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Education Minister: “We will listen to all about school re-opening, financial re-structuring”

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Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2021. 4:29 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Ministry of Education’s Task Force on re-opening schools is gathering apace, as Belize approaches a year since Patrick Faber closed all schools in March.

There have been many false starts since then, and in September and October before elections, Faber’s Ministry of Education set out plans for distance learning at all levels of education countrywide, which remain the default learning mode.

Successor Francis Fonseca said on Friday that the recently formed COVID-19 Education Task Force met last week and produced its terms of reference for moving forward.

“As you know everybody wants to get back to school. Our students have lost a lot of time. Many of our most vulnerable students are falling behind. So all of us in education want to get back into the classroom, but we recognize that we have to be guided by the public health officials and our decisions have to be based on science and we have to take into consideration all the very real and legitimate concerns that our administrative staff have across the country. As I have said to everybody, the task force is there to hear your recommendations. If anybody, any citizen of Belize, any stakeholder wants to submit their recommendations, we are welcoming those,” Fonseca said.

One possible way forward is to re-open secondary schools first, as students at those levels are generally more mature and knowledgeable about the pandemic and behavior. The Minister added that he has met with Stella Maris School administration to design a specific package for the needs of special needs students, and with the managements of the Institutes of Technical and Vocational Education (ITVET), the Skills Training Center, and early childhood education centers, each with varying levels of hands-on activity that has been lost to the pandemic.

But it could all go for naught if the Government has to consider cutting teachers’ pay and there are rumblings of discontent in that regard. Fonseca maintained that it was too early to discuss any pay cuts apart from planned Budget consultations on Wednesday between Fonseca, Cordel Hyde and Henry Charles Usher with the unions

“All of those unions will be consulted and coming out of those consultations is the objective is to try and arrive at some consensus, some common ground on how we can meet and fill this massive financing gap that we have been left by the previous administration who just washed their hands and walked away leaving the country in a 500-million-dollar hole. When [former Prime Minister Dean] Barrow very casually and nonchalantly said Après moi, le deluge (after me, the flood), he was not kidding,” Fonseca said, adding that the Government is doing its best to clean up the wreckage left by the former administration.

 

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