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Let's Start to Improve our Schools

By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor – What’s standing in the way of our creating the best possible Education Systems in Belize to prepare our children for tomorrow? We must want it first, and then work to create it! Sadly, when it comes to updating and improving Education Systems in this country there is an all-encompassing indifference on the part of most parents, educators, and those who are “in charge”. Education in Belize, as it exists today and 50 years ago will probably never change. Our grandchildren will most likely study the same curriculum that I studied in high school almost fifty years ago. It seems that most parents and schools are content to educate our young people “the same way we have always done it”. Why not? Professionals from abroad (from much-more-developed and advanced countries) can come help us if we ever need to make changes in our education system. We cannot, it seems, let go of that Colonial mentality under which our parents and grandparents lived! (Remember the immediate onslaught of negative responses to the introduction of In-School Suspensions?) Thus, 21st Century Belize will continue to “let sleeping dogs lie” in the field of education.

Please, let’s not wait for professionals from abroad to tell us how to improve our Education Systems. Let us start now to improve our own schools! Let’s start by demanding that Belize’s Ministry of Education provide regular, year-round, coaching services for all our school leaders and Principals. Chief Education Officer, please put on your agenda for 2012 the urgent need for strategic assistance tailored to establish and improve each and every primary and secondary school in Belize. Remember, in order to improve our schools, we must first strengthen their leadership. Or, we can choose to let our schools, Primary and Secondary, continue on the usual ‘let the Church steer the school’s guiding principles’. For the record, I believe that we are greatly indebted to the churches in Belize for the leading role they have played in developing education in this country. However, the churches should not be wholly responsible for the development of education in our now independent country.

Who, today, other than the churches in Belize, is responsible for developing our nation’s Primary and Secondary educational programs? Do any plans even exist? Will our schools’ faculty and staff training continue under the current ‘your salary is tied to your professional development’? In this age of rapidly-developing technology, each school should have someone who is qualified and responsible for developing the school’s computer programs and services. Moreover, he/she should undergo regular teacher assessment and continuous improvement planning. And, who is monitoring and providing the professional development of each teacher in our schools? Schools should not only address teacher training and improvement as it relates to teachers’ salaries. What about faculty team building, and educational strategic planning?

Now is the time to focus on and enhance school leadership in each school throughout the entire country. After all, our schools leaders are the ones who are steering the ships that contain the future leaders of our country. Now is when we should demand that leadership qualities be exemplified in each school leader and Principal in Belize. At the start of each school year, leaders and Principals of all government-supported schools should be required to make public their plans to,

• vigorously develop a faculty culture focused on professional development
• give continuous public, positive reinforcement to educators and students
• promote continuous high expectations and support for students
• establish ongoing professional development for staff
• promote high expectations tailored to each single student
• demonstrate a commitment to the school’s mission
• sustain high levels of self-awareness and self-management
• develop his/her own professional growth programs

No matter what level the school, Primary or Secondary, it is of paramount importance that our school leaders develop a faculty culture that is always focused on professional growth and development. That, however, will never be easy as long as the complaining and bickering by overworked and underpaid teachers drown out the voices of those devoted to learning, sharing and supporting each other. I have no doubt that most of the teachers in our schools today do want to find ways to improve teaching. Nevertheless, the dominating discussions in faculty rooms in schools throughout Belize today probably have very little to do with how to help our young students develop a passion for learning. More pressing topics, i.e. financial survival, are the concern of teachers in our schools today.

In conclusion, I am quite confident that all Belizean educators know what it takes to make exceptional school leaders. However, knowing how, when and where to get to the ‘what’ is the challenge that faces government officials, parents, and educators in Belize. More importantly, we must “have a plan” to develop our Education Systems – not just build more or bigger schools. That is easier said than done, especially when all encompassing indifference plus financial restraints continue to get in the way of what we need to do to develop our Education Systems in this country. Finally, let us not wait for others in the future to eventually develop our Education Systems! Let us start now to develop our own skills as inspirational school leaders and educators and in every other way as leaders of the next generation of Belizeans.

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!

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