Education in Belize

A Contemporary Look at Education in Belize

Were you to take a peek inside a Belize classroom, you would find familiar sights and sounds: chalkboards filled with words and numbers, fidgety students eager to break for lunch, a smiling teacher thrilled to cheer the progress her students are making and the energy generated by a classroom of eager minds. Never mind the grade level; you’ll encounter all of this educational fervor in schools throughout Belize, a nation counting on its future generations to continue the work currently being done to make sure kids are prepared for the years ahead. Is the system perfect? Not yet. Take your own peek into Belize’s future by understanding just how far this educational system has come.

History
Like many Central American nations, Belize’s school system is an amalgam of early Jesuit influence and U.S. school system structure. Religious influence remains strong as other faith-based groups–Methodists, Anglicans, Protestants and Evangelicals–established schools over the years. Belize began a concerted effort to invest time, money and effort in the social development of children in the 1980s, yet religious entities continue to dominate Belize’s educational system. How are schools structured? Some promote students by the British-based “form” (primary school to sixth form or junior college) while others emulate the U.S. system that takes children from first to 12th grades. Does this hybrid of religious and secular systems confuse families? Not at all–as long as children get the best education possible, that’s all that matters.

Students
Since primary education is free and compulsory to age 14, there’s a great effort made among Belize families to get their children out the door and into the classroom daily. School uniforms are the norm, running the color gamut from khaki to pinstripes in yellow, red or blue. Why promote school so assertively? Because almost two-thirds of Belize’s overall population is composed of children under the age of 20.

The quality of education students receive usually depends upon location: Belize City is said to have the best schools, though districts with growing populations are as focused on shaping educational systems as they are on developing infrastructure. It can be hard to retain the interest of teens who “age out” at 14 and have no desire to go further, but that tide is beginning to turn as children come to understand the importance of being educated. In 2010, school records indicated that there were 4,000 youngsters in preschools, 63,000 attending primary schools and 15,000+ were enrolled in high schools, reflecting that age-14 drop out trend.

Costs
For those eager to understand a school system that operates on multiple levels—public, private, faith-based—costs can run from zero to thousands of dollars to obtain an education ending with a degree that qualifies a student for graduation and admission to a university. Typically, primary schools run by the Catholic Church are free or capped at about $20 USD, but parents usually pay for uniforms required to be worn by students. San Pedro’s Island Academy on Ambergris Caye comes with a hefty $3,000 USD per year tuition fee while Saint Catherine’s Academy, a Belize City-based high school, costs around $500 USD a year. In a smaller community like Benque Viejo, Mount Carmel High School is the only secondary option, and annual tuition there runs about $300 USD.

Teachers
Many nations struggle with the costs and staffing issues associated with underwriting school systems, and Belize is no exception. Though the numbers are improving, in 2010 only 70-percent of all Belize teachers held college degrees in any field of education, but to improve the nation’s odds of rapidly building a larger pool of properly trained teachers, the Education Act of 2010 was passed by the Belize government and amendments associated with this legislation set a lofty goal of 100-percent of all teachers throughout the nation’s system receiving training that qualifies them for a teaching license. At present, there’s not a lot of fiscal incentive for a four-year college graduate to join the teaching profession in Belize because salaries are low—only about $1,000 USD per month—but that amount is offset by a lower cost of living than U.S. teachers must contend with.

Higher education
While approximately only one in four Belize students finishing primary school goes on to secondary schools, efforts are being made to turn this around. What keeps many students from moving ahead are the fees associated with getting an education—particularly when there are many children in a family. For those who stay the course, higher education institutions await since Belize has community and junior colleges, including Corozal Community College, Toledo Community College and Sacred Heart College, but these can’t be compared to the same institutions in other nations because some are literally enhanced high schools that may be patterned after Britain’s “sixth form” educational system. At the top of the system is the University of Belize, a university cobbled together from several other institutions. The University of the West Indies is also represented in Belize City and several offshore medical school offers advanced training as well.

The future
Like most 21st Century education systems, Belize school children tend to perform better in a school that offers Internet access and computer labs, but at both primary and secondary levels, these tools are rare. Prominent institutions well-funded by private philanthropy buck that trend, but as a rule, there is much progress to be made in properly equipping Belize children for higher education.

That stated, the Free Internet for Schools program sponsored by Belize Telemedia Limited, is out to change that one school at a time, and the Ministry of Education is attempting to digitalize course materials, so when computers and Internet service are available, content will be ready, too. There has been talk of a pilot program underwritten by Rotary International to speed up the process, but it’s still in the planning stages.

Would you like an example of how technology can impact a school? Turn to Sacred Heart Junior College in San Ignacio. This district’s goal is to have Internet connections in every primary school so it can deliver free Google educational sites to students. Volunteer driven and supported by noted resources like Khan Academy, this program is dependent upon persistence and dedication, as well as financial backing. To learn more, visit this website: http://www.primary.edu.bz/.


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