Monday, August 26, 2013

Education in Belize: Are Graduates Prepared Today and Students Being Prepared for Tomorrow?

Our most precious resource, whether in Belize or anywhere else throughout the world, will always be our children!  The rapidly growing tourism industry in Belize boasts the Caribbean Sea and Barrier Reef, many Maya ruins, our diverse cultures living side by side, an exotic rain forest, and many other attractions, and is currently one of the top sources of revenue for our government.  Nevertheless, there is no guarantee whatsoever that tourism in Belize will always flourish or produce continuous revenue to the country.  Our sugar, timber, citrus, and other agricultural industries (perhaps oil?) may also be top money earners for the country; but these industries too may decline or crash at any time.   However, our children from yesterday, today and tomorrow have limitless potential to take a tiny country like Belize above and beyond anyone’s wildest dreams or expectations.  Yet, with this basic concept in mind, we are not investing in our children (yesterday and today), specifically, in their Education.  The percentage of time and money spent on/being invested in our children’s Education today, whether in Belize and throughout the Third World (underdeveloped and developing countries) is not anywhere near where it should be – nowhere even close to where it should be.  Why? 

No one entity in Belize, i.e. political party or church, is accountable and bears all the blame for this sad fact.  Politicians and Education policymakers are not the only ones we should question about this overwhelming “lack of investment”, specifically time and money, in our children!   Parents who simply don’t have any time to spend and dedicate on shaping and guiding their children’s Education, for whatever reason, and help them focus on disciplined learning are just as much to blame for the total lack of investment in our children today.  Yet, usually these are the very parents and Education policymakers, who expect (demand) that schools miraculously produce well-educated and intelligent graduates, despite the fact that there is no investment in students other than a small fixed and budgeted amount of money each year.  Moreover, tuition and fees for each student keep increasing each year!  Yet, salaries (for parents and educators) just never keep pace with all the increases in the annual cost of Education, especially Secondary and Tertiary.  How often, though, do we have to be reminded that politicians do not just fall from the sky to serve in “democratic” governments, i.e. Belize?  Each and every politician who serves in a democratic government is “freely” elected by a majority of the people.  Belize has long ceased to be a British colony, and since September 21, 1981 we fully rule ourselves as an independent nation.

Why, then, do we need to reform the Education process (schools) in Belize today?   I was educated in Belize starting in the 1957 through 1971, and completed the highest level of education attainable in Belize at the time: Sixth Form.  My education back then was my preparation for my future; but my future has already come to pass.  According to the laws of Belize, I am now in a retirement stage and cannot work in Education anymore, except perhaps perhaps with special permission from the authorities that be.  We should NOT, though, be educating our children in the 21st Century the same way I was educated in the 1950’s/ 60’s!  Yet, that is exactly what we are doing today in Belize.  Where is/was the investment in the future of our children today, and our children from the last 30 years?   If our graduates today, and from the last 25 years, are not prepared to live and work in today’s Belize, it only follows that tomorrow’s students/graduates will face a similar, even worse, future.  This is the beginning of a new school year, and so politicians, church, and educators should know “where” Belize is headed with our students!  Do we/they know?

In Belize, Belizean citizens who now want/need to renew their passports must go through a maze of requirements, almost as if they were illegally living in their own country.  Why are there so many stringent requirements now to simply renew a passport?  Might it be that we fear a massive migration of our Youth somewhere else to seek a “better future”?  If our Youth today, and from the last 25 years, were totally prepared for today’s world in Belize, they would have no need to want to migrate, or seek a better life elsewhere.  Did we invest wisely in their future?  Are we investing wisely today in the future of our children now?  Or, are we all nonchalantly choosing to continue down the same path, and let tomorrow’s Belize worry about tomorrow’s Youth of Belize…  Education is not like a government bureaucracy, so when it comes to reforms in Education, they should not be carried out as slowly as possible!

Finally, I want to make it quite clear that I am NOT trying to pressure anyone to reform Education in Belize.  I am merely trying to point out to all Belizean adults, specifically Education policymakers, parents and educators, that this age old saying/proverb will always be true:  We reap what we sow.  This truth, of course, applies not only to our Education Systems in Belize but to every other aspect of life in Belize.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Education in Belize: Getting Back on Track for a New School Year!

No adult, especially a professional, likes to be told over and over what to do, or be reminded of it.  In my previous Guidance Counseling Blog, I wholeheartedly applaud and encourage the many teachers in Belize who, of their own accord, are now working enthusiastically to spread the spark of the new movement for much-needed school reform throughout our jewel of a country.  We parents admire each of you, teachers in Belize, for recommitting yourselves to the Education process, and for making every effort to strengthen your daily commitments to help your many students learn!  In this month’s Blog, I have neither messages nor reminders to shout from my soap box, but merely wish to offer a few helpful hints to students and teachers as they begin the countdown to another good and productive school year.

Summer vacations, for students at all levels throughout Primary and Secondary schools in Belize, are almost over.   For most of the students who have been on 2 months vacation, getting back on track and into a regular school routine will not be easy; neither will it automatically happen from one day to the next.  Nevertheless, many psychologists strongly recommend that, in order to maintain good physical and mental health, we should all maintain some form of daily routine.  So, for now, let’s not concern ourselves with whether Belize is a Nation at Risk, or with trying to find out who is responsible or accountable for this year’s very low PSE proficiency scores.  Instead, let’s make every effort to help our students and teachers try to get back into a school routine, and be totally ready for the new 2013/2014 school year that’s about to start.

Getting back into routine after a long vacation can be almost as daunting and challenging as trying to put a 1,000 piece puzzle together!  However, to complete the puzzle we can start simply with the outside border, four corner pieces first, then we complete all four sides or edges – one piece at a time; then, slowly but surely, we work to put the inside of the puzzle fully together.  By matching colors and shapes we are guided to where each piece of the puzzle needs to go.  To get back into a school routine, after being on a vacation with very little routine, we should start slowly, before school even starts, and try to put the school routine back, “one piece at a time”.  The border (straight edges) of the puzzle can be compared to our time at school everyday – that schedule is always fairly constant, with few changes everyday, and will fall into place quickly.  Our time away from school (especially when we have deadlines and limited time to complete homework) is what is much harder to commit to a routine; that commitment can be compared to completing or putting together the inside of the giant puzzle.  As with all routines, though, after the first, second and third hesitant (slow) steps, the other steps will follow easier; likewise, (school) routines get set one day at a time.  Trying to match the inside puzzle pieces of like colors and shapes can be compared to setting aside specific times to complete homework everyday, i.e. right after supper/tea everyday.  Trying to put together a puzzle, while watching T.V., conversing, talking on the(cell) phone etc. is never successful.  Likewise, if we try to complete homework assignments while concentrating on many other activities we will not be successful.  Homework will require total concentration and focus!  How about, starting today, try to complete one small chore every night before going to bed?  Now is the time for students to get back on firm footing, not during the turbulent first weeks of school, when they will have to deal with new teachers, new classes, and perhaps new schools.

Physically, parents could also help to steer students back into a school routine by starting from now to make every effort to re-establish the family’s normal eating habits, i.e. serve/eat breakfast, lunch (which we refer to as dinner in Belize), and supper (also called tea in Belize) at regular times everyday.   Moreover, in order to wake up “rested and ready for school” everyday, students should get a full night’s sleep, not just 2 or 3 hours.  From today onward, students could start to practice going to sleep each night at regular bedtimes in order to get a full night’s sleep, Mondays to Fridays.  In this area, parents could help younger students by making sure that they get back into that routine.  Likewise, keeping healthy sleeping habits also applies to teachers and school administrators. 

Above all else, students of all ages (in Belize and throughout the world) need constant motivation, not only to complete their daily homework and/or class projects or reports, but to want to keep learning everyday, and not just “give up” when they feel they cannot handle anymore schoolwork.  Of course, while students are in school, Mondays to Fridays, teachers and other professional educators are charged with taking on the daunting responsibility of providing their students with constant motivation.  However, when students are not in school, who/what motivates them?  Parents, whether you have a formal academic education or not, you can definitely try to provide your children with the motivation to want to “keep learning” everyday.  You can set the example for your children, especially the younger ones, to accept, confront, and overcome challenges.  Young students will readily emulate parents who always try to plan ahead, who practice daily routines such as eating together and at regular times, who go to sleep at regular times, and who don’t give up at the first difficult challenge that may come their way. 

May this new school year be a good, successful, and productive one for all teachers and students in Belize!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Belize: Embracing Change in Education

Recently, I referred to the United States of America’s report, “A Nation at Risk”, published over 30 years ago by that country’s Education Department to urge an overhaul of how and what their young people were being taught in schools.  In June of this year, Belize’s Education Department released a Report of the 2013 PSE Results of Proficiency Examinations for Primary School students.  The Results showed Primary school students in Belize lagging far behind where they should be in Education, especially in areas of Reading (English) and Math. Both Reports were “wake-up calls” for each country.  In my previous Blog for July of this year I further encourage Education policymakers in Belize to examine non-British and non-Caribbean models of 21st Century successful schools and successful students, for example, Finland.  

I am thrilled to note that educators (teachers) in Belize, with fighting armor on, now seem poised in a genuine “let us embrace change” mode.  Church and government policymakers of Education in Belize may not want to consider changing how and what young Belizeans should be learning; nevertheless, many teachers (as witnessed through increasing daily posts on social media Internet networks) now seem ready to address the need to strengthen and revitalize Belize’s Education system -- by accepting and embracing change!  These brave educators/teachers in Belize appear ready to “take the first steps” on the very long and difficult journey to change, improve, and strengthen our school systems throughout the country. 

I wholeheartedly applaud, encourage, and endorse each and every teacher in Belize who today is embracing technology to be able to communicate with the many other educators throughout (and beyond) our jewel.  Technology to the Rescue!  Many teachers appear quite willing and ready now to take some challenging initiatives that so desperately need to be taken from within our Education systems -- from the classroom to the staff room   Each day, more and more teachers in Belize continue to communicate openly through the social media network on the internet: Facebook, Chat rooms, and Education Reform sites.  Throughout these sites, many teachers (my heroes!) are now openly expressing and explaining their many individual and urgent needs in the classroom that so many other Education stakeholders continue to ignore.  Many of these teachers are also now making public their own ideas and suggestions for improving schools, trying new teaching methods in the classrooms, and introducing new methods of learning.  I fully and enthusiastically salute the teachers in Belize who, perhaps unknowingly, are showing the world the powerful truth behind that age-old adage: “Never say never!”   Without a doubt, thousands of our young students throughout Belize will benefit from the many actions that our teachers have commenced to experiment and introduce on the much-needed journey of change in Belize’s Education systems.

Some teachers have even openly expressed a desire to want to create an Education Symposium in Belize to address topics including:

  • Foundation, principles, and importance of using a curriculum (curriculum development),
  • Results (on teachers and students) of political interference,
  • Opportunities (lack of) for adequate teacher training (Primary and Secondary schools),
  • Meeting the urgent needs of local businesses, i.e. fully training and preparing students to be ready to enter the workplace,
  • Specific Education topics relevant to Belize 
 I see this new movement as fully headed in one direction only:  success for teachers, for students, and for the entire nation.  I certainly and wholeheartedly encourage the many Primary and Secondary school teachers in Belize who are working enthusiastically to keep spreading the spark of their new movement for much-needed school reform throughout our jewel.