Thursday, May 7, 2015

Education in Belize: Unrealistic Systems of Education

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason.  There is nothing higher than reason."   Immanuel Kant

Throughout Belize during the month of May, thousands of teenagers anxiously and excitedly look forward to their high school graduation.  After four years of hard work, they will finally be able to "breathe" from under the daily scrutiny of teachers, school administrators, other students, and parents.  For many Seniors it's also time to start taking O'level examinations.  Unbelievably, as in Colonial times, throughout Belize and most of the British Commonwealth it really is not the total high school education provided and completed, but rather the outcome of O'level examinations (how many subjects are passed) that will determine which high school graduates get what jobs, and who will be admitted to local or British Commonwealth tertiary (post high school) institutions.  After their high school graduation, some students who pass enough O'level examinations will qualify to go on to continue higher studies at home or abroad, if they can afford to pay the expensive tuition; some graduates will immediately start to look for and compete for an "increasingly limited" amount of potential full-time or part-time employment in Belize; and unfortunately, some graduates will merely linger around their communities for who-knows-how-long with no idea what they can/should do in life.

Regardless of whichever path most students in Belize may choose after their high school graduation, will they be prepared to go out into society as adults?  As we prepare to congratulate thousands of excited high school graduates, as the graduation excitement mounts, as impressive graduation speeches are prepared, as we eagerly await Belize's young 21st Century adults, we dare to ask:  What have they learned in high school?  Are they prepared now to use their unique talents to daily confront and tackle Belize's ever-mounting and pressing problems?  Has a Secondary Education prepared or qualified them to be able to carefully consider pressing issues (to think) in real life - outside the four walls of a classroom?  After all, when most of them vote for the first time, totally unlike school examinations, there will be no right or wrong answer.  Once any political candidate is elected there is no telling what he/she will do with the acquired power.  O'level passes validate that high school graduates knew sufficient facts to pass examinations, organized around subjects, at a specific sitting.  However, what does a student's high school diploma in Belize today validate or guarantee?

This is more than just not another Guidance Counselor attack about what is lacking in our Education System in Belize, or with those who manage it.  Without a doubt, Belize is blessed with many outstanding and dedicated Educators - past and present.  They will always be our unsung heroes.  However, graduations are the appropriate times to urge Education policymakers, and governing legislators who control and administer our Education Systems, to "wake up"!  Too many young Belizeans today cannot or do not dream big, either after dropping out of and/or after graduating from high school.  Why?  Too many of them look to their future through eyes of limitation, not opportunity.  A quick glance at the lives that many young adults, especially males, lead in any city or town throughout Belize today is certainly not a reflection of "dreaming big".  Young people's mounting alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, crime/murder rates, staggering poverty, and unemployment today are not reflections of "dreaming big".

Belize became a fully independent nation in 1981.  Yet, since that time, what positive change(s) have we introduced into our country's Education system to enable high school graduates to leave school with the ability to positively interact with and ultimately improve their nation (Jewel) and themselves?  Other than silos of subject-based information that we teach students (to use as future assets, i.e. O'level examination passes), what intelligent capabilities do we offer young people in secondary schools today?  Are we teaching them how to think effectively in order to improve themselves and their communities, or merely how to memorize in order to pass examinations?  Are we encouraging them to never ever fail by always testing and publicly grading them?  Learning, throughout our lives, is triggered and enhanced by failure.  "We learn from our mistakes."  No baby learns how to walk the very first time he/she is placed on the floor; we anticipate that many falls and clumsy trial walks will come first before baby acquires the skill to walk - with no grades.  What important life skills, not grades, do young people learn or acquire in high school today?  

Each student's high school graduation marks a very important milestone and much-anticipated rite of passage and transition into adulthood and society.  In today's rapidly developing and increasingly global and digital society, what significant improvements have we introduced into our Education system to meet 21st Century unique needs of each student?   Newsflash for those who adamantly refuse to accept or introduce any "change" in our Education Systems, especially many traditionalists who insist that schools should forever stay the same as "when they were there":  The education that we provide young people today is an investment in our present as well as future.  The biggest investment in our high schools today, therefore, should not merely be more money, i.e. the type promised by politicians before/around election times.  Our biggest investment in Education should always be that of helping students learn how to think effectively!  Such an investment requires positive input from "the entire village", including government policymakers, administrators and educators, students' parents, and the communities where students live.

We should always expect that each high school graduate has learned how to think effectively, regardless of grades, and that he/she has an understanding of where each of us fits in our communities.  Regardless of how many O'level examinations a high school graduate may have, or not have, we trust that after four years exposure to learning each graduate is capable of setting clear goals to be able to live and get ahead in 21st Century Belize.  Most importantly, we should expect that high school graduates' experience has encouraged them to understand and accept the many roles of others around us, i.e. educators, parents, business men/women, politicians, and their very own roles as a young adults in Belize and the world today. 

Kudos and Congratulations to each high school graduate, his/her teachers and parents, and to everyone who helped each student to reach this important milestone!

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