by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor
Schools, whether private or public, do not spring suddenly and uniquely into being. Neither do they emerge, fully formed, from a single creator. A fully formed, properly run, and ‘successful’ school (i.e. San Pedro High School) develops very gradually from many and various efforts by many people over a period of time. Less than fifty years ago there was but one small primary school on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Back then, when young San Pedranos wanted to obtain a high school education they had to go to the mainland to attend a high school. However, today’s 21st century San Pedro proudly boasts eight primary schools, two high schools, and a junior college/sixth form. Each of these schools continues to grow and develop each year.
Who, then, is responsible for creating, developing, and running a ‘successful’ school? Our schools on San Pedro (throughout Belize) are run/managed by a combination of Church and Government, and Boards of Directors made up of people from the community. A small handful of our Belizean schools are fully privately managed. Nonetheless, each school, regardless of level (primary, secondary, or tertiary) or regardless of how/by whom it is managed and administered, must meet required national standards. I assume that the Belize Ministry of Education is very much part of who sets the standards. Moreover, the higher the level of education (i.e. post secondary) that a school provides the higher the national standards it must meet. And, schools that meet even higher international standards and requirements are fully recognized outside of Belize.
However, what makes a school ‘successful’? A school is considered ‘successful’ based on the levels of achievement of its students (local and foreign examinations that a school’s students pass) as well as based on the caliber of its staff of teachers and administrators. Moreover, the more that extra curriculum and sports activities are offered by a school, the more well-known it becomes throughout the entire country. But, once a school is formed, does it stay the same forever (i.e. curriculum)?
A school will always have to make far-reaching changes. Example: When I was a student in high school in the 1960’s I had to study Latin (mandatory); and what I knew of computers was mostly through the science fiction literature that I read. Today, however, students (primary, secondary, and tertiary level) in Belize and throughout the developed and developing world are required to know how to AND use a computer, inside and outside of school. On the other hand, most high school students today have never heard of Latin, or much less studied it. Plus, because we have more than one university in Belize today, our teachers are becoming more academically qualified, i.e. Bachelors and Masters Degrees. I am sure that pretty soon our universities will also offer doctorate degrees. Consequently, students in Belizean schools today are being exposed to much more ‘learning’, and by a more ‘prepared’ staff.
What, though, is a school’s core purpose? Schools certainly are NOT community baby sitters where parents can safely send their sons and/or daughters while they (parents) work everyday. Rather, our schools have always been, and will always be, the “bridges to our (country’s) future”. Our young people in schools today ARE our (country’s) future. In our schools today our young people are being prepared and trained to live in a highly advanced world of technology -- in a democratic society. Thus, our school’s core purpose and vision should be based not only on what administrators and Boards of Directors think up, but also on much-needed strategic priorities that the students and the community/country set based on today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Many different processes and programs as well as curriculum development quickly come to mind! And, how do we strengthen these ‘bridges’ to get our children safely across to a better tomorrow?
I look forward to responses and ideas from the San Pedro community, from concerned Belizeans, and from all educators.