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Opposition People’s United Party adopts ‘free education’ platform

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Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2020. 12:59 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) says that not only are our youngest Belizeans missing out on access to education; the quality of that education has never been less mediocre.

Its answer is to remove costs while streamlining administration and boosting content – adopting the “free education” platform most famously made by the 1993-1998 United Democratic Party (UDP) administration.

Former Minister of Education Francis Fonseca cites that with more than $268 million spent in the national budget on education in 2018 (more than a quarter of recurrent expenditure), enrolment at every level has fallen. Early childhood education slumped from 42 percent in 2014 to less than 38 percent four years later. The eligible student population at the primary level is up 17%, yet only 79.2 percent attended school in 2018, down from 95.3 percent in 2012. With a similar rise at the secondary level, enrolment is barely over 50 percent, with a high of 53 percent in 2016.

“The Ministry of Education has been wasting money, focusing on the wrong objectives and the wrong outcomes. There are clearly many problems that exist within our education system. The answer cannot be to just thoughtlessly throw more money at the problems, but rather, to take a strategic and smarter approach to the delivery of education in Belize,” Fonseca concluded.

The PUP’s raft of reforms include making education free from pre-school level to Sixth Form/University, establishing a separate Teacher and Learning Institute and fully training the 5,000-strong teaching corps; introducing and implementing technology with laptops and e-textbooks; providing loan funds for higher education and rural education, and teaching civics and the African and Mayan History program.

Appropriate incentive mechanisms will be introduced with a view to increasing teacher attendance pedagogical training. These incentives will be linked to learning outcomes particularly in the areas of literacy, math, science, engineering, and technology,” Fonseca added. “Together, we have to decide if we are going to be a country where only 5% of our children will reach their potential, and do spectacularly well, while others will struggle to get by, or whether we will do right by the next generation.”

Party leader John Briceño added, “I am laser-focused on the Healthy Start Feeding program, laser-focused on the Education Loan Fund, the Teacher and Learning Institute, Rural Education Grant, the harnessing of technology for our benefit, and laser-focused on making sure that our students are at the center of learning.”

But what’s the plan to finance all of this? Fonseca cited cuts to administrative costs to 5 percent, saving $20 million; reducing the non-teaching workforce at the Ministry to ten percent, saving another $20 million, and gleaning an additional $60 million from savings with the curbing of corruption elsewhere in Government. 

It all sounds good, but as Briceño observes, “We know there’s the cynicism with the voter today, and rightly so, especially after they’ve seen 13 years of a UDP Government that their sole interest was to stay in Government, and not really transforming people’s lives, and making things better for them. But I don’t think that should stop us from coming up with plans that can truly make people’s lives better. These are not things that we took from the sky, or just sat in a room one morning, and then Francis as the former Minister of Education wrote it down. This thing was months of consultations.”


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