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Improvement of Learning Achievement

Education implies learning. The ultimate end of learning in the context of the Belizean society is the attainment of some twelve national goals established by the Ministry of Education through its policy and curriculum advisers. These goals of education in Belize are to:

    1. Develop dignity and confidence in each individual along with the capacity to be self-reliant and self-motivated;
    2. Develop in every individual spiritual, social, moral and ethical values;
    3. Develop in each person a positive self-identify within the context of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society;
    4. Develop physical, emotional and mental well-being of each person;
    5. Develop tolerance for the religions, beliefs, opinions of others, and an appreciation of cultural diversity;
    6. Achieve literacy and numeracy and the skills to develop and use of technology;
    7. Develop an appreciation of Belize and in the wider world;
    8. Develop national pride in and allegiance to Belize, and a sense of belonging to a wider community of nations;
    9. Develop a commitment to manage and protect the environment;
    10. Instill in each individual a capacity for critical thinking and action and a commitment to life-long learning;
    11. Develop in all persons the commitment to achieve excellence in every endeavour they undertake;
    12. Provide all persons with the knowledge, skills and attitudes (and values) required for their active participation in the development of Belize.

On an advice from the UNESCO representative in Jamaica the curriculum developers of the emerging "Comprehensive National Curriculum" for the primary schools of Belize adopted the four "pillars" of learning proposed by the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century (1996).

As stated in a working paper titled FRAMEWORK FOR THE NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM "The goals listed under these four pillars are not discrete; they inter-relate. For example, who we are is a function of what we know and what we have learnt to do and, in turn will impact on how we live together as a people."
The above very sketchy excursion into the emergent national goals of education and their underlying principles suggests that in discussing the topic of "improvement of learning achievement" one must be fully aware that human learning is a very complex process and its outcomes are similarly complex and intertwined. Consequently, it is very difficult to evaluate the process of learning and its outcomes. Reference has been made to the lack of suitable instruments to measure the learning achievements of children. Reference has also been made to the general deficiency among primary school teachers in this country with regard to measuring and evaluating learning achievements. However, even with the best of training it is difficult to evaluate many very important aspects of learning, for example learning in relation to the goal: "Develop in every individual spiritual, social, moral and ethical values, OR Develop a commitment to manage and protect the environment". Nevertheless, all educators in our schools must learn to do so.
In the context of the topic under discussion "learning achievement" is interpreted to mean the regular school learnings especially in the areas of the core content areas of English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. In Belize there is no agreed percentage of an appropriate age group that is expected to attain or surpass a defined level of necessary learning achievement. At the school level by tradition children are tested on a regular basis, and from experience teachers understand that the majority are expected to attain a percentage point of 50% on any test. Some schools place the pass mark at 70% and the majority are equally expected to achieve at least at the 70% level. With regard to promotion from one class level to another, again the large majority of a class group are expected to pass their final yearly evaluation and move on to the next higher level. However, there is no standardized Test that is given to all pupils at a particular grade level except for the BJAT that is administered at the mid-point of primary school. The BNSE is administered at the end of the eighth grade level.
The AEU is being upgraded and its staff is being trained to improve its capability in the area of educational testing and measurement. The newly instituted Quality Assurance and Development Service within which the AEU falls is addressing the related problems and is assisting in the delivery of instruction to support the improvement of learning in the schools.
Reduction of Adult Illiteracy Rate, Especially the Disparity Between Male and Female
The year 1990 was proclaimed as the year of International Literacy. It was also the year that commenced the decade of Education for all during which all the nations which were represented at the Jomtien EFA Conference which was convened in that year pledged achieve the goal of basic education for all in their respective territories. The general realization was that the problem of illiteracy had reached a crisis level in the world.
At a National Educational Symposium held in Belize the problem of illiteracy in this country was analyzed in a presentation titled "Shattering the 90 percent Myth: Literacy in Belize from a Popular Education Perspective by Diane C. Haylock from SPEAR". Miss Haylock commenced her presentation from a world perspective then focused on Belize, drawing attention to what she and others realized, that the accepted perception that the adult population of Belize was at least 90 percent literate was not founded on reality. Enrolments in primary school were between 85 and 90 percent of primary school age children, but the rates of absenteeism and dropout especially in rural areas of the country were also significant. Besides only some 60 percent of the children who completed primary school entered secondary school but only half completed the four years of secondary schooling (UNESCO, 1983). Ms. Haylock pointed out that upholding the 90 percent myth over some 20 years had resulted in neglect of literacy as a national problem.
The problem having been recognized a Literacy Task force comprised of government and non-government representation was set up to work on the design development and implementation of a national literacy survey and a five year programme. The LCB was set up in 1992 after a year of presentation and the formulation of a strategic plan document. As indicated in Part I of this report the long-term goal is to eradicate illiteracy in Belize. The intermediate target is to reduce the national illiteracy rate by half (i.e. by some 10% - 15% by the year 2000.)
With financial support from the government of Belize and UNICEF an office was set up for the LCB with a Director and two or three staff members. With its goal and targets identified the LCB mobilized and trained on a national scale. By the middle of the decade it boasted a cadre of some 150 trained facilitators distributed over the six districts of Belize. Consequently, LCB had the capacity to deliver programmes nationwide.
LCB conducted a literacy survey of one district and planned to carry out similar surveys in the other districts. It set up teaching centres and produced materials at three levels. However, due to limited financial resources LCB had to curtail its programmes as it explored new strategies for the survival and sustainability of its programmes.
UNICEF is the most significant partner in Belize's effort to reduce and eventually eliminate illiteracy, but help has also been received from the Social Security, the British High Commission and BUFY (Belizean United for Youth) of New York. The assistance received enabled LCB to undertake a number of post-literacy activities and projects in 1995.
Three important studies on the literacy situation in Belize were undertaken during the EFA Decade. They are "Adult Literacy Interventions and Programmes 1990-1995" by Joseph Belisle and Elena Gutierrez of LCB, "Belize Literacy Survey 1994, Toledo District" sponsored by the LCB, Ministry of Education, Central Statistical Office (CSO) and UNICEF prepared by Dr. Leopold L. Perriott, and the "1996 National Literacy Survey" by the LCB and CSO prepared by Sylvan Roberts, Marion Palacio, Sandra Paredez and Elsbeth Hobo-Arnold of CSO. The latest report is "An Evaluation of the Literacy Council of Belize and Recommendations Relative to the Future of Adult Literacy Programmes in Belize" conducted by Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology (BEST) prepared in March 1997.
The literacy survey of the Toledo District (1994) is claimed to have been the first of its kind in Belize. Its stated purpose was to generate data that would help in the overall planning and management of educational facilities in the Toledo District. The target population was the age group 11 to 65 years. The inclusion of persons as low as 11 years was an attempt to determine children’s participation in schools. The study indicates that the Toledo District suffers from a lower literacy rate than any of the other districts. It was 45.7% in 1980 and 60.6% in 1991. In 1991 the total population of Belize was about 190,000 with 9% living in the Toledo District. The distribution between males and females was practically even. Another characteristic of the district is that 53% of the inhabitants were below the age of 14 years. The national average was 44%. Toledo District is multi-ethnic and largely rural. The population in 1993 was 3,458 (19.8%) in the only town, the district capital, Punta Gorda. The rural population comprised 13,981 (80.2%). Toledo District has the smallest population of all the districts, but it is the third largest (1,704 square miles).
At the time of the survey (1994) the findings indicate that the literacy rate was 54.2%. The percentage of illiterates was 14.3% and the semi-literacy rate was 31.7%. With regard to participation in schooling the report states:

"Maximum participation occurs in the 10 year age group (98.2%). Children in the 13 year age group boast a non-participation rate of 20.5% and fully 52.1% of 14 year old persons were not attending school. Of the 607 children not attending school, 493 or 81.2% were between the ages of 10 year and 14 years."

The report also indicates that the commencement of formal education is delayed by one or two years for children in the Toledo District. This situation has led to a high percentage of semi-literates (33.0% between the ages of 11 years and 14 years).
The report states that another important group of people are those between the ages of 15 years and 44 years. Fully 39 percent (3,245 persons) in this age group were reported to be either semi-literate or illiterate. "Persons between the ages of 15 years and 44 years are some of the most productive in the society and constitute the majority of the clientele for adult classes."
The National Literacy Survey of 1996 includes as its main findings:

    1. From the perspective of formal education the adult literacy rate at April 1996 was 75.1%. In May of 1991 it was 70.3%.
    2. The proportion of adults classified as semi-literate was 17.3% (had completed some formal education). The percentage for those absolutely illiterate was 7.6%.
    3. For the Belizean born population the respective literacy rates for males and females were 79.3% and 79.6% indicating no significant differences in literacy between males and females.
    4. For the foreign born population (mostly Central Americans) the literacy rates were 52.3%and 50.5% for males and females respectively.
    5. With regard to ethnic groups the distribution of the literacy rates was as follows: Creoles (91.3%), Garinagu (89.6%), Mestizos (64%) and Mayas 47.7% (in 1991 it was 53.4%).
    6. Literacy rates distributed according to districts were as follows: Belize District (91.9%), Orange Walk District (71.7%), Stann Creek District (70.4%), Cayo District (68.3%), Corozal District (63.2%) and Toledo District (58.9%).

The findings indicate that except for the Belize District urban levels of literacy far exceeded those for the rural areas.
In this final chapter titled "Conclusions and Recommendations", the report of the 1996 Literacy survey states that it is an accepted conclusion that an educated population is necessary to improve the quality of life, the quality of the labour force and the level of productivity in a society and that in the enquiry undertaken an effort was made to reflect the effectiveness of the national educational system and the extent to which educational facilities were being used in Belize. Evidently the educational system was not as effective as it should be in contributing to a highly literate society. In this regard recommendations were proposed for:

    1. policies to encourage more primary school pupils to complete their basic education would need to be formulated, implemented and monitored;
    2. encouraging persons in rural areas to stay on and complete their primary education, particularly in Toledo, Corozal and Cayo;
    3. directing literacy education at the segment of the labour force in the category of semi-literates which numbered some 18000 persons in the age group 14-49 years;
    4. focusing a national literacy programme on the Belize born persons as well as on some 6000 members of the migrant population.

The report closes drawing attention to the role of Government: "Government policy, whether directly or indirectly, has a very important impact on the provision of education and the attainment of literacy. Government’s education policy directly affects the level of funds and subsidies that go towards the payment of teachers and the construction and maintenance of educational facilities. The overall fiscal policy of government can directly affect the level of family income such that a family may be forced to forgo the education of a child in favour of other needs…….Hence the entire budget exercise of the Ministry of Education must be made cognizant of the likely impact of any budget policy on education and literacy."
The evaluation of the LCB and its recommendations relating to the future of adult literacy programmes in Belize (March 1997) states that English Language literacy is a significant problem in this country: "From 30 to 50% of the population age 14 and older is less than fully literate. The number consists of adult Belizeans, large numbers of present and former refugees and substantial numbers of students who terminate their formal education at or before the completion of primary school without having achieved literacy – in reading, writing and numeracy." The report goes on to suggest very strongly that so significant is the level of illiteracy that it can be very serious hindrance to the development efforts of Belize.
This report drew on the data of a Labour Force Survey which show that the literacy rate in Belize (based on the number of years of school completed) actually increased from 70.3% in 1991 to 75.1% in 1996. The number of absolute illiterates decreased from 10,580 to 10,170 or from 9.9% to 7.6%. The semi-literate population increased from 21,299 to 23,055 although percentage-wise it decreased from 19.8% to 17.3%.

Very importantly, however, the BEST evaluation report states that when looked at on the basis of test results (included in the Labour Force Survey 1996) the literacy rate is much lower. Examination of the data shows that it is 42.5% compared to 75.1% when based on years of formal education. The report cautions, however, that the number of people taking the test is a much smaller total figure.
When ranked by district the test criteria show a somewhat different situation than that based on formal education as the table below indicates:

Table 16: Literacy Rate by District

District

Total

%

Absolute

Illiterate

Persons

%

Semi-

Literate

Persons

%

 

Literate

Persons

%

Belize

Cayo

Corozal

Orange Walk

Stann Creek

Toledo

14,095

15,520

13,080

12,180

9,030

8,540

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

1,710

5,155

4,040

3,510

3,535

3,460

12.1

33.2

33.9

28.8

39.1

40.5

4,35

4,200

3,225

3,240

2,545

2,325

30.0

27.1

24.7

26.6

28.2

27.2

8,080

6,165

5,415

5,430

2,959

2,755

57.3

39.7

41.4

44.6

32.7

32.3

TOTAL

72,445

100.0

21,810

30.1

19,840

27.4

30,795

42.5

Belize ranks as the most literate at 57.3% followed by Orange Walk (44.6%), Corozal (41.4%), Cayo (39.7%), Stann Creek (32.7%) and Toledo (32.3%).

The BEST report concludes that although the LCB was established in 1992 by the Government of Belize to plan and implement a nationwide adult literacy campaign during the intervening five years there is no evidence that adult literacy was given the priority it deserved. It points out further that the challenge of adult literacy was too great a matter to be achieved solely by an entity such as LCB with limited funding and no clear access to other resources. The solution is proposed was threefold:

    1. ensuring that all children receive a full primary school education (from 5 to 14 years);
    2. a much greater involvement of the Government of Belize through a declaration that the problem of adult literacy is a national one and a move to fund a multi-sectoral national adult literacy campaign;
    3. the re-constituting of the Literacy Council of Belize (LCB) and enabling it "to have the decision-making networking and funding authority required for any nationwide, inter-agency programme to have a reasonable expectation of success."

Expansion of Provision for Basic Education and Training in Essential Skills

Reading, writing and mathematics are clearly essential skills, which are required of all persons in the Belizean workforce. In all types of employment in Belize except the very lowest, literacy in the broad sense of the word is very useful and in most instances it is a requirement for employment, including self-employment. The primary schools of Belize all strive to inculcate the skills of reading, writing and mathematics in children although there is a good deal of criticism that these subjects are over-emphasized to the neglect of other skills such as problem solving, enquiry and practical skills required for everyday living such as those required for simple construction or repair using specific but basic kinds of tools, even such an elementary tool as a can opener. A new Comprehensive National Curriculum is in the making and it is hoped that consideration will be given to providing primary school children with opportunity to learn essential skills of thinking as well as a range of practical skills necessary for everyday living.
There is also the skill of using the English language. Belizean children are not native speakers of English. They are skilful at their own home languages by the age of five years. However, they must learn English, mostly at school, although today television allows them to listen to English speakers although in many instances the models they listen to are not what they need. By the time children leave primary school they have acquired enough English language skills to understand spoken English and to express themselves in that language. However, because of the interference of their home language and their culture generally, they would not have mastered English grammar, pronunciation and idiomatic expressions. Advancement comes only to those who go on to high school and those who are fortunate to live in an English speaking environment. The point to be made is that basic education in English is important and that it is provided at the primary and secondary level although not always in the most effective manner.
Spanish is also being increasingly recognized as a language all Belizeans should learn to speak, read and write. Speaking is considered highly essential for those whose home language is not Spanish because of Belize's proximity to Mexico and the Central American countries. Spanish is now being included in the Comprehensive National Curriculum for primary schools at all grade levels. Traditionally, Spanish is included in the secondary school curriculum for at least two years.

Table 17: Secondary School Transition Rates by Gender by District - 1995-96

District

Male Transition Rate (%)

Female Transition Rate (%)

Belize

93.7

108.9

Cayo

77.3

84.8

Corozal

65.2

74.2

Orange Walk

73.8

70.4

Stann Creek

50.5

60.2

Toledo

74

57.6

Total

77.5

83.9

Source: Final Report for EDC, 1996-97

Social skills are also very essential to living in community and there should be basic education for social living. Communication skills are highly important. So are skills of cooperation and teamwork and the courtesies that go with the other skills of social living. Usually social skills begin to be taught at home, but sometimes they are not. The school needs to complement the home or to make up for what has been omitted for one reason or another in the home. Clearly, in the effort to teach social skills those involved need to be aware of the way of life of the children. There is a place for giving more emphasis to the teaching of social skills to primary school children.

The point of the foregoing paragraphs is that basic education and training in essential skills begin at the primary school level. However, many life skills, which could be appropriately taught at this level, are not because the orientation of the school curriculum precludes any emphasis on these. Besides, the primary schools are faced with a good deal of constraints. In a document titled "Belize: Analysis of Public Expenditures on Education 1991-1995" prepared for the World Bank (Douglas L. Adkins, 1995) there is the following statement:

"Notwithstanding the small projected increase in overall enrollment, the government will still need to make substantial infrastructure investments in primary schools. There are now large accumulated deficiencies in school infrastructure, with overcrowded classrooms in some areas and deteriorating facilities and structures throughout the country."

In a situation like this it is difficult for the government to deal with improving such deficiencies and still provide for what is often called "pre-vocational education" at the primary school level. At the same time there are many young Belizeans who did not complete primary school and many who have done so but have not advanced to secondary education. The number of such persons is also cumulative over time. The educational needs of such youth must be addressed through appropriate non-formal education.
The Ministry of Education Adult and Continuing Education Unit is not sufficiently strong in personnel and resources to contribute on its own to the expansion of opportunities for basic education generally and for training in skills for employment. Its role is mostly that of liaising with other agencies, which are, interested in or are actually conducting various kinds of adult and continuing education focusing on training in specific kinds of preparation for income generating activities.
Since 1990 there has been some modest progress towards the achievement of the goals and objectives in essential skills training at the secondary school and adult level. Most of the secondary schools include courses aimed at preparation for employment, including commercial and secretarial studies, manual crafts and computer literacy. The Belize Vocational Training Centre was amalgamated with the newly established CET in 1992. CET aims at providing training in a variety of practical skills for the out-of-school population. Females have equal access in all areas of training although skill preferences are still based on cultural attitudes. In the effort of the government to expand education along the lines of CET in Belize another CET has been opened in San Ignacio in the Cayo District and the opening of others in the other administrative districts are envisaged.
Other ministries of government other than the Ministry of Education have been contributing to the provision of basic education and training in essential skills. They include the Ministry of Human Development which gives special consideration to women, but it is also responsible for a 4H Centre, the Youth Development Centre which provides vocational training for young men, the Youth Department which also mounts training courses for youth and the Department of Women which focuses on the training of females. The Ministry of Health from time to time mounts health related educational programmes and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives has an agricultural extension service and cooperative officers train citizens in credit unionism. The Ministry of the Public Service is especially responsible for training public officers.
A variety of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have emerged over the years and have been doing important work in this educational dimension under consideration. A number of them focus on providing basic elementary education for school leavers and school dropouts. Others focus on specific skills related to preparation for employment. At the same time they provide opportunities for their members to learn and practice various kinds of social skills. As a rule, however, all NGOs are under-funded and can only operate with the assistance of external organizations with which they are affiliated. Consequently, their funds are used mostly to keep their offices running with essential personnel, particularly a director and the provision transport. Most courses mounted are to a large extent orientation exercises.
Nevertheless, the public policy is that of providing equal opportunity to youths and adults in skills training and entrepreneurial development and to this end there is a National Plan for Vocational and Technical Education and the Vocational Technical Training Unit serves as the Ministry of Education's agency for implementing its policy for technical and vocational educational and training.

Education for Better Living

Education through the "third channel" as defined by the guidelines in annex 2 made modest progress during the period 1990-95. The national broadcasting station which previously was a statutory body was privatized thereby allowing it to have more freedom over its affairs including the planning and implementation of its broadcast programmes. However, in 1998 after due examination of the possibility of its survival it was considered far too costly to retain as a government subsidized but private broadcasting entity and was consequently closed down.
Several private radio and television stations have been set up and three major newspapers, which existed prior to 1990, have continued to be published, with a number of minor ones being published since 1990.
The following provide public education:

The number of television companies has grown. They transmit foreign daily programmes mainly from the US and cable television is now commonplace an all the towns and in many villages.
There is as yet no attempt at providing structured and continuing out-of-school educational programmes or programmes to enhance the skills of teachers in service. In this latter regard the Belize Teachers' College introduced a distance teacher-training course in 1993 which relies on a kind of correspondence course utilizing printed modules.
The National Arts Council is engaged in promoting the arts and culture through music instruction, art exhibition and an annual Children's Festival of Arts. There was a time when there was an Adult Festival of Arts but this has been placed in abeyance for the present. The National Arts Council also invites musical and dance groups to perform in Belize City and other municipalities.
The National Sports Council promotes sports among adult athletes and in the schools. It also assists athletes to train for competition abroad. Certain sports are well patronized by many citizens and this participation as actors and as spectators as education for better living.
In this dimension should be considered the various holidays highlighting certain festivities. In the rural parts such festivities are connected with religious holidays and in specific villages they feature traditional dramatizations such as the "Moros" in the village of Succotz and the "deer dance" among the Kekchi and ritualistic dances of Garifuna in the southern district. Other public and bank holidays are celebrated mostly in the municipalities, especially Belize City and tend to focus on stressing our Belizean identity and curiously harking back to our colonial heritage. There are also ethnic holidays including Pan American Day, Garifuna Day (celebrating the entry of the Black Caribs in Belize) and the Battle of St. George's Caye Day (celebrating the 10th of September the day the masters and their slaves drove back a whole fleet of Spanish naval vessels which was intent on capturing the settlement).
Perhaps it could be said that the cultural celebrations of this dimension are probably the aspects one in which the large majority of Belizeans participate and which perhaps may have the most universal impact educationally.


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