By Charles Leslie Jr.
In May 2013 the Inter-American Development Bank released a report named – “Challenges and Opportunities in the Belize Education Sector”. The report stated – “Belize is paying a lot for education but getting little. More youth are outside the school system than in it and many fail to make the transition to the workforce. More and more youth drop out of school and become involved in gang activities. Action is needed if Belize is not to lose a whole generation of youth.”
Channel 5 reported on July 16, 2013 and I paraphrase – The results of the study published by the IDB on challenges being faced within the education sector indicate that Belize is under-performing in comparison with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to outdated instructional models and materials still in use, teachers rely heavily on presentation and repetition, particularly in the area of math, where procedures, drills, practice and memorization of concepts are often combined. As a result, students are too consumed copying from the chalkboard and entering numbers into formulas instead of participating in activities that may aid in the development of analytical and critical-thinking skills. Clearly, the multi-ethnic diversity of the Belizean society is not reflected in the curricula. Subsequently, students do not engage in the lessons being taught because they are not specialized to meet their distinct needs.
According to the IDB report, the issue Belize is currently struggling with is not an isolated case. In fact, evidence from other countries suggests that there is little connection between the levels of public spending and academic achievement. What is equally unfavorable is that government’s course of action has been centered on pumping more monies into the education system with little attention to improving its institutional setup. Taking into consideration that wages and salaries represent over eighty percent of the total expenditures, the huge increase in teacher employment has led to a significant rise in public spending on education.
I fully support teachers getting paid a livable wage, and increases to their wages when necessary. However, we must take some factors into consideration: The IDB report clearly states, that we, as a nation, is already paying a lot for education but getting very little, and pointed out that the contributing factors to this may lie in the structure of our education system.
After doing some research, it seems that the Finland’s education system is so superb and effective, that it keeps popping up in report after report as the epitome of what an education system should aspire to be – it is considered the best value for money education system. I wanted to know why Finland’s education system is so superb and effective: Since Finland implemented huge education reforms 42 years ago, Finland’s school system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings for education systems. So how do they do it? It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.
The IDB report goes on to say that the internal efficiency of the education system in Belize is low, with a large gap between the number of years that children attend school and the number of grades actually completed. In Belize the average 12 year old child has attended school for 6 years but completed only 4 grades. Similarly, at age 17, while students should have attended 12 years of school and completed the secondary level, they have on average been enrolled for only 10 years and completed 8 grades. The average 20 year old has attended school for 11 years but completed only the primary level. Hanushek (2012) notes that “the majority of studies have found that differences in either the absolute spending level or spending increases bear little or no consistent relationship to study achievement.”
The national education strategy for the period 2011 – 2016, which is a continuation with the policies of the 2005 – 2010 plan, is simply not working. Why? it is a paint job on a house that needs to be torn down and built back from a new foundation upwards, with all new modern, updated, proven materials and methods.
In conclusion, the IDB reports states that government policies in Belize have historically been focused on input provision with little attention to reform of the institutional setup of the sector and other policies that have been linked to better educational outcomes. The amount of money and resources being pumped into education is not determining factor to a better education system, it is value for money that we are not realizing.
I implore parents across Belize to demand that we start looking at entirely new education models that are working elsewhere. It seems that a good place to start is with the education system that has been rated the best value for money in the entire world – Finland’s education system. The future of Belize and Belizeans depends on it.
Charles Leslie Jr. is the Chairman of the Belize Unity Alliance and the former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience.
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