By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant - Ancient Chinese wisdom reminds us that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Following these lines of wisdom, I encourage all Belizeans, most especially school leaders and parents throughout the entire country, to join me in taking those first few steps on our very long and difficult but “necessary” journey to reinvent, reform, and strengthen schools in Belize. Today’s high dropout rate by students who are “bored out of their minds” at school everyday indicates that schools today are not serving our youth and nation as they should. So, let’s take those first important steps to signal to our people, and to the world, that schools in Belize today can and will,
*effectively respond to the rapidly changing world around us today
*successfully educate young Belizeans to live and “fit” in 21st Century Belize
Before we start on our “journey”, I acknowledge what readers have pointed out in commentaries to my previous articles and in face-to-face conversations with me: I keep focusing only on what teachers need to do in the classroom, but do not also point out or suggest specific areas where/how leaders of our schools, parents, and students could also change/recharge themselves to make teaching/educating young people today successful and “less frustrating”. So, this week’s article takes the spotlight OFF what teachers should do, and focuses on old habits that others need to unlearn and replace today. Nonetheless, the fact remains that teachers have the most important roles in schools, and they will always be the key and frontline persons who can create “working” classrooms (all levels) in schools. Part II of this article will focus exclusively on students and teachers.
*Step 1 - The very first step to take in creating the best Education Systems in Belize that will prepare our young people for today and tomorrow is to want it first! Even that, though, is not enough to start our journey to create, update and c o n t i n u o u s l y improve schools in this country. We must replace the all-encompassing indifference on the part of most parents and those who are “in charge” of managing and developing schools today. We simply cannot “cave in” to those who keep screaming that we must run schools the same way as “when they were there”. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. Additionally, unlike how it was done in the past, any new vision for schools in Belize cannot be kept buried under some powerful leader’s “Classified” documents! Any new vision for our schools needs to be SHARED with the entire country, especially with our teachers, students, parents, and business communities!
*Step 2 - In order to make Education in Belize successful we must bring teachers’ salaries up to 21st Century standards of living! Students are not the only ones who need motivation, encouragement, and incentive to “learn” and make the education process successful; so do teachers! A “livable” salary for teachers (financial stability) will provide incentives for them to want to grow and develop in their profession. Let’s not “let sleeping dogs lie” in the field of Education and continue to hire whoever is willing to teach in our schools at unrealistic salaries. We get what we pay for! Belize National Teachers Union recently held its annual convention. There they vociferously pointed out what I stated last year in Let’s Start to Improve our Schools: “No matter what level the school, Primary or Secondary, it is of paramount importance that our school leaders develop a faculty culture that is always focused on professional growth and development. That, however, will never be easy as long as the complaining and bickering by overworked and underpaid teachers drown out the voices of those devoted to learning, sharing and supporting each other.”
*Step 3 - Unlike how Primary and Secondary schools were managed in the past, today we must let each teacher know and feel everyday all day, that he/she counts! Our teachers, not their employers, are the ones who are ultimately responsible for helping students “to learn”. Principals, Headmasters, Managers: do your teachers know and feel that you regard them as “significant” to your school? Financial recompense (salary) alone does not provide the “motivation/impetus” to encourage a teacher to want to keep improving constantly -- feeling “needed” and appreciated does!
*Step 4 - Parents: You must make every effort to “keep up” with your children today! You may not be able to stop them from being exposed to very realistic but violent video games, or from watching adult TV, or from participating in 24/7 interactive websites where the entire world (cyberspace) participates, or from sending and receiving emails – good, bad, ugly, and everything in between. However, “I don’t know how to work a computer!” is no longer an excuse! Whether you are computer literate or not, you have great influence on your children -- use it! Listen to them, answer their questions, try to guide them, and by all means LEARN from them. (Whenever I am “stuck” on the computer, I rely on my youngest son to “come to the rescue”. In today’s world a 60 year old can learn so very much from a 16 year old!)
Participate in their education! Screaming at them that you work your # off to be able to pay for their education is not “participation”. Being one of the 400 (out of 450) parents who do not bother to show up to school to see your child being honored publicly for good grades, sports participation, or other school activity is not participation. Merely providing money for your son’s/daughter’s education (school fees, books, uniforms etc.) is not participation. If your parents did not participate in your education that does not mean you can do the same today with your child. This is 2012! Spending money on your children without providing emotional support is worthless and meaningless.
*Step 5 - School Managers (government and church) and Boards of Directors: let’s find out exactly what Belizean business communities and leaders want/need schools to produce. What literacy skills do employers today need to make our Belizean business communities grow and develop on a world competitive basis? Schools cannot assume that what they produce is good enough for any business. We now have such a wide variety of business industries in Belize. Recent news flashes indicate that Belize is now preparing to have world-class medical centers, hospitals, and shopping centers. Perhaps in the past, educators worked very hard to produce high-performing students who made schools “look good”; however, today our ultimate goal is to educate them so they can “fit” successfully into our communities, not only to make schools “look good”.
*Step 6 - School leaders: Let’s start to “prioritize” things that need to be addressed at school every day. Things that may seem insignificant to you are of vital importance to our students today. If we keep insisting on managing schools the way it was done 50 or 25 years ago, we’re inviting trouble and failure. Important meetings and “your” deadlines no longer always come first. Many of our students today cannot read at their class level, are “lost” in gangs and drug use/abuse, have many “negative” close/family influences in their lives, and live in abject poverty and desperation. Addressing these issues first is far more important than attending bureaucratic meetings or trying to get the most and highest CXC passes for your school.
On a final note, I encourage all Belizean adults, especially educators, to keep modeling positive behaviors, especially “patience”, everyday to send powerful messages to young people today. I am convinced that Belize’s high crime/murder/gang involvement rate today is somehow tied to the fact that our youth have become totally engulfed and swallowed up in the FAST rate at which everything moves today -- thanks to technology. Most young people today simply do not or cannot comprehend the need for, importance, and beauty of “patience”. Let’s show them “how” patience works! A direct quote from a previous commentary posted to this column: “The best way to raise upstanding citizens is to lead by example - show the students love, hope, compassion, respect, honesty, diligence and ambition (to name only a few of lessons.)”
Yes, we want well-behaved, motivated, and high performing young Belizeans in schools today; more important though, we want “happy” Belizean students.