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Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Walt Kelly

As we start a new year in this rapidly-advancing Age of Technology, the Belize National Teachers’ Union is once more trying to “raise awareness on key national issues”, and is “seeking justice for the work that teachers do”.  Thinking along those same lines, to raise awareness and seek justice, I wonder what classrooms in Belize today would look like if the powerful school policymakers from the Ministry of Education and Education Department were brave enough to switch places with teachers and school administrators for a day.  Likewise, some teachers could also switch places with students for just one day.  Switching places in the classrooms between Education policymakers and teachers, if only for one day, would provide an eye-opening opportunity for policymakers to understand what really happens in classrooms everyday vs. what they think or expect happens in classrooms everyday.  Likewise, it might be quite eye-opening for our very hard-working teachers to also experience first-hand what many students deal with everyday in the classrooms in 2014.  After all, students throughout Belize today also need to know who “gat yu back” (“has you covered”).

I strongly believe that a one day switch between Education policymakers and teachers could serve to encourage the “powers that be” to want to look for more productive ways to help teachers challenge students today to learn.  After all, a fair salary for teachers is but one of many other valid reasons for the current BNTU impasse at the negotiating table with the government’s Ministry of Education.  The “teacher for a day” experience might also open stubbornly and tightly-closed eyes to appreciate just how difficult it is today for teachers to motivate and enable students (all levels) to effectively learn.  This experience could also show MOE policymakers why many Primary and Secondary students in Belize’s classrooms today do not or cannot learn/master so many parts of a curriculum that is totally non-Belizean, and offers no value to them.  Perhaps, after a one day MOE switch with teachers, BNTU officials  may never again have to ask the Minister of Education, “…weh happen to you, weh happen to you”.

Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

Before making the one day switch, however, I would encourage policymakers and administrators as well as teachers to review Strengthening the Balance, Part II (Leaders) to review key goals that both students and teachers should concentrate on each day while in school in order to keep fully focused on Education and learning.  2013 End of Year Notes could also remind educators and policymakers of the importance of our always trying to empathize and be sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings.  Most importantly, though, they must always keep in mind that Education and learning is not only what transpires everyday between a student and teacher.  It takes a village!

For the record, trading places between some educators and students has been done before in other schools, though probably not in Belize.  However, the results of trading places for a day in schools throughout Belize would be rather interesting, I am sure.  It should, though, be done for one main purpose only that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics: to encourage policymakers and educators to want to understand and fulfill the needs of students today.  In this new age, feeling empathy for students is but the first step in a long and difficult journey that our Belizean educators and policymakers must stop putting off and putting off!  That “lee sea breeze” of teachers’ industrial actions and discontent will not just gradually blow away.  Actually, by continuously ignoring our young people’s needs, year after year, election after election, we have created our own enemy – one that has become far more dangerous and destructive to our people than any hurricane that has ever reached Belizean shores. 

Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

So, what happens after we attempt to walk in students’ and teachers’ shoes for a day?  A benefit might be that students who switch places for a day with educators would get a true perspective on just how difficult and challenging a teaching career really is.  In turn, teachers might get a much better understanding on just how difficult it can be nowadays for students to stay focused in the classroom.  What might school policymakers and powerful politicians learn as they try to walk in teachers’ shoes for a day?  (Note: Teachers from 25 years ago do not automatically know what a teacher today must deal with in the classroom.)  Most importantly, politicians and policymakers would see that teaching is not just a job but a vocation!  Teachers are paid to work in schools during a school year; nonetheless, most teachers never stop working, even after they leave school after a full day of teaching.  Inside and outside of school, they keep striving to find better ways to involve and motivate their students – help them to learn.  Many teachers spend their own hard-earned money from meager salaries to buy class materials to enhance their classrooms.  Moreover, if students keep failing (are not learning) teachers will struggle, inside and outside of school, to find out why, so that they might try to “fix the problem”.   How many teachers in Belize are provided with continuing education on how to effectively teach?

Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

I know from lifelong experience that teachers work late into the night correcting students’ papers and preparing detailed lesson plans to help students learn. I wonder if highly-paid school policymakers, i.e. Ministry of Education, work day and night to prepare and/or improve Education Systems that enhance classroom learning.  Do/would they spend their own money to meet teachers’ and students’ ever-changing and mounting needs in Belize today?  Just how much responsibility must we each assume/take on to ensure that our young people learn today so they may lead us tomorrow when we need them?  

Now, in this growing conflict of “ignoring students’ needs” where do parents fit?  What blame, if any, do they share?  Are they also a part of the enemy confronting students today?  Too many times parents are quick to accuse and/or blame teachers and schools for students’ failures.  It’s much easier for a busy parent to point fingers of blame at teachers, whenever the son or daughter is having difficulties (academics and/or behavior) at school, than it is for the parent to make every effort to find the cause(s) of the child’s problems at school.  As an experienced guidance counselor and teacher, as well as parent, I feel strongly that too many parents in Belize (and throughout the world today) have no idea what growing problems are preventing students from learning everyday. 

Education in Belize: Who's the Enemy?

Education is successful and productive only when all sides, not just student and teacher, participate in the process of learning.  All sides include Education policymakers, parents, and an entire community; and each side needs to participate and contribute its share to the learning process.  Productive schools are not those that merely graduate thousands of students who can pass multiple local and foreign examinations.  Productive schools successfully motivate students to always want to keep learning, so they can be productive for themselves, for their country, and for the world.  This is a basic fact of why and how we learn that too many people, rich and poor, refuse to accept.  Unfortunately, too many Belizeans prefer to accept a simpler definition of Education:  being able to pass many examinations.

Who, then, would be willing to try the above-suggested classroom switch scenario?  I am sure that the one day switch would result in chaos.  However, with or without such a switch, school policymakers, parents, and entire communities throughout Belize must stop assuming they know what goes on in schools, or what “should” go on in schools.  That assumption is but mistake No. 1 in a long line of misconceptions that contribute to an unproductive Education System in Belize that does not serve the nation (jewel) as it should! 

Author’s Note:
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 amongst educators, students, and the 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!

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