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Point and Counter-Point: The merciful Sister Caritas – Her contribution to education

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Sister Caritas Lawrence

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2021. 2:22 pm CST.

Тhе vіеwѕ ехрrеѕѕеd іn this аrtісlе аrе those оf the writer аnd nоt nесеѕѕаrіlу those оf Вrеаkіng Веlіzе Nеwѕ.

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: One of the contemporary giants in education in Belize, Sister Dr Caritas Lawrence, passed away quietly this week “after being surrounded by the love of her family”. That extended family includes the entire education community, among whom Sister Caritas was a significant other. The purpose of this essay is therefore to celebrate what I consider as one of the most significant achievements that Sister Caritas made to education development in Belize – the formation of the Belize Teaching Service Commission. My thesis is that had not Sister Caritas Lawrence Be and Became whom she became to our efforts to reform our education system, we would not have had a Teaching Service Commission today. But what type of an icon had Sister Caritas become at the time of her passing?

Born in 1940, Caritas Lawrence began her public service career as a Mercy Sisters’ nun. Even deciding which of the religious orders to join was a struggle for her as the Pallotine Order was also a viable competing alternative. She ended up joining the Mercy Sisters Order of Nuns in part because it was a more liberal order and was US based. Some say that Sister Caritas was radicalized when she did further formal training at the Catholic Seminary in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s. It was there that she developed this world view that even Nuns must be “Women Fully Alive”. It was also there that she began the process of consciously integrating her other ‘selves’, namely that of being a feminist, a humanist and an educator.

As a feminist, Sister Caritas not only advocated for women’s rights in Belize on the basis of the equality of the sexes, “if boys can impregnate young girls and finish their high school education, why shouldn’t girls, the victims of this abuse, not be allowed the same opportunity” she use to say, but embraced feminism as a range of social movements, political movements and ideologies that aimed to define and establish the politic of economic, personal and equality of the sexes. She therefore believed and advocated for the political, economic and social equality of the sexes, especially for young poor girls who she considered her children, expressed particularly through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

Sister Caritas was not only just a deeply religious-feminist, but was also a humanist. But as we all know, joggling Roman Catholic theology and some of the constructs of Humanism can be quite challenging, and trying to do that sometimes lead to internal conflict with her and other Roman Catholic Church leaders. For example, there was disagreements over whether SCA should allow pregnant girls back in school but Sister Caritas along with nuns like Sister Panton, stood their ground. For Caritas, Humanism was a system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Her humanist beliefs stressed the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasized common human needs and sought rational ways of solving human problems. You can only imagine the stresses of being an integral part of the Roman Catholic establishment in Belize where the ‘divine and the supernatural’ are paramount and trying to keep radars of humanism to help to direct your life’s work.

But one the greatness of Sr Caritas, in my view, was the way she managed to keep these various aspects of her selves in balance and still remained authentic. Every bone and sinews in her body was authentic – body, soul and mind. I think she was able to do that because of her education world view, she being an educator par excellence. In many ways the discipline of Physics has a very disintegrating functionality. Physics seeks to take the most complex of physical phenomenon and reduce it to its simplest parts. They reduce the universe to atoms and atoms to protons, neutrons and electrons, and electrons to clouds of energy.

The discipline of Education, on the other hand, serves a much more integrative function and good educators look at education as an ecosystem, with many complex parts that needs to function in harmony if the education system is going to work. Caritas spent a lot of her time in teacher education, trying to understand how that part of the education ecosystem worked. She took that understanding to Church-owned schools when she managed them and to the Ministry of Education when they hired her to work in quality assurance division of the education system.

The Belize Education System was founded on a Church-State Partnership. Essentially the State funded the schools that the Churches owned and managed. When the Churches managed the school system their powers included setting the standards for entry into the teaching force and the conditions of service of teachers with respect to employment, appointments, transfers, discipline and the termination of teachers working in government-aided schools. A paradigm example of the powers that these Church Managers had was the widely publicized case of when a female teach was fired because she had a child out of wedlock. This case ended up in the Supreme Courts of Belize with a ruling against the Church Management.

To confront challenges like these, in the 1990s the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) began to push for the establishment of a Teaching Service Commission that would independently enforce the two major functions of hiring and firing teachers working in the school system in Belize. The Government at the time, who managed their own schools, for a long perod stood on the fence as the battle raged between the BNTU and the Church-owned School Management Authorities. In 2008, the government with Hon Patrick Faber as the Minister of Education joined forces with the union in this fight.

But despite the now formidable opposition the Church Managements, especially the Roman Catholic School Management with Mr. Clement Wade as General Manager and Bishop O.P. Martin as the popular RC Bishop, held out. Caritas at the time agreed to join the Union and the Government forces against the Church-owned School Management Association in the fight. Two years later, in 2010, the Belize Teachers Service Commission (BTSC)was established. With Carita’s help, all the teachers of Belize were finally emancipated from a system of school management that was church-based, and all the many challenges and injustices associated with that.

The establishment of the BTSC, in my view, has been among the single most significant education reforms Belize has had in education for the past 60 years when the condition of service of teachers was for the first time in the history of schooling in Belize being regulated by an independent body. And had it not been for Sister Dr Caritas Lawrence the Merciful, this critical event may not have happened.

Feel free to use the column below to challenge any or all of the claims raise in this piece and let’s get the discussion on education reform in the country 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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