"A school is a place; people speak of 'going to school'. Yet a school is not entirely bound by its building." Peter Senge, Nelda Cambron-McCabe et. al. Schools That Learn
We are now living in the first month of 2016 and further into the 21st Century. I thank readers who follow my belizeguidance.blogspot.com and Guidance Counselor columns, especially for their comments on each article. Thank you readers from
Belize and from developed and undeveloped
countries around the world. Your
comments, positive or negative, regarding education systems in Belize reflect a genuine concern over whether or
not schools educate students effectively today.
They are, after all, the present and future of Belize, not the past.
I emphasize, as I did in previous articles, that a majority of us remain indifferent to the types education that our schools provide, or don't provide, students today. Keeping schools the way they always were, i.e. "like when I was there", is easy because it requires no additional effort from policy makers, parents, or educators. However, clinging to pre-i
ndependence (1981) colonial systems of
education does not make time stand still in Belize,
in a rapidly evolving world (See - Breaking free). Updating our education systems, strategies,
and practices is no longer simply an ambitious suggestion; it is vital to
improving student outcomes that will ensure that our jewel of a country survive
and thrive. A legacy of inaction and
indifference to today and tomorrow is costing us dearly. What are our visions for 21st Century
Education in Belize? We are not keeping up with requirements for a
global education in this new age.
funding of education, or promises, and the creation of a university do not
automatically improve education systems or make them more productive.
Previously, a reader asked me what needs to change in our schools today, and why. My response, like a knee jerk, screams out when we highlight the ever-slumping economic situation of our country today, its sinking tourism industry and fast-growing annual deficit; when we look directly into the face of today's frightening and unbelievable poverty across the entire country; when we question the rampant criminal behavior and murders (of locals and tourists) in both urban and rural areas; when we dare to question why a majority of small and local businesses have "closed shop", and are now replaced by non-natives; when we accept that Belize, once world-renown for being home to various cultures living in peace and tranquility, is today listed among the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world; when we realize that a growing number of students, especially males, drop out of school each year; when we admit how very few graduates, high school or university, are afforded opportunities to establish a career in Belize each year; and finally, when we dare challenge the fact that despite having full control our country's destiny, despite a growing poverty that has swallowed an entire middle class, we pay exorbitant and outrageous monthly tuitions and fees, especially for imported textbooks, for our children to attend a high school. Each highlight screams overwhelming change. Yet, in essence our education system today remains fairly similar to the one of 50 years ago, when
Belize was a British colony.
The aims and goals of schools should not focus only on preparing students to pass examinations. Rather, schools need to expose and help students learn how to think critically, instead of asking them to memorize information and grade them on well they remember it. A continuous development of critical thinking prepares and empowers students to face, tackle, and overcome whatever is negative in our communities, that which sinks
deeper and deeper into debt. We leave
the next generation no choice but having to overcome the many problems that we ignore today. Let's prepare and
enable them to fill new and older occupations that may exist, despite any
preconceived notions we may have of those occupations. Let's provide them with multiple trade
schools and vocational training that are as vital as university training,
sometimes more. Let's keep encouraging
them to live Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, to "have a
There are several ways to measure the effectiveness of secondary or tertiary education we provide in
Determine what percentage of students who graduate become the
professionals that we urgently need to develop a small and undeveloped
nation; that go on to become financially productive members of our communities
and help the economy grow; that graduate but then become but a mere statistic
in today's high rates of unemployment and/or crime; that become illegal drug
pushers because there is no other available work they can find. A simple measurement tool is to poll local
employers to ask them how many new employees (student graduates) today meet
basic requirements of 21st Century jobs, i.e. in Belize's tourism, healthcare,
financial, or communication industries, especially in the field of software and
technology. The most important measure
of a school's effectiveness is found, not in diplomas or exam passes, but in
determining whether, after 12 years or more behind a desk, students are
prepared for today's global way of living.
How many students who graduate college feel prepared? Their opinions/suggestions regarding the preparation
they receive can be helpful. Of course,
if all the measurement tools reflect effectiveness in our school systems, there
is no need to take any action.
How do we educate students in
Have schools changed goals and objectives from 25 and 50 years ago?
Above all, what stands out is the restrictive cost for a student to attend high
school today. High schools are still run
by churches and funded partially by the government. Secondary education has never been free. Yet, each year graduating classes are
prepared mostly to sit O'level examinations in a variety of subjects. The very same O'level examinations were used
50 years ago, under a different name, to measure a high school graduate's
academic knowledge in one sitting.
(Despite breezing through graduation in 1969, my O'level exam results
were disastrous; however, I refused to let those test results end or determine
my academic and professional career.) No
examination pass guarantees the learning and preparation that a student needs
to survive today. We compete to survive
in a world of computers and technology, of new occupations that keep growing,
of entrepreneurs who help keep us on the map, and of much-needed business and health
professionals -- not in a society of O'level examination passes. Thus, schools today need to focus on
providing students with learning that helps them to adapt to a new and global
way of living.
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 Belizean 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!