for the composition of a new National Council of Education; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The San Pedro Sun met with Mr. Clement Wade, the General Manager of the Roman Catholic Schools in Belize. Wade is the administrator of 127 schools which are divided into 12 districts, each with a local manager. In addition there are nine rural and caye schools which he personally oversees. Mr. Wade works closely with the San Pedro R.C. School Consulting Committee which was established several years ago to directly administrate the San Pedro school.

Mr. Wade is also in charge of a task force that is studying part of the new rules that will flesh out the act and will make recommendations for these rules. Of particular interest is the establishment of a new National Council. For the past five years the Ministry of Education has functioned in violation of the Education Act. The Ministry is supposed to be guided by the National Council which is composed of representatives from all churches and 11 other representatives from different sectors of the community and relevant organizations. The Committee was supposed to advise the Chief Education Officer and to determine that access and equity in education prevail in the nation's schools. Decisions in the Ministry currently are made by the Minister of Education, the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Education Officer.

The objectives of the Task Force will be to outline methods of achieving a staffing schedule; to strengthen teacher's positions by formulating rules; to ensure that the rights of children are upheld, that children are protected from abuse; to establish standards of behavior and a code of ethics that will give management more latitude to step in and discipline teachers should they breach the standards.

Of special interest to teachers and parents is the amendment of section 17 which refers to "Licensing and disqualification as a teacher." 17(1) states, "No person shall be employed as a teacher who does not possess a valid license to teach." With regard to the current teaching staff, Mr. Wade said that three types of licences will be issued. #1 a regular renewable licence. The conditions of the license require a licensed teacher to complete 30 hours of upgrading education every five years and to have received positive assessments from the principal/manager over the same time period. #2 a provisional license - this license will be issued to those teaching now who have not completed the criteria to become licensed. Those teachers will have three years to fulfill certain criteria. Should they fail to comply and register, their positions will become redundant. #3 temporary license - this license will be issued under special circumstances; for instance, should a teacher become ill and there are no licensed persons to replace him/her, then a temporary license may be issued to a qualified person.

Recognizing that continuing education may be a hardship for some of the island and rural teachers, Distance Level One Programme has been established. This programme is in modular form. The student (teacher) attends classes once a month for a full day and receives tutoring and testing. The student teachers are visited in their classrooms once a month so their instructor can assess their progress and observe how the learning modules are being implemented in the classroom. Mr. Wade said currently no one from the cayes is participating in the programme, however, Mrs. Maria Lanza, San Pedro R.C. School Principal is enrolled in the Principal's Course. The course includes Educational Administration, Personnel Management, Curriculum Development, Budget and Finance and Strategic Management of the Institution.

In the past the Education Act was based upon Government being in partnership with the churches to provide education. The Amended Act will have Government and communities as partners in providing education. The new law also provides that any school with an enrollment of over 300 will have a school board and that schools with 350 students will have a principal and a full time administrative assistant. Schools with 700 students will have a principal and two full time administrative assistants, and those with 900 students in addition to the principal will have three full time assistants.

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