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End of Year Notes: Education In Belize

For Educators, Parents, and Everyone who cares about Education in Belize
By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor

In each of the previous articles that I contributed to this online newspaper I have asserted that educators (teachers and administrators) in our schools in Belize today have very important roles to fulfill everyday. Hundreds of books have already been written on this subject – the very important roles of educators in any society or community. This week’s article will not attempt to summarize the many important roles of educators. Rather, as we close the year, let us look closely at exactly where Belizean educators are today in the 21st Century during this worldwide era of rapidly-changing technology.

In the past, Belize has always lagged far behind the rest of the Industrialized world in so many ways: politically, economically, technologically, educationally, medically, and in various other ways. That’s not the case anymore! Thanks to the advances of modern technology, we in Belize are able to keep abreast of the entire world (and they us) at the mere touch of a few buttons on a computer. Our local radio and television stations can now be followed 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Most of our local businesses and educational institutions have interactive websites that can be accessed from anywhere in the world where one has access to the worldwide web. This very article can be read from anywhere in the world:

Since achieving (political) Independence in 1981 Belize has changed more than ever before in the last 200 years. Population wise we have more than doubled; and we have more professionals and academically qualified people than ever before living in the country. Yet, almost half the nation lives in poverty and the unemployment rate keeps soaring! Today we have students in schools throughout Belize from almost every country in North America and Central America, and from as far away as China and Pakistan. When I graduated high school in 1969 the highest level of education that was available in Belize was from a handful of small Sixth Forms located only in Belize City. Today, we have ever-growing Sixth Forms in each District, and we now have more than one Belizean University with branches in several Districts.

How, though, if any at all, have educators throughout schools in Belize kept up with the many drastic changes, especially advances in technology? How, if any at all, has the curriculum that young Belizean students must study changed? Are Belizean educators today preparing our young people to live in a world of ever-changing technology? Are Belizean educators today equipped with computers to be able to stay abreast (from within their own classrooms) of the many changes in education throughout the rest of the world? Are schools in Belize today equipped with enough computers to be able to introduce and train all our young people (from the earliest possible age) to this age of technology in which we now live?

Belizean educators today, sadly, are still keeping our young students entrenched in a Colonial Age system of education. Although we no longer live in a Colonial Age, high schools throughout Belize today still prepare students to take the same imported exams that graduating high school students had to take more than fifty years ago. Back then the exams, made and corrected by outsiders, were called G.C.E. or General Certificate Examinations; today they are called C.X.C. or Caribbean Examination Council, and are still made and corrected by outsiders. Fifty years ago a Belizean high school diploma meant nothing unless accompanied by passes in the imported GCE examinations. Sadly, today the amount of CXC examination passes are still what count (not the high school diploma itself) for a student to gain entrance to a Sixth Form or university, or even in order to gain employment. So, does the education gained in our local schools not count for anything? Is a good education in Belize merely the ability to pass imported CXC tests? What message are we giving our young students regarding the value of their education?

I have attended many local and international conferences in education, and a key question that keeps coming up, over and over again, is: How do we motivate our young students to want to keep learning? How do we show them “what’s in it for them”? Love of learning or motivation, cannot be taught to anyone, only instilled or inspired.

As we approach a new year I strongly urge those who steer the reins of education in Belize to take a very close look at where we are today vs. where we need to be in order to successfully prepare Belizean youth for tomorrow. The entire future of this country is at stake! We need to stop losing the “cream of our crop” to the outside world. I certainly pray that no young Belizean ever has to tread the path that I had to after I returned home from the university in 1978. I was so very excited then (still am today) to start working to improve the education system in Belize – only to be told flat out by Belizeans in charge: “We don’t need you.” In August 2010, after my fourth trip home to find work, I was finally able to gain employment in a local school as a guidance counselor — a full 32 years after I first returned to Belize with Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Education, and a published thesis by the University of Wisconsin on “The Role of Vocational Guidance in Secondary Schools in Belize”. Will 2012 find Belize still years behind the rest of the world in the field of education?

My fellow Belizean educators, do we know and live the core purpose of what it means to be an educator? Or, are we merely carrying out the duties of a paying job? Please, let us start 2012 with a unified and shared vision for educating young people in Belize today.

Author’s Note:
These articles are in no way, whatsoever, intended to be comprehensive or complete.  They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable (and intriguing) discussion.  Why discuss/ review students’ learning capabilities and our current methods of trying to educate them? Educators, students, parents, and our community can learn from one another.  I have the greatest respect and admiration for all educators, especially in Belize!

Click Here to Read more Guidance Counselor Articles by Mr. Ramirez

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