Sunday, December 22, 2013

Education in Belize: End of Year Notes

As we approach the end of 2013 I would like to thank readers of and my Guidance Counselor column for their loyalty and participation/comments, or sharing my articles.  I am thrilled to note that, this year, readers from Belize as well as 32 other countries in six continents read my blog and Guidance Counselor articles; many readers, including Belizeans, expressed their concerns (via blog, email, and various media outlets) regarding Education in Belize as well as in other countries.  Despite the fact that the Belize Education System classifies me as a “retired” educator, I still look forward to tackling and discussing many more challenging topics on Education, including some that many powerful people would prefer not to discuss publicly.

This year, I grew another year older and wiser as a parent and “retired” educator; however, I remain very concerned about the direction(s) in which youth throughout the world today seem headed.  Interestingly enough, my parents before me and their parents before them probably thought likewise.  However, this year and several times since 1999 (Columbine) in the USA there have been violent mass shootings and suicidal massacres in Elementary and Secondary schools by students of all ages.  Moreover, each year now, in an effort to create bully-free schools throughout the world, the entire month of October is devoted to trying to counter and diminish bullying in schools, and foster a greater awareness of this violent and hostile problem. Considering these psychologically and physically damaging and all too familiar occurrences in schools today, as we end this year I directly pose more pressing questions to all readers, especially parents and educators throughout the world,
1.      Do young people today know what it is (or how) to empathize with others?
2.      Have we taught our young people, past or present, the great value of experiencing empathy?
3.      Is it really their fault if they (youth) choose to stay on a very indifferent or self-centered road, as so many of them now seem fully entrenched on?
4.      Unlike robots, can students “learn” values without experiencing empathy?
5.      In this highly-advanced and rapidly-advancing Technological Age, are we adequately preparing our youth to live in a world of tomorrow, where many of us adults today will not exist?
A “no” answer to any one of the above questions signifies that already our young people are in big trouble, and are fully headed for even worse!

Many hostile and dehumanizing criminal events often disrupt daily life in Belize today.  They not only keep increasing an already high level of poverty and crime in our society, but very negatively affect our once world-renown peaceful way of living.  Worse even, they are causing our youth to feel less and less human, and become more and more violent and indifferent toward each other.  Yet, political leaders, Education policymakers, and the overall public in Belize seem to stubbornly and adamantly prefer to think that the problems caused by and/or among our youth today will probably or eventually “blow over like a lee sea breeze”.  Well, no matter how often that very convenient Belizean phrase may be used by those who are “in charge”, current problems, especially in schools, will not just blow over. 

Today, many people in our global society feel no empathy (not sympathy) whatsoever for others.  As a result, the rich keep getting richer and the poor even poorer, and this vast polarization keeps getting wider.  The new Pope, leader of the Catholic Church, considers this concern a top priority and constantly reminds everyone of the urgent need to address this situation.  Unfortunately, many rich and/or poor parents today do not have the time to teach or show (by example) our children how to cope with conflicts -- internal or external. It also seems that both the busy professional/career parents and the extremely poor ones who are always away from the home now expect schools alone to teach values, including empathy!  But, should schools bear that responsibility?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines em-pa-thy as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feeling”.  The full definition provided includes, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.  In simpler terms, we empathize with others when we try to identify with them and make an effort to understand their circumstances and behavior(s), especially if they are different from ours.  Teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, social workers, politicians, and all those who work directly with the public (all ages) must make an effort to have/experience empathy for the people with whom they deal everyday.  Those who administer Human Resources in corporations, unions, or any institution are required to be professionally trained and qualified to empathize with employers and employees.  English teachers explain to students who must study great works of literature (plays, novels, short stories, poems, etc.) that the way to appreciate them is by trying to empathize or live through the characters that each author portrays, whether they be rich or poor, good or evil.  The opposite of empathy is indifference, or “I could care less about you”.

Before our modern and global Age of Technology, “parenting seminars” or “motivational speakers and coaches” were rare, yet today they are needed more and more.  Society used to hold Elementary schools responsible only for teaching students the 3 R’s or basic Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the only responsibility of schools today.  More and more, social and emotional learning, SEL curricula, are being introduced in schools in developed countries like the USA.  Just as we learned to use (and copy, i.e. CXC) the British system of Ordinary and Advanced (O and A) Level examinations, I am sure that we could learn to work more positively and productively with young students in Belize today by studying how schools in other countries implement SEL curricula.  One such school in the USA (Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility) stresses the 4 R’s with students:  Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution.  Without a doubt, these type schools advertise new job descriptions and preparation/qualification requirements for teachers.  In the peaceful and compassionate spirit of Christmas, I encourage policymakers of our Belize Education System to adapt similar SEL curricula to help provide young students with much-needed coping, communication, and resilience skills that so many of them just are not getting at home anymore.  In another article I will provide detailed examples of SEL curricula.

Once more, thank you readers for your loyalty this year and for your participation and comments, going back to when I first loudly urged everyone in Belize to, Wake Up And Smell the Coffee.

Author’s Note:
On the article that received the highest readership and got the most comments this year was, Belize: A Nation at Risk

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!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Education in Belize: Taking the Risk

As we approach the end of 2013, I publicly ask the Education policymakers (government and church), principals, school administrators, teachers, and parents in Belize:
1.      Are we satisfied with our Educational Systems in Belize today?
2.      Have we improved any Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary school in Belize this year?
3.      What have we learned this year that could help us to improve our schools in Belize, so that we can more adequately educate and prepare students for life in Belize in 2020?

It is widely accepted now, especially by our country’s 21st Century youth, that Belize is not one of the quaint “ends of the world”, as it was previously described by Aldous Huxley and once considered to be by the rest of the world.  On the contrary, Belize (not British Honduras) has today boldly taken its place as its own Independent and Sovereign nation in a new century and global age of instant communication.  Our children and grandchildren have been born into, and live in, a modern Age of Technology, and so they also see themselves as being on the same stage as everyone else around the world today.  Consequently, now more than ever, young Belizeans need our help and guidance to help them adequately prepare to face the challenges of a rapidly changing and advancing world of technology and global economics. 

As we close out this year and approach a New Year, I remind all those powerful Belizeans who seem hell-bent on living in the past, and anyone who stubbornly refuse to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee:  Gone are the Colonial days of yore, of rote learning and memorizing to pass imported tests, of having to wait for outsiders to recognize and reward our young and intelligent citizens.  Today, Belize boasts its very own institutions of higher learning; and young Belizeans no longer have to travel outside of Belize to seek and obtain professional academic preparation.  Moreover, many forms of higher education are available online through the internet. 

Today, not everyone who leaves school only looks for employment.  We live in an era where we encourage entrepreneurship, in an era where we can be on the same level as everyone else in the world, in an era of literally having the entire world at our fingertips through the use of computers and the internet.  Fairly soon (already) we won’t use or need paper anymore, whether at school or in the commercial workplace.   Many teachers in secondary and tertiary schools in Belize now request that students complete homework on the computer and email it to them.  Some popular local newspapers are no longer printed and sold “on paper” anymore, but instead are accessed on a screen at the touch of a button, including newspapers sold on paper.  These newspapers are accessible by anyone from anywhere in the world.  (Our magnificent trees thank you!)

Who, in Belize’s education systems, predicted that all this would happen?  Who can predict what will follow in the next ten or twenty years?  What skills will our Belizean youth need for success in the new global labor market and economy?   Can or do PSE proficiency exam results today for primary school students in Belize predict their life outcomes?  Can or do CXC (or whatever name is used today for Caribbean O and A level examinations which mimic original British GCE similar examinations) outcomes predict a high school graduate’s success or failure in the next five years?   Are our primary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Belize offering curricula to students today that invest in their future, and in the future of a strong and self-sustaining Belize?  Are we bothering to even try to integrate the various learning styles and multiple intelligences of our young Belizean students today?  There are so many questions to ask about Belize’s failing educations systems today; however, no answers whatsoever have been provided to questions previously asked. 

Why is no one in Belize bothering to ask and seek responses to the very pertinent and imminent questions about how our schools in Belize are run?  Does no one have a vision for where we would like Belize to be in the future?  Does no one care what kind of schools our children and grandchildren attend today?  Despite many (expensive) professional development workshops advertised and conducted for teachers and educators in Belize each year, do any good ideas that are introduced through them ever get put into practice?   Or, do those ideas simply remain ignored because they conflict with existing procedures already established by political and church Education policymakers in Belize? 

This week’s article and Blog asks many questions but answers none.  The reason for this is because education policymakers (government and church), principals, school administrators, teachers, and parents in Belize are the ones who have the power to improve our school systems.  They, and only they, (no one from outside the country) can make a difference and “put into practice” educational reform to improve our schools in Belize.

I clearly and vividly remember the early morning program, “Wake up and Work!” broadcast loudly over the only radio station in the country, each workday of the week during the mid to late nineteen sixties (1965 – 1969).  Marching bands trumpeted their music over our only radio station starting at 6:00 a.m. each morning for about a half hour.  Before and after each marching song, the announcer and broadcaster would exhort and incite Belizean workers to wake up and work everyday!  Whether the program was political or not, it succeeded in “waking” people up!  Likewise, now I loudly urge all Belizeans, especially those mentioned in the opening sentence of this article, to wake up and do something to improve our education systems to prepare our youth to lead Belize in the next decade!

Finally, I remind everyone that no top revenue-producing industry is guaranteed to last forever.  Tourism may be great and expansive one year, yet stagnant the next.  Sugar, citrus, oil or oil products, may be in great demand one year, yet once replacements or substitutes are found or created for them, they will be quickly forgotten.  Lumber (products) may be needed and in great demand one year, yet its use outlawed the next.  What I’m saying is that we can never rest on our laurels and assume that if we have it good today in one area today, it will always be that way.  This, most of all, applies to political parties (democratically elected or not) who may be placed in as well as taken out of power by the very same people.  Consequently, I urge all Belizean adults to “take the risk” and invest physically, financially, and emotionally today in providing our youth with a worthwhile and valuable education for which tomorrow they will thank you. 

Author’s Note:

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 among 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!