Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Education in Belize: Bullying in Schools / Need for Empathy

"Bullying... a public degradation ceremony in which the victim’s capabilities are debased and his or her identity is ridiculed."   Alan McEvoy, Ph.D.

October is recognized as National Bullying Prevention month each year in the USA.  The entire month is dedicated to combating bullying in Primary/Elementary and Secondary schools -- by placing a spotlight on, and educating others about bullying, in all its ugly forms.  Whether physical, emotional, or digital, i.e. via online social media, bullying envelops its victims with many negative and harmful academic, social, and lifetime consequences.  Is the pervasive problem of bullying in schools ever accidental, or fully intentional?  Does it ever rear its ugly head in schools in Belize today?  If it does, is bullying a reflection of our society and/or living conditions?

Belize is a small country and is made up of a blended mix of under 350,000 multicultural/multiracial peoples and ethnic groups.  In some tourist brochures we boast to the world that in Belize our varied cultures and ethnic groups of people coexist peacefully, and live harmoniously side by side.  That is quite a proud claim.  But, do our schools have "working" and effective (not just written) policies and responses to reports of abusive behavior by bullies, regardless of whether they be peers (other students) or perhaps even staff?  What educational or social research project has ever been carried out in Belize, or published, to document the nature and extent of bullying, or absence of bullying, in our schools?  Do we have policies on bullying in all our schools, or offer continuous staff training to deal with bullying of/by student peers, or provide any intervention or prevention programs in primary and secondary schools throughout our multicultural and multiracial jewel, Belize

During my first year of high school in British Honduras, in 1965, I experienced and suffered hurtful emotional bullying.  I will not hide or bury that fact.  Perhaps, because I started studying at an all-boys high school at the young age of 12, when most of my student peers were much older than I was then, that set me up as an easy target for (older) bullies.  Nonetheless, bullying against me back then went mostly ignored by everyone else, including staff; so, my only choice back then was to try adjusting and studying in what at times felt like an insecure and untrustworthy place.  Thankfully, long sessions each weekend, to study and practice the art of meditation and Judo, did eventually prove to be of great help, and encouraged me to be comfortable with my young self.  (Kudos to Dr. D. F., my Judo instructor then, and also my very first ESL student/client in Belize -- student teaching student!)  Because I once was a victim of  bullying, I have always made every possible effort, as educator and administrator, to immediately step in and stop any perceived bullying of a student, male or female, by another or by various others.   Moreover, I have provided workshops to students, where each student had to live in a stranger's shoes for an entire day.  These workshops have  been extremely helpful in introducing the concept of empathy to students.

However, based on my experience since 1978 as a professional educator, what is even sadder than observing a total lack of empathy in some students, is observing how many times students and staff opt to ignore public bullying at schools.  Unfortunately, indifference and neglect by student peers or staff can be just as damaging to a victim of bullying as the very abusive and degrading act itself of public bullying!  Many times students/staff choose inaction (i.e. not my problem, so why get involved) or at times even outright complicity.  I feel strongly that by providing continuous education to students about the root causes and negative effects of bullying, we can help students to better understand and accept each other, and combat bullying and discord in schools.

I contend that whenever a male student, regardless of his age, is being publicly bullied, whether at school or anywhere in the community, that is NOT the time or place for anyone to encourage him to "learn to fight back like a man", or "work it out".  Too often, bullied students (victims) throughout the world have gotten these type messages thrown in their faces; and unfortunately, in trying to "fight back" or "work it out"  too many victims of bullies have ended up slaughtering dozens of innocent others, including their very own selves.  We are now living in the 21st. Century, not in Ancient Sparta where young boys (Spartans), starting from the earliest age possible, were purposefully raised in environs of uncompromising brutality so that they could learn how to become ruthless and vicious killers and gladiators.   It is illegal to raise dogs to fight viciously today, even though some heartless owners do it anyhow -- for their own sickening entertainment and betting purposes; so, why suggest learning to "fight back" as an option for young boys who are victims of bullying?

Many world-renown neuroscientists, psychologists and educators have pointed out that it is possible to reduce bullying and other kinds of violence.  How?  After conducting many scientific research studies of students and societies, these professionals conclude that we should introduce empathy to our children at a very early age -- starting in infancy.  Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes, in order to be able to comprehend what that person may be feeling, or going through, at various times.  I have stated in previous articles/blogs, that I fully support the findings and conclusions of these professionals: empathy is not only helpful for, but a basic requisite of productive human social interaction.  Practicing empathy helps us to develop a sense of morality, as opposed to living like wild animals or gladiators. 

So, if indeed we all do co exist so peacefully, side by side in this jewel of ours, Belize, then WHY are our violent crime and murder rates up so high?  Do people always murder, steal, or refuse to trust one another as a direct result of having to live under/with high poverty and unemployment rates?  Is the bullying of young people and students (unlike many past/present major political or public scandals in Belize) a "lee sea breeze" that can/will quickly pass over and eventually be forgotten?  Repeated bullying of a student can lead to his/her very severe and negative sense of hurt and depression; and, as we have seen many times before, some victims (who feel totally unaided and ignored) ultimately and hopelessly seek revengeful destruction of property or life -- and  suicide to end their pain.  So, in addition to reacting to public bullying of young people in our schools and communities, lets try to prevent it from ever occurring.

In addition to introducing and encouraging empathy in our children from an early age, what else can/should we parents and educators do to minimize bullying or bad behavior of children? Are there preventive measures that we could introduce from in early childhood to stop bullies from ever emerging to physically or emotionally abuse their peers, or those who are different from them?  I have said it before, and say it again:  In order for Education (learning) to be successful, we parents and educators should first make every effort to try to understand and accept our youth for who they are; more importantly, we need to also strive to teach and encourage them to understand and accept themselves.  Perhaps, when/if our youth feel accepted, they will be likelier to make an effort to understand and/or accept behaviors of other "different" persons -- no matter how different in age, physical size, race, sex, etc. others may be.   In simple words, we parents, educators, and entire communities could set the examples for our youth today, by first walking the walk with them, instead of merely talking the talk down to them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Education in Belize: Effective Discipline

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”  

What constitutes effective discipline?  Why should we raise our children subject to some form of discipline?  How do we properly enforce discipline everyday in our homes and schools?  If we do not continuously discipline young people how will they comprehend that there are always consequences to any bad choices they make?  We cannot address these questions comprehensively in just one article; however, we can discuss what discipline is about vs. what it is not.  Most parents and teachers think of discipline as the system of (self) control that we use to bring out the best behavior in children and in ourselves.  Schools focus on discipline mostly as a system to prevent and/or cope with students’ behavior problems.  However, no matter which definition we use, I feel strongly that we should not consider discipline to be merely a system of punishment for adults or children, or have punishment be its major purpose.

Unlike half a century ago, and before Belize became an Independent country in 1981, today we are an increasingly multicultural and multiclass society with ever-growing and changing needs.  The largest and most notable change throughout our jewel today is that now we are very much part of a digital and global society in a fast-advancing Age of Technology.  Consequently, to the dismay of many (older) adults and schools, and very unlike the past, there can no longer be a simple approach to raising children and providing them with effective discipline at home and in school.  Nonetheless, despite whichever age we live in, if we want to raise and teach our children effectively and responsibly, we cannot ignore their unwanted or unacceptable behaviors.  From the time our children start to creep we should start administering some form of discipline to them in order to introduce and keep structure and order in their lives.  Adults who provide no form whatsoever of discipline to children only increase and multiply the chaos and frustration that already exist in every home and classroom throughout society.

As young Belizeans struggle to develop from infants into mature adults, one of their very important daily needs is for adults (society) to guide and monitor their healthy physical and emotional growth.  We can effectively nourish their emotional growth by providing and exposing them, from a very early age, to some form of structure in their lives, and by spending quality time with them.  We provide discipline and structure simply by setting clear limits and expectations for them, not by continuously overindulging them with food and material things, or giving them every new technical invention/gadget sold for entertainment.  On the other hand, if we ignore our children’s daily behavior, whether good or bad, or constantly overindulge them as if to make up for ignoring them or not spending quality time with them, we add to and multiply the existing chaos in which we live today.  A harmful extreme that some adults choose is assuming that they have the right/duty to punish and humiliate children/students in the name of discipline.  Adults who do this, not only stunt children’s emotional growth, but also risk losing control of themselves.  Humiliated children, and the adults who administer harsh punishments/humiliation, will end up feeling helpless and frustrated.

Parents and teachers/educators share one very important thing in common, even though many times they are each others’ worse critics: they discipline and guide children/students toward healthy emotional growth.  On one side, some adults (many from the older generation) insist that only the “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy or corporal punishment works when it comes to disciplining and correctly raising children.  However, when put into practice whether at home or in schools this form of discipline can at times become extreme, repressive, cruel, and abusive or violent.  On the other side, some of today’s more academically educated adults, especially new parents, prefer a more psychology-backed “timeout and share feelings” version of how to discipline young people.  In between both widely-differing extremes there are hundreds of other alternatives and guides offered to parents and teachers on “the right way to discipline young people”.  Is there, though, a right or wrong way to discipline our children and set a foundation for their healthy emotional growth in this rapidly-changing global and digital world?

There are countless resources available today on “discipline”:  hundreds of books have been and  continue to be written on discipline based on various (scientific) studies of young peoples’ behaviors; dozens of interactive “how to” websites exist to promote forms of discipline that work at home and in school vs. those that do not; hundreds of seminars and workshops of all lengths and prices are offered by professional speakers to parents and educators on the subject of effective discipline and how to use it with/on our children.  With so many differing options and opinions available, how do parents and educators/teachers reach a consensus on what discipline really is about, or how best to enforce it to raise better-behaved children? 

No matter which resource we (parent or teacher) choose, let’s make every effort to set a strong foundation of good behavior in our children and in our families.  How?  Let’s try to teach them (our) values, and show them from an early age how to positively express their feelings instead of whining or throwing tantrums.  Very importantly, let’s make every effort to ensure that our children always feel safe, physically and emotionally, both at home and in school.  There may be times when we are unable to eliminate their bothersome behaviors.  However, the solution is not to keep changing methods of disciplining children/students or keep trying alternate methods offered in the most-recently-published book or study.  Rather, from a child’s earliest age, let’s focus on trying to prevent behavior problems, i.e. stealing, lying, cheating, talking back, bullying from ever surfacing.  How?  Let’s start by accepting them, from day 1, for who they are not only for who we/others may want them to be or become.  Let’s respect and support each child’s/student’s integrity by trying to help him/her build a strong sense of purpose and self-esteem. 

Finally, let’s try to deal with behavior problems that may exist in our children or students in a practical and constructive/positive way, not in a purely punitive way.  After all, the very purpose of effective discipline is to nurture, not weaken, a healthy sense of one’s self-esteem and emotional development.  We should use various forms of discipline to strengthen, not weaken, our bodies and souls.

Author’s Note:
These articles are not intended to be comprehensive or complete.  They do not offer simple answers to complex problems.  Rather, they are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, parents, and the community.  These articles are written to encourage readers to discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the many ways in which we currently try to educate them, at home and in school.  We can learn from our mistakes as well as success.  Way to go, parents and fellow educators!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Education in Belize: Quality Schools

“Workers will not work hard unless they believe there is quality in what they are asked to do.”  
William Glasser, M.D. 
During the last few weeks, the entire country of Belize witnessed with great concern the plight of hundreds/thousands of educators and teachers whose pressing yet ignored working and workplace concerns had finally reached a boiling point.  These professionals work very hard and tirelessly everyday to provide an education to our young people; yet they remain unappreciated by many, especially by those who control their very salaries, workplaces, and living conditions.  BNTU (Belize National Teachers Union) and its members and backers staged many public rallies and demonstrations countrywide to showcase teachers’ concerns to the government and to the country.  Extremely unfair and low teacher wages was the overwhelming concern, but very large class sizes, and insufficient continuing professional education for teachers were among other continuously ignored concerns that were not financial.  After several BNTU public rallies, and meetings between union and government officials, the Prime Minister and Minister of Education finally ceded.  In a press conference, the Prime Minister (was forced to?) addressed the dismal plight of educators and education in the country.  Resolution:  a promise of a mere 4% raise in teachers’ salaries in the future.  However, did teachers win their fight?  Did their recent rallies and demonstrations help to resolve their pressing concerns? 

As I stated in a previous article, in order to keep learning we must constantly and consistently keep feeding our genuine love and enthusiasm for Education and for learning.  Enthusiasm!How long can/will it last?  This is not something that we should merely do once every few years, perhaps through rallies and demonstrations, nor is it something that we can expect others to do for us.  The alternative to actively and constantly improving our Education Systems, including their management and staff, is to do nothing and end up with failing schools that produce graduates who do not or cannot contribute to society.  This is definitely NOT the alternative that the developing and not-so-recently Independent nation of Belize wants or deserves today.

Recently, I noticed genuine concerns being aired on social media sites regarding the rapidly sinking (totally dismal) status of some high schools in Belize.  It was noted that in each school no form of discipline is present or used/administered daily.  Worse even, developing one’s “god given talents” is not a part of any of these schools’ goals, only repetitive and blind academic pursuit each year.  According to the concern posted on Facebook, each of these sinking schools has fallen into “chiastic structure”, miriness, and even life-threatening chaos.  In (ancient) Literature “chiastic structure” refers to the literary use of repetitive patterns or motifs to write/present the work, poem or book.  (Wikipedia)  Likewise, schools literally fall apart when they are run with a total lack of vision and goals, and with no structured administration and/or classroom management.  The repetitive pattern in each sinking school can be seen in their dismal existence, repeated day in and day out, with NO goals or vision and no structure whatsoever, i.e. anything is acceptable as long as some form of (blind) academic achievement is haphazardly pursued.  This is my interpretation of “chiastic structure” in several high schools and middle schools in Belize City.

Education in Belize: Next Steps points out definitively that the outdated and ineffective Colonial Systems of Education that the Government and Church in Belize insist on maintaining and following today, just as they did long before Independence in 1981, do not meet the nation’s pressing needs in today’s global and digital Age.  Interestingly, before our country achieved Independence, we used to have very productive vocational, agricultural, and technical schools in Belize that did not stress mere academic pursuit, but intensely pursued the development of one’s “God given talents”.  Today, these schools no longer exist.  Key phrases: “used to … no longer”.  Why?  Who, from his mighty and regal throne, decided he could change the vision, goals, and objectives of these schools, or others?  Those vocational and technical schools that existed before Independence served Belize well; but now they no longer exist!  It’s time to immediately address this pressing need to provide non-academic/non-literary training, and fill this gaping hole in our nation’s far-from-developed existence. 

I wonder if our leaders, in this global and digital age, realize how very important it is that we always have qualified “hands on” workers or laborers.  Of course, now that we have universities in Belize many young adults today want to pursue a university education.  That ambition is admirable.  However, we will always need farmers, carpenters, plumbers, architects, electricians, maintenance engineers, automobile technicians and many other professionals who are not afraid to “get their hands dirty” while working.  Having worked for many years as a Vocational Guidance Counselor, I know that not every young student aspires to work in an office or with a computer, or anywhere that requires “dress appropriately and professionally” everyday.  Nevertheless, we should encourage and respect each student’s choice(s) and also feed their enthusiasm for learning – even for non-academic or literary pursuits.  In so doing, we can ensure that our cities and towns will not come to a total standstill due to a lack of much-needed “hands on” workers. 

Let’s not rely on outsiders and foreigners to accomplish the work necessary to build, enhance, and productively maintain/supply Belizean towns, villages, and cities from North to South, and East to West.  Let us train and produce: farmers to grow our crops; construction professionals, including carpenters, to build our homes/house and office buildings; skilled technicians to ensure that all vehicles and all things motorized or electric always work; maintenance/sanitation engineers to ensure that we always live clean; workers to repair our roads and streets.  Even for much-needed entertainment, let us keep opening paths for and producing creative artists from among us to entertain us all.  Or, do the current learned Education policymakers (government and church) comfortably assume that “outsiders” will do such work, thus Belizean students only need aspire to get umpteen academic passes in CXC and the other foreign made-and-corrected examinations?  If we want to provide quality education to our Youth, those in control of Belize’s Education systems need to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.

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 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, January 31, 2014

Education in Belize: Next Steps?

“The only thing harder than letting go is moving on.” 
We have tried to identify Who’s the Enemy in our Education Systems in Belize and open our eyes to why so many of us live desensitized to daily life in this new global and digital age.  Now, it’s time to move on to the next stage.  Are we ready and willing?  Mega-sized problems that continue to plague our nation everyday lie not only in areas of Education but in other key areas that prevent us from improving our standards of living.  Quality health care is not available or affordable to everyone throughout Belize’s cities, towns, and rural areas.  Employment for professionals is not available on a competitive basis, but rather only to the few who (whose families) are lucky enough to have the right “political connections”.  The fact remains, though, that even if our Education systems do not meet all the challenges that confront an Independent nation, teachers in Belize remain grossly underpaid, undervalued, and unappreciated by too many.  I extend kudos to BNTU and to all educators who are bravely fighting (the government) and trying to improve this unjustifiable and unfair condition. 

Most students and educators in Belize know well that since our Independence in 1981 the country's Education Systems are due for a total revamping and upgrade.  Outdated and ineffective Colonial Systems of Education that we (Government and Church) insist on maintaining and following no longer meet all our nation’s pressing needs in this global and digital Age.  If indeed they do meet all our nation’s needs, then where is the growing network of successful vocational, technical, and scientific professionals “educated in Belize”?  Where are the dozens of successful “educated in Belize” entrepreneurs who continue to receive every incentive possible from the government to build and boost the nation’s economy, year after year?  Why don’t we have enough tax revenues from successful industries pouring into government coffers to be able to provide free education up through university level to all our Youth?  Where is that thriving network of “home-educated and prepared” business professionals in the financial field who are steering Belize toward becoming an exemplary “success story” in the Caribbean?  Where are the professionals, “educated in Belize”, who maintain a thriving Industrial Base in this jewel of ours?  Where are the local graduates of Technical and Vocational Schools throughout Belize who everyday build, fortify, and enhance our growing cities and communities in all six Districts, from North to South and East to West?  As an Independent nation we ourselves, not only immigrants and foreigners, must be able to build, support, and invest in our communities -- business wise and in every other way.  An abundance of legal professionals trained and educated abroad and working in our midst is not enough to steer us into prosperity.

Teachers could work much more effectively in classrooms everyday (Primary or Secondary) if they did not feel that they had to coerce students to memorize Math and Science sections of a government-mandated or Commonwealth-copied curriculum, just long enough so the students might pass government-required examinations.  Moreover, students may be able to memorize lessons just long enough so they can pass exams, but many of them do not understand or “learn”.  Worst of all, even though we can now boast of having our very own institutions of higher learning, universities in Belize, hundreds of their graduates each year cannot enter (find work) into the country’s workforce of professionals.  So, where can/do they each go after graduation?  University Degrees are not awarded only to be framed!  Our young people work very hard and incur many debts to be able to obtain a quality/higher education -- they want and need to work and use that education “in Belize”.

Beyond the profound issue of Learned Helplessness being perpetuated by non-changing Colonial and Commonwealth-copied Systems of Education in Belize, no one wants to live within the confines of a sluggish economy, a staggeringly expensive health care system, and growing unemployment.  We want and need Education Systems that can deliver and produce graduates who are eager, ready, and qualified to take over the reins of the country.   On the other hand, those who have controlled those reins (or still do) also need to hand them over to qualified and home-educated Belizeans!  Those of us, especially the policymakers in government, who have grown used to accepting hand-outs, must also realize that no one will hand us on a platter: neatly typed, fully explained, and ready-to-use Education systems to match many of the needs of Independent Belize today.  We must first want such systems and then work hard together to create them!  We parents, educators, the government and Church policymakers have to break free from that Colonial mindset of learned helplessness that perpetuates the belief that only “Massah’, or someone from abroad, has all the answers.  Let’s not continue to live hopelessly out-of-touch and blinded to the truth that we are now “on our own” -- simply because it’s convenient to remain idle!  No country ever achieves success by copying and pasting another country’s (someone else’s) version of success, whether in Politics, Economics, or in Education.  So, yes, it’s time to let go of any old Colonial ways that no longer serve us; but let’s not then hopelessly and pitifully wait for someone else to move us on.  Only we can move ourselves forward!

While I worked as a teacher and Vocational Guidance Counselor in both American and Belizean high schools, at the beginning of each school year I encouraged each student to set SMART goals for himself/herself: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound.  No one simply hands out success to a student; rather, he/she must first set himself/herself on a path to success and then work steadily to achieve each goal set -- no giving up no matter how rough the school year may get.  Likewise, no one will simply deliver productive Systems of Education to Belize’s policymakers, administrators, and educators.  First, we must want systems that are fully functional and able to produce the educated and professional citizens we need to support and develop the nation.  Second, we proceed to create working systems by gathering input from everyone, including parents and educators, not only from the government, church, or professionals in the field of Education.  Third, we put the systems in effect, work with our students and continue to learn and grow with them, and finally we amend them as often as we may need.  Let us, today not tomorrow, take the next steps to strengthen our obsolete and cut-in-stone Systems of Education so they can serve us much more effectively and productively.

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 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!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Walt Kelly

As we start a new year in this rapidly-advancing Age of Technology, the Belize National Teachers’ Union is once more trying to “raise awareness on key national issues”, and is “seeking justice for the work that teachers do”.  Thinking along those same lines, to raise awareness and seek justice, I wonder what classrooms in Belize today would look like if the powerful school policymakers from the Ministry of Education and Education Department were brave enough to switch places with teachers and school administrators for a day.  Likewise, some teachers could also switch places with students for just one day.  Switching places in the classrooms between Education policymakers and teachers, if only for one day, would provide an eye-opening opportunity for policymakers to understand what really happens in classrooms everyday vs. what they think or expect happens in classrooms everyday.  Likewise, it might be quite eye-opening for our very hard-working teachers to also experience first-hand what many students deal with everyday in the classrooms in 2014.  After all, students throughout Belize today also need to know who “gat yu back” (“has you covered”).

I strongly believe that a one day switch between Education policymakers and teachers could serve to encourage the “powers that be” to want to look for more productive ways to help teachers challenge students today to learn.  After all, a fair salary for teachers is but one of many other valid reasons for the current BNTU impasse at the negotiating table with the government’s Ministry of Education.  The “teacher for a day” experience might also open stubbornly and tightly-closed eyes to appreciate just how difficult it is today for teachers to motivate and enable students (all levels) to effectively learn.  This experience could also show MOE policymakers why many Primary and Secondary students in Belize’s classrooms today do not or cannot learn/master so many parts of a curriculum that is totally non-Belizean, and offers no value to them.  Perhaps, after a one day MOE switch with teachers, BNTU officials  may never again have to ask the Minister of Education, “…weh happen to you, weh happen to you”.

Before making the one day switch, however, I would encourage policymakers and administrators as well as teachers to review Strengthening the Balance, Part II (Leaders) to review key goals that both students and teachers should concentrate on each day while in school in order to keep fully focused on Education and learning.  2013 End of Year Notes could also remind educators and policymakers of the importance of our always trying to empathize and be sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings.  Most importantly, though, they must always keep in mind that Education and learning is not only what transpires everyday between a student and teacher.  It takes a village!

For the record, trading places between some educators and students has been done before in other schools, though probably not in Belize.  However, the results of trading places for a day in schools throughout Belize would be rather interesting, I am sure.  It should, though, be done for one main purpose only that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics: to encourage policymakers and educators to want to understand and fulfill the needs of students today.  In this new age, feeling empathy for students is but the first step in a long and difficult journey that our Belizean educators and policymakers must stop putting off and putting off!  That “lee sea breeze” of teachers’ industrial actions and discontent will not just gradually blow away.  Actually, by continuously ignoring our young people’s needs, year after year, election after election, we have created our own enemy – one that has become far more dangerous and destructive to our people than any hurricane that has ever reached Belizean shores. 

So, what happens after we attempt to walk in students’ and teachers’ shoes for a day?  A benefit might be that students who switch places for a day with educators would get a true perspective on just how difficult and challenging a teaching career really is.  In turn, teachers might get a much better understanding on just how difficult it can be nowadays for students to stay focused in the classroom.  What might school policymakers and powerful politicians learn as they try to walk in teachers’ shoes for a day?  (Note: Teachers from 25 years ago do not automatically know what a teacher today must deal with in the classroom.)  Most importantly, politicians and policymakers would see that teaching is not just a job but a vocation!  Teachers are paid to work in schools during a school year; nonetheless, most teachers never stop working, even after they leave school after a full day of teaching.  Inside and outside of school, they keep striving to find better ways to involve and motivate their students – help them to learn.  Many teachers spend their own hard-earned money from meager salaries to buy class materials to enhance their classrooms.  Moreover, if students keep failing (are not learning) teachers will struggle, inside and outside of school, to find out why, so that they might try to “fix the problem”.   How many teachers in Belize are provided with continuing education on how to effectively teach?

I know from lifelong experience that teachers work late into the night correcting students’ papers and preparing detailed lesson plans to help students learn. I wonder if highly-paid school policymakers, i.e. Ministry of Education, work day and night to prepare and/or improve Education Systems that enhance classroom learning.  Do/would they spend their own money to meet teachers' and students’ ever-changing and mounting needs in Belize today?  Just how much responsibility must we each assume/take on to ensure that our young people learn today so they may lead us tomorrow when we need them?  

Now, in this growing conflict of “ignoring students’ needs” where do parents fit?  What blame, if any, do they share?  Are they also a part of the enemy confronting students today?  Too many times parents are quick to accuse and/or blame teachers and schools for students’ failures.  It’s much easier for a busy parent to point fingers of blame at teachers, whenever the son or daughter is having difficulties (academics and/or behavior) at school, than it is for the parent to make every effort to find the cause(s) of the child’s problems at school.  As an experienced guidance counselor and teacher, as well as parent, I feel strongly that too many parents in Belize (and throughout the world today) have no idea what growing problems are preventing students from learning everyday. 

Education is successful and productive only when all sides, not just student and teacher, participate in the process of learning.  All sides include Education policymakers, parents, and an entire community; and each side needs to participate and contribute its share to the learning process.  Productive schools are not those that merely graduate thousands of students who can pass multiple local and foreign examinations.  Productive schools successfully motivate students to always want to keep learning, so they can be productive for themselves, for their country, and for the world.  This is a basic fact of why and how we learn that too many people, rich and poor, refuse to accept.  Unfortunately, too many Belizeans prefer to accept a simpler definition of Education:  being able to pass many examinations.

Who, then, would be willing to try the above-suggested classroom switch scenario?  I am sure that the one day switch would result in chaos.  However, with or without such a switch, school policymakers, parents, and entire communities throughout Belize must stop assuming they know what goes on in schools, or what “should” go on in schools.  That assumption is but mistake No. 1 in a long line of misconceptions that contribute to an unproductive Education System in Belize that does not serve the nation (jewel) as it should! 

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 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!