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An opportunity to restructure Belize’s education system

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Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2020. 6:02 am CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Charles Leslie Jr: Covid-19 has been devastating to the social and economic fabric of our nation, however, it presented us with an opportunity to restructure our entire society in so many ways.

I consider the education system in Belize as antiquated and our public schools as torture chambers.

In 2018 Hon. Francis Fonseca stated: “РЅЕ rеѕultѕ соnfіrm whаt wе аll knоw. Оur еduсаtіоn ѕуѕtеm іѕ dеерlу flаwеd аnd соntіnuеѕ tо fаіl оur ѕtudеntѕ. Тhіѕ іѕ nоt thе fаult оf аnу раrtісulаr аdmіnіѕtrаtіоn. Аѕ а fоrmеr Міnіѕtеr оf Еduсаtіоn І knоw оnlу tоо wеll thаt wе аrе аll rеѕроnѕіblе fоr thе ѕtаtе оf еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе.”

He went on to say: “Тhе ѕуѕtеm rеquіrеѕ а bоld, сrеаtіvе оvеrhаul. Wе nееd urgеnt nеw іnіtіаtіvеѕ аnd іnvеѕtmеntѕ іn сurrісulum rеvіеw, tеасhеr trаіnіng, еаrlу сhіldhооd еduсаtіоn, ѕресіаl еduсаtіоn, аnd vосаtіоnаl trаіnіng. Мuѕіс, Аrtѕ, Сulturе, Ѕроrtѕ аll muѕt bе mеаnіngfullу fundеd аnd tаkе thеіr rіghtful рlасе аѕ іntеgrаl соmроnеntѕ оf а wеll-rоundеd еduсаtіоn. Оur еduсаtіоn ѕуѕtеm muѕt fullу еmbrасе tесhnоlоgу аnd uѕе іt tо mоrе еffесtіvеlу аnd еffісіеntlу dеlіvеr еduсаtіоn tо оur реорlе раrtісulаrlу thоѕе іn оur mоѕt rеmоtе соmmunіtіеѕ аnd mоѕt dіѕаdvаntаgеd.”

Why Not Learn From The Best?

The Finnish Education system is considered the best in the world.

Finland has completely revolutionized its education system to reach the pinnacle of global PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) league tables.

Why The Finnish Education System Is Considered The Best

Infrastructure & Technology

  • Schools are designed to support a flexible learning environment.
  • School buildings are Smart buildings.
  • Buildings are retrofitted with solar panels.
  • Every room is visible from the next. Large windows everywhere.
  • They want their children to learn how to use technology as they grow.

Curriculum

The students themselves actively participate in designing their curriculum so that they have an active role in learning. There is lots of collaboration, students working with teachers, flexible learning groups, and children with special needs and mainstream students work together when reasonable.

Reading Dog

Yes, you read that correctly.

Children struggling with reading have reservations about reading to the class, and they found that for children who are learning how to read, they can read to the school reading dog. The dog won’t judge you and will always listen.

Classrooms

Students do not have their own classrooms, or desks or tables. There are spaces for individual work, beanbags to sit on, and everything is flexible and light and easy to move around.

They don’t believe children will learn better at a desk or a table. They will learn 20 times better on beanbags, depending on what they are doing. Sometimes you need a desk and a chair, but sometimes a beanbag is easier. Children with special needs can choose their own spaces and all their teachers to plan their lessons together.

Children encounter learning everywhere. The entire school is a classroom. They are now designing their entire communities to be a classroom.

Peer-To-Peer Learning

Learning groups are designed to be flexible. Teachers collaborate to create great lessons.

Diversity

The open spaces and windows allow children and adults to see each other. Culturally, it helps learning when you see students and adults working and communicating together.

Computers

Ireland and the UK has seen many failed school IT strategies, where iPads to PCs on every desk were promised but never delivered.

Will that happen in Belize with this tablet initiative? We will see.

The Finns have a different approach.

They have observed that children learn through video game technology projected onto walls.

They realized that everyone has mobile phones and, where reasonable and useful, they use PCs and tablets.

However, they make sure their schools have very good technology so students don’t have to bring their own. They are open to trying all kinds of games and devices.

Time Tables

  • There are no set time tables.
  • They don’t have specific hours.
  • It depends on the grade.

They realize that children spend the whole day inside the school. So, every time, when reasonable, they try to bring the children outside the school to learn in the real world.

In Finnish schools, there are lots of breaks and recess. For Finnish people, that is normal and rational.

They believe that makes it easier for children to concentrate and to learn.

They also believe it is important that parents at all times can see what is happening in the schools; it makes it easier to cooperate with the parents by making everything visible to them.

In Conclusion

Finns are fearless when it comes to trying new things that are not reflected in other countries where a conservative loyalty to longstanding curricular tradition gets in the way of progress.

They believe that fear will always hold you back.

I stated that our education system in Belize is antiquated because it is.

I also stated that I consider our schools as torture chambers, not only for students but for the entire faculty.

We design these brutalist concrete structures, with square box rooms, children sitting on hard chairs for hours each day, and the entire school building turns into a giant sauna during hot days, which is most of the year.

The world is changing at breakneck speeds, faster than ever before, and students in schools will end up doing jobs we don’t even know about yet.

Our education system needs to prepare our students to answer questions we don’t have yet for a world we don’t even know yet.

That means we have to prepare them for a world they will need to survive in and find their own answers.

This is not happening in Belize and is a major contributing factor as to why up to 50% of Belizean children under the age of 15 are classified as poor and 58% of Belize’s youth under 18 are classified as multi-dimensionally poor.

It’s time to do a proper overhaul of our education system in Belize.

Let’s be fearless and willing to try something new. Let’s also remember that our children are humans too, and deserve to enjoy their childhoods.

And let’s remember we don’t have to reinvent the wheel…but, we do need new wheels.

PS: I believe our teachers in Belize are rock stars. In Finland, they get treated and paid like rock stars. Time to let our teachers shine so that they can make our students go supernova.

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