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!

1 comment:

  1. A very important article this one is. Thanks for touching on many bases that are important to ensure that our education system is going in the right direction and that we are creating world marketable citizens ready for the new world.

    I must point out that despite Belize having higher learning institutions, I think we have yet to learn the value of moving away from rote memorization and creating robots instead of critical thinkers and actual educated people by keeping in line with standardized curricula and exams or dictating how education is done.

    One thing I love is that you keep a focus on an important item that needs to be addressed not only in our education sector but in all aspects of everyday life, Technology. The world is constantly evolving into a connected and technological beast, where anyone without this knowledge WILL be left behind. We cannot continue to allow our citizenry to be exposed to sub standard or no technology. In today’s world, children as young as you can get them are exposed to and using technology. I see babies using tablets like the nabi now to entertain and learn. We can do so much more if the proper investments are done.

    I am working on a system where schools can be brought into the technology age with smaller investments than before and can (if the government and private sectors would see the benefit and help our education system) create a centralized system where Educators can share knowledge and other things that work for them with their students or where a parent can know if her child has home work and what or how their child(ten) is/are doing at school without waiting for a report card. Hopefully enough knowledgable people get involved in helping to create this system and that the right people invest in getting it rolled out into production.

    As for external influences and examination, I think that while we should look at other nations for what works (why re-invent the wheel right) we should do so to get a guidance setting not to mimic them exactly. What works for them may not work for us. Let’s look at the PSE for example, last exam session we had a miserable failure rate because we allowed our education system to be dictated by outsiders that have no real world experience with education in Belize and with students the way our Educators do every day. What is needed in Belize is for a setting to be created where Educators dealing with the daily task of educating our children are allowed to create policies and curricula that works for Belize and Belizean students and create a testing system that works and is recognized by international standards.

    Our nation is currently at the Ripe for Reform star but each of us must step forward and make our little bit of difference. From the Government, to the Churches, to the Private Sector. We need to create a structure where the curricula our students are learning from is what is needed in the real world.

    I would have loved to experience the “Wake up and Work!” show. I agree with you, we need that in our lives today.. Wake Up, Smell the Coffee as you say and move your knees toward a better future. Stop waiting on others to do what we all should be doing together.