By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant / belizeguidance.blogspot.com
September in Belize is a month for celebrations! Many festivities lead up to Sept 10th to commemorate the “Battle of St. George’s Caye”, a day that has been celebrated each year, and long before the country achieved self-governing status in the mid 1960’s and Independence in 1981. Each September includes many talent competitions throughout Belize, then a festive Carnaval, then the nationwide celebrated Independence Day on Sept. 21st to top a full month of festivities. In our many September celebrations throughout the country, we celebrate many forms of “breaking free”, whether from Colonial masters or from whatever may have once held us back -- as a country and as a people. We even broke free from our former name, British Honduras, and have proudly made ourselves known throughout the entire world as: Belize. Certainly, we have every right to celebrate all the changes and advancements in Belize today.
It is unfortunate, though, that Belize insists on remaining very disadvantaged as a young developing country, because since gaining Independence we adamantly refuse to break free from adhering to former/existing Colonial (Commonwealth) systems of Education throughout the country. Yet, our Education policymakers (government and church) seem unable to understand why a majority of young Primary school students in Belize score so very lowly on annual Proficiency examinations, i.e. PSE, each year. Until we break free of antiquated Colonial systems of Education we cannot adequately provide our Youth with survival skills to live in today’s new global and digital world! What, pray tell, are we waiting for to WANT to break free of old systems of Education, and set our very own Belizean 21st Century standards? Money is certainly not an excuse because in Belize hundreds of millions of dollars are made and change hands each year. Yet, Education still is not top priority among the many new government, church, and business projects each year. (Am I the only educator who questions this?) Moreover, there are many talented and professional (young) people living and working in Belize today! The country now boasts more than one university, and each one produces highly proficient and professional graduates in ever-increasing numbers each year. Yet, the majority of our Primary/Elementary school children are not reaching where they should be, literary wise, compared with the rest of the world. Why? It simply cannot be that all our young students are lazy! Who, then, is? (Learned Helplessness)
As an Independent nation today, Belize offers its young people more occupational, career, and educational options than at any other time before. However, along with all the new opportunities available today, there exist far more problems in our society than we have ever seen before: ever-increasing daily crime, violence, drug abuse and peddling to all ages, poverty and unemployment, and an overall sense of hopelessness from thousands of people throughout the country. Many of us struggle, day in and day out, to survive ever-increasing “hard times”. Yet, during these very difficult times, the rich get richer, a middle class borders extinction, and life keeps getting harder and harder for the growing number of poor people with each new day. As we press on through these seemingly insurmountable and Dickensian times, how are we helping our young people to truly “prepare” for life in the next 10 years? Trying to educate them by using someone else’s standards simply is not good enough! Neither can it show them how to lead meaningful and satisfying lives while they try to learn each day in school.
As of today, what public actions are being taken to try to lower Belize’s extremely high unemployment rate (especially among Secondary and Tertiary educated citizens) and widespread poverty? How are we trying to stop gangs from openly and violently taking anything and everything they choose from hard-working Belizeans, many violent murders, and increasing closures of what once were successful business establishments? We could address it all by first positively reforming our Education systems throughout the entire country! It seems though, that we have all inexplicably chosen to accept our current pitiful and miserable, at times even violent, situations as being our uncontrollable destiny. So, as of this September, what better and more improved Education is now available to our children that we can celebrate?
Old and new schools, whether in Belize or not, are not just buildings and institutions that provide many teachers and professional educators with jobs. Schools provide and promote efficient Education for students, and prepare them to live and work in today’s world! Better-prepared graduates and a better Belizean workforce also translate into a more robust Belizean economy. Yet, an improved 21st Century Education just is not top-priority in Belize today, nor has it become fully non-negotiable for everyone. It certainly is not surprising, then, that several private (and expensive) and successful schools have emerged in Belize during the last 5 or 10 years. Basically, private schools will always be accountable to parents who can afford to pay expensive monthly tuition, to no one else. To whom, then, are public schools accountable today in Belize?
As a Belizean, I am quite serious when I say/write that our number one goal should be to provide a better Education to our children; it must be better than what we have provided since before we became Independent as a country. However, any reform whatsoever in our present Education systems requires input from ALL stakeholders: parents, teachers, business community, government, church, and the entire nation. Most importantly, we must all be serious about wanting to improve our students’ performance and educational outcomes. I look forward to having so much more to celebrate next September. Congratulations Belize!
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!