|The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports|
7. Effectiveness of EFA Strategy, Plans and
The MoES is charged with the task of expanding formal education at all levels with the objective of improving both the quantity and quality of schooling in Belize. To advance its goals and objectives MoES has relied heavily on a strategy which involves participation by its partners i.e. the churches, donor agencies and communities. A brief discussion as to the effectiveness of this strategy and related plans and programmes regarding the six dimensions follows:
Early Childhood Care and Development
As has been indicated earlier in this report Early Childhood Development (ECD) cannot be confined totally to provisions for education by the MoES. Seen against this background ECD is not provided for through a comprehensive policy or strategy and concomitant plans and programmes. From the MoESs standpoint participation by children in preschool educational programmes is not compulsory for those under five years, nor is there any nation-wide plan for their participation. The strategy is to involve communities and private enterprise in setting up preschool centers on a fee-paying basis. MoESs Pre-School Unit supervises, monitors and provides a printed curriculum and some inservice training for preschool teachers. Donors are relied on for financial and technical inputs of which the most involved is UNICEF.
However, in terms of the participation by preschoolers the coverage is still only a small percentage of the total population in the age group and this percentage is concentrated largely in the towns. Besides, the poorest children are among those who are not covered.
For those who do participate the facilities on a whole are far from the ideal and so are the approaches to the teaching-learning situation in these centers where the large majority of the teachers are untrained and generally are not well prepared to work with young children.
Universal Primary Education
The longstanding policy and strategy for the provision of schooling to children 5 to 14 years is well established and clearly understood by all concerned. Under the partnership the government establishes educational policy goals, taking into account its partners, pay 100% of primary school teachers salaries, develops curriculum and administrative standards, trains teachers, supervises schools and administers the BNSE at the end of primary school. In addition the government contributes 50% of recurrent expenditure and 70% of the capital expenditures of the grant-aid school system. Government also plays 50% of the salaries of the general managers of the three largest religious denominations Catholic, Anglican and Methodist as well as 50% of the salaries of three assistant local managers hired by the church managements. The church managements take the initiatives to build and expand schools, hire, transfer and fire teachers in consultation with the CEO.
From time to time the church state system of school control and administration has been criticized for according too much power to the churches over the educational system while Government pays by far the larger portion of the cost of the upkeep of the system. During recent years, however, with the focus being placed on educational decentralization, Belizes school system is regarded as a reasonable one as it offers opportunity for such decentralization and for community participation through the church-state system of administration and control.
While the policy of decentralization has been declared, making this policy operational has not been an easy one. Ideally decentralization implies that the administration and financing of education should move away from the central administration to the district level and even to the community level such as the town and the village. In a country such as the USA or the United Kingdom this really involves political decentralization. However, for Belize the districts are not in any way autonomous, neither are the district towns and villages. The question arises as to what mechanism to put in place other than that which exists. The NCE is an advisory body and the policy to have district education councils appointed by the CEO seems to run counter to what the NCE has been established for. Actually decentralization as it is envisaged at present seems to mean budgeting so as to give some entity in each district control over funds allocated to it, but setting up a district division of the MoES costs money which is in short supply. In any case this would really only amount to delegation of responsibilities.
With regard to providing for primary education within a compulsory school attendance law, it has already been pointed out that while the records show an enrolment of over 80% of the 5 to 14 age group there is a serious problem relating to repetition and drop out in Belizean primary schools. There is also much difficulty in providing space for the annual increase of the children who have reached the minimum age for school attendance. Besides, in many instances the space provided is not adequate and conducive to learning. In a recently held discussion with a focus group the researchers (Mary Surridge and Dylan Vernon) who conducted an analysis of the social sector of Belize presented their findings. Not surprisingly the list contained the often-repeated shortcomings of the provision of primary education:
Solutions suggested included:
The findings of this latest research which
focuses especially on the disadvantaged groups of children is expected to be used in the
development of the emerging ESS which is to be the basis of the educational development
plan f the present government. If some concrete and properly supported implementation plan
to solve the long-standing problems of primary and post-primary education in Belize could
be realized the educational picture could be vastly improved in the next ten to twenty
During the period 1990 to 1999 the BPEDP has provided a major strategy with accompanying programmes to advance primary education in Belize. The preparation of BPEDP was realistically undertaken. Practically all the technical officers of Ministry of Education and at least three general managers of schools became participants in a number of task forces. The British government through its ODA provided a grant to enable British consultants to join in the planning effort and for the setting up of a link project with Bristol University (The Belize-Bristol Link Project). To direct and manage the BPEDP a Project Implementation Unit was set up and a Project Implementation Committee was formed. The BPEDP has been a multi-dimensional project relating to:
Comment: All the targets for this component have been achieved. However, with regard to school facilities it is the use to which they are put that will determine the effectiveness of this aspect of the component. All districts now have DEC and a consultancy to place them on a proper footing is under way. The Belize Teachers College has a large new two storey building, but this as well as some of the regular classrooms remain under utilized because the Level I programme has been converted to a fully distance training programme. This is a change from the original plan. The EDC now accommodates the Quality Assurance Development Service (QADS) which includes the AEU, the Examination Unit (for external examinations) and the Curriculum Development Unit. There is now also a teacher licensing unit under QADS. These changes have required a change in administrative structure.
Comment: The new curriculum for primary school is in the making. The school curriculum is at the core of the educational mission of the schools. However, the printed curriculum is only the beginning of the achievement of learning. It has to be translated into action at the classroom level and this requires adequately prepared teachers who have the necessary understanding and skills to apply the curriculum effectively. Consequently, it is far too early to make any useful judgment on the effectiveness of this particular aspect of the strategy.
Comment: This strategy has met with some success in that what it set out to achieve has taken place. However, at this point the BNSE is being criticized as not being the most suitable assessment instrument. It has been criticized from its inception, but now this criticism has reached the highest level of the MoES. If the BNSE is replaced by a more preferred test for primary school leavers it could still be claimed that the setting up of the AEU has achieved its purpose. As for the BJAT it is still in a state of development and judgment on its effectiveness must await a more suitable time in the future.
Comment: The restructuring involved instituting two one-year intra-mural programmes: a Level I and a Level II. Teachers completing level I are certified as such. Level II completed after a period of classroom teaching qualifies the teacher as a fully trained teacher. A Level I extra-mural programme was also included and after a year or two became the sole mode of training at Level I. There have been some criticisms by students who welcome the more economical manner of receiving training but some of whom complain of certain inadequacies. Such inadequacies are concerned mainly with having to work full-time and prepare their required assignments in situations where learning
Comment: This has not been an easy task to accomplish. It was intended that an important contributor to accomplishing the goal required was the setting up of an Educational Planning Unit within Ministry of Education this unit has still to develop to the point where it can truly carry out planning activities effectively and efficiently. The element which was perceived to have great potential in the improvement of Ministry of Educations planning and management capabilities was the idea of decentralization. As has been indicated earlier this is easier said than done.
Improvement in Learning Achievement
This dimension is considered under (2) above since an aspect of the improvement of the quality of primary school education has to be that of improvement in the learning achievements of school children. The assumption on which BPEDP is based is that improved school facilities, a significantly greater number of well prepared teachers, a textbook programme to make textbooks available to children and the use of the results of the BNSE and those of tests at the mid-point of the primary school and an appropriate school curriculum can be expected to enhance learning among school children. This assumption is valid if steps are taken to ensure that school facilities are creatively used, that teachers are appropriately trained and go to their classrooms as motivated workers, that the loan scheme reaches the children of all schools, that the revised curriculum is really designed to promote learning and that the results of tests are followed up by remedial and enrichment programmes in the schools. The impact of these various components of BPEDP cannot be fully assessed with regard to this dimension in such a short term.
The strategy of establishing the LCB and providing it with a secretariat has been a sound one to enable the purpose of the strategic plan document to be carried out. The implementation process has been successful as far as it has gone. However, much remains to be done if illiteracy is to be eradicated and further incidence prevented. A good deal will depend on the political will of the government and the availability of resources.
Training in Essential Skills
The goals and objectives set for this aspect of education are wide-ranging and ambitious in the light of being related largely to the Ministry of Education. The strategy of using the Vocational Technical Training Unit (VTTU) as the agency for implementing Ministry of Educations projects and programmes within the formal education system is realistic by being focused on the nine government secondary schools and on CET, but the VTTU is under-resourced. There is a need for a more comprehensive, clearly established strategy involving all the agencies engaged in training in essential skills. To this end the National Technical Committee (perhaps under another name) must be reactivated and given the necessary support.
Training in essential skills will be successful to the extent that the economy of the country develops appropriately, thereby providing opportunities for the employment of a greater number of persons trained in essential skills.
Education for Better Living
There is no national policy, strategy, plan or programme to advance education in this direction. This is a dimension that requires consideration during the remaining part of the 20th century.
8. Main Problem Encountered and Anticipated
There are certain pervading problems and difficulties, which have militated against progress towards the accomplishment of EFA goals and target to Belize. Such problems and difficulties are closely related to the fact that Belize is a poor, developing country with all the concomitant drawbacks of the socio-economic status of this country. In 1990 Belize had been independent for merely nine years. The population was then 190,000 in a land area of 8,868 square miles, which characterizes Belize as a sparsely populated country a small state. Today the population is estimated to be 204,000. In some respects this suggests that there is still enough space even for a population whose growth rate has remained relatively high. On the other hand, the population density is concentrated around the district towns with vast areas being very under-populated or entirely uninhabited, thereby creating overcrowding in the inhabited parts. The economy is relatively small and open. This makes it vulnerable to adverse developments on the world market. At mid-decade, while the export industries of sugar, banana, citrus, fish and tourism had been doing quite well (the first three listed, with the help of an international quota system) the fiscal situation of the Belize government had deteriorated significantly because of debt servicing and other factors. This situation led to austerity measures, with education being affected negatively. At the close of the decade there is a mood of optimism and hope for a significant upturn in the economy. Financial support for the advancement of education for all has always presented problems. Over the years the Belize government has been quite conscious of the role of education in the development of the country and consequently has increased allocations to the educational system annually. Nevertheless, the financial resources of the country have never been sufficient to satisfy the social demand for education. It is estimated that the school-age population (primary school) grows at around 2% per annum, so that the educational authorities are always hard-pressed to find school places for the rising population of school aged children. This being so, there is not much to spare for the setting up of centres to provide early childhood care and development. ECD then, must depend largely on the enlightened action of families and their local communities, but the large majority of families and communities are poor and disadvantaged, a situation which prevails against any strong advancement of ECD among the very families who need it most.
It has been estimated that at least 46% of the children enrolled in school never complete the eight years of schooling in the set time. This percentage includes a number of physically and/or mentally handicapped children as well as others who are severely socially or culturally disadvantaged. Then there are those who become disenchanted with school or are forced to join the family work force, thereby dropping out of school. There are also many children who remain in school but leave without learning to read competently after eight years of schooling because of neglect by teachers who regard them as too slow to learn or to cope with the prescribed curriculum. The number of the factors contributing to the dropout rate are not easy to assess, but as has been stated earlier a study is being attempted. As for special education, there are 6 centers enrolling some 200 children with special needs. With the help of UNICEF a detailed plan and a strategy for special education have been prepared and are being integrated into the country's overall educational development programme.
Among the many disadvantaged families and communities some have emerged from an influx of Central American immigrants who have been arriving in a new wave in Belize since the 1970's. Belize has always been attractive to immigration from Central America and from Mexico. However, this new wave of immigration poses problems for the social and economic infrastructure of Belize as resources must be re-allocated to absorb the immigrant communities and to provide the necessary services, including those of health and education. Because the children are Spanish-speaking problems of accommodating them in heterogeneous classrooms become significant. A similar analysis can be made for the dimension of training in essential skills and education for better living through the "third channel".
Most secondary schools include some form of training for employment ranging from secretarial and business studies to computer education. The CET provides training in a variety of work skills and there are considerations to set up others in other districts. There are privately run skills training programmes funded with help from Government, but more significantly from external sources. With the country trying to recover from austerity it is expected that those involved in such training programmes will plod on but there will not be any dramatic expansion in the area of skills training. As for education through the "third channel", the situation is similar. The media being wholly private, their services carry fees which are often beyond the means of the public and private educational interest.
Intertwined with the above-cited problems is the shortage of sufficiently qualified teachers to staff the schools and centres. The revised training programme at the Belize Teachers' College is working towards having 80% of the primary school teachers trained by the year 2000. However, even with a greater number of trained teachers their preference is usually to teach in urban schools, or at least in the better, more accessible rural schools. This pattern results in the least qualified teachers being placed in the least accessible, least attractive schools. Aggravating this situation is an inadequate supervisory service which is being impacted on by limited resources.
Estimates indicate that the literacy rate has been slipping. To combat this trend the LCB was formed with help from UNICEF and UNESCO and a comprehensive plan and a strategy were drawn up to promote adult literacy. At mid decade, however, the initiative had slowed down considerably. At this time the general optimism has filtered into the area of literacy and a new literacy campaign is being organized with the help of Cuban literacy workers.
9. Public Awareness, Political Will and
That approximately 85% of the primary school age children are enrolled in school is an indication that there is a strong demand for education. That the GoB has maintained a high allocation to primary education in its annual budget is a clear indication of its commitment to schooling for children of primary school age. Government, through the MoES, also shows an interest in pre-school education by its support of a Pre-School Unit and its programmes. The mounting of the BPEDP again demonstrates the interest of Government in improving primary education. The establishment of the LCB, the VTTU and the CET are further indications of the concern for these dimensions of education for all. The one area in which there is no strong show of will to push forward is that of education through the "third channel". However this may be offset by the society in general providing for this aspect of education.
As for other partners, these include the churches, the NGOs and the international agencies. Their strength is that they are well regarded in Belize and Government depends substantially on them for financial input and other kinds of support. They also display resolve to take action in their own areas of endeavour. Their weaknesses include their having to work within their own bureaucracies and their own limited resources. Besides, in providing assistance they must work through the bureaucracy of the government departments.
10. General Assessment of Progress and
Belize has had a relatively high literacy rate compared to that of many other developing countries and through the church-state partnership primary schools have been provided in practically all towns and villages in this country. This was the position in 1990 when the World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtein, Thailand. During the period 1990-1999 the policy of providing schooling for all children within the compulsory school ages has been pursued. However, the growth of the school age population has made it difficult to facilitate the increasing number of primary school children with places. Furthermore, despite the high annual allocations of funding to primary schooling some 90% of these allocations go towards salaries for teachers and education personnel leaving little for supplying the necessary materials, equipment, inservice training and supervision of schools on the regular basis. For these and other reasons the quality of teaching and learning in the schools needs a good deal of improvement, a matter which was being addressed through the BPEDP but which must continue to need close attention to the post - BPEDP era if the goals established at the Jomtien conference are to be fully achieved.
Bearing in mind that in addition to primary education, the GoB provides services for secondary and tertiary education at a time when like other developing countries Belize is confronting significant socio-economic problems, it is not difficult to understand that resources become increasingly hard to find for the support of the dimensions of basic education other than primary education. Besides, some major international donors are withdrawing their assistance because Central America is no longer a priority region now that the conflicts of war have ceased. Nevertheless, some progress has been made during the period under consideration and it is hoped that the initiatives started during these years will continue into the 21st century with the help of all the partners in the Belizean education enterprise.