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Staying In Primary School Until 14

This is the graduation season, the month of June. Back in time there was no graduations in San Pedro, even though we had one R.C. School with about 125 students and one Adventist school with about ten students. Some boys and girls never made it to Standard VI, the last year in primary education. But they were required by law to stay in school until they were fourteen years of age. I will tell you that some students, especially boys, did manage to leave school at 12 or 13 and the law never found out because there was no truancy officer and nobody made any report of this illegality.

Those who did make it to standard VI at age 14 had one full year to prepare for three exams, not one. Those who reached standard VI and were only 12, for example, had to remain in Standard VI for two full years until they reached the age of fourteen and be able to leave. So what were the three exams for standard VI students? Almost nobody continued to high school because there was no high school on the island, but they had to prepare for the Primary Examinations. This proved with a certificate that you had completed the primary course of studies. Then there was the Entrance Examination, which is sort of like the PSE today. It prepared you and made you eligible for high school. The third exam was known as Scholarship. This was known as the toughest exam and only the brightest students could pass this exam, which made them eligible to receive a scholarship from the government to attend the high school of their choice.

Many students of San Pedro R.C. School passed this Scholarship exam, but did not use it because they did not want to move on to Belize City. So they sort of wasted the opportunity. I will venture to say some names of people who passed this scholarship exam, hoping I do not make too many mistakes. I understand it was Liborio Gomez, Ovidio Guerrero, Eloina Cardenez, Rosendo Graniel, Bertha Gomez, Ramon Nuñez, among others.

Now let’s move to the point of this story. After reaching the age of 14 and now being able to leave school, all boys had one thing in mind and that was to become fishermen. They armed themselves with a dory, diving mask, fins, hookstick, and paddle and associated themselves with someone who had a fishing boat and off they went to on their first fishing expedition to Glover’s Reef, Turneffe Islands, Half Moon Caye, and the Blue Hole area, of course. There they became men, earned their first dollars, came back home and got drunk for the first time. They were now MEN. On their first trip to Belize City, they make their first visit to a brothel and proved once again that they were MEN.

As for the girls, once they left school they started cooking, ironing, and washing clothes. They started dancing and dating and pretty soon, by age 16, they were getting ready for marriage. Such was life back in the 1950’s and 60’s for young men and women who had no graduations twenty five years ago.

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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