Posted: Tuesday, March 2, 2021. 1:52 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Dr. Dorian Barrow: According to the Plan Belize Manifesto “as early as 2013 the IDB warned that more youths were outside than inside the [formal] education system. Making education work for Belize will be a national priority for the PUP Government.” They went on to pledge to setup a COVID-19 education TEAM to “reimagine education” and accelerate change in teaching and learning. 100 plus days later that TEAM has not been formally selected, appointed and presented to the public or if it has been constituted it has not been revealed to us. The composition of any such TEAM is critical especially since there are wide and varying views on what ‘reimagining education’ in Belize should be about. These views vary from starting over again from ground zero, to doing some major reforms to what we already have in place, to just tweaking what’s in place by infusing more educational technologies and online instructional platforms to the mix. We are seeing some of these tensions in the various positions now playing out on the pressing issue on when do we safely reopen our schools. In this issue of Point and Counter-Point I would like to share some of my views on the topic.
A few weeks ago I raised this issue of ‘reimagining education in Belize’ with a dear friend and life-long educator Dr. Alvaro Rosado. His response to the question was short and brutal – if we want to make education work for Belize we have to ‘bulldoze’ down what we currently have and start over again from the beginning. Rosado’s view is that what we have is not working, have not worked and will never work because it was never properly envisioned. It has been too much of a patchwork, tweaking here and tweaking there, adding and taking away from what he sees as an education system built on a weak base and so will continue to falter because the fundamentals are not and have never being set in place. Though when pressed on what these missing fundamentals are this sector of the education community who take this position are not as forthcoming, they do believe that something is fundamentally wrong with our education system and to fix it we have to start all over again. I suspect that they would add that we should not be talking about reopening schools until we deal with these fundamentals.
But there are others in the education sector who believe that we should take a more moderate view when ‘reimagining’ education in Belize. Essentially those who take this position believe that most of what we have in place is our education system is fundamentally good but there are some areas that need radical and urgent reforms. They argue that we have not moved on from the basic Education for All call of UNESCO from the 1990’s when the focus was on making sure that we provide primary school education for all our citizens. They say that with over 98% of our primary school age children in school we need to begin to focus on other weaker areas of the system especially the part of the system that is more directly focused on preparing our youths to transition to the world of work. They point to the failure of our Centres of Employment Training (our ITVETs) in meeting their mandates and targets. They say, for example, look at an ITVET like the one in Belize City on the old Belize Technical College compound that was built and equipped to cater to 500 students at any one time now has only 80 students enrolled. Or the ITVET outside Dangriga that is virtually closed. Or how technical equipment bought for some of our technical high schools like Georgetown Technical High are still stored in the shipping packets in which they were bought and are not available to students for use. I suspect that their position on the reopening of schools should be done with much more focus on creating access to our out of school youths to technical and vocational training so that they can become gainfully employed when the pandemic is over and we return to some sought of normalcy.
Finally, there is a group in the education sector, who believe that we are on the right track with what we have put in place over the years and that the system just needs continuous tweaking along the lines of modernising the system to make it better able to respond to pandemics like this one we are facing and to any such future potential disruptions. This group feels like we need to invest more in modernizing the system with investments in educational technology, instructional platforms and teacher training so that we can be better able to respond to any future dramatic shocks to the system that we may experience in the future and to improve teaching and learning. This group also want a greater focus on ‘inclusion’, especially of our students with special needs, one of the fastest growing sectors in the student population. Their view on the reopening of schools is that we should do it as quickly but as safely as we possibly can. Though they emphasize urgency, they also urge that the reopening of schools must be done safely for both teachers and students.
Though I agree that there are some parts of our education system that do need some bulldozing, for the most part we have a very robust education system, that needs to be further modernized. We have to move the system into the 21st century, providing much more of our students with the 21st century skills they need to survive. Our first wave of education reforms led us to universal primary education. That in my view was successful. Our second wave was about preparing our students for the world of work. We continue to struggle with that and for the most part have failed in achieving those outcomes. We now have upon us our third wave of much needed reforms which is about preparing our citizens for the information age – the age of e-commerce, e-governance, e-learning, soft-ware development, human intelligence, Logistics, sustainable development, sustainable agricultural practice, the blue economy and climate change. For me reimaging education is about how we plan education so as to better situate our citizens to benefit optimally from these 21st century imperatives. My view is that we must now strategize on how to safely reopen our schools and on responding to these 21st century imperatives at the same time.
Please feel free to challenge my position so that we can get this discourse on education in Belize going.
Dr. Dorian Barrow is currently working at Galen University as the Dean of the Department of Education. He has a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Belize, and as Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is an eminent professional who is well respected both locally and abroad. He is serving as an editorial member and reviewer of several international reputed journals and has authored many research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.
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