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Outraged and disappointed parents consider legal options over ‘controversial’ survey given to children; BNTU says it was unaware of survey

Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2022. 12:54 pm CST.

By Alexis Milan: Since Breaking Belize News (BBN) first broke the story about a controversial survey given to students at five schools in Belize, as part of a project being implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoECST) and CODE.ORG, parents have expressed their frustration over the survey debacle.

The news first came to our attention after outrage sparked in Barbados when parents found out their children were made to answer personal demographic survey-type questions in which their names were included on the instrument. That prompted an emergency Saturday evening press conference in which the Barbados Ministry of Education disclosed the project and test was also conducted in Belize.

The source of outrage is because the children who participated in the survey were all minors, no parental consent was sought before the survey was administered, and some parents feel that the type of questions might be triggering to some students. Among questions posed, students were asked if they ever felt that they were the wrong gender, if they think about sex a lot, if they ever contemplated suicide or self-harm or if they ever used drugs without their parent’s knowledge. Adding to the ire of parents, the survey was presented as part of what was intended to be a “Computer Science Pre-Test”. Parents in Barbados called it an insidious method.

In Belize, BBN has spoken to at least three parents of standard 6 students from one primary school in the Cayo district who sat the same test. We understand that when the test was administered to students by personnel from the Ministry of Education, the teachers were not present in the classroom.

One mother told BBN: “I believe that the questions are totally inappropriate. It is an invasion of privacy and I was completely unaware of the survey. Our consent was not sought and I would not have signed for my child to participate.”

“My child is 13 years old and I believe that the parents that are now aware that our child participated without our knowledge will seek legal advice on this. We demand transparency and answers! Too many questions. Why were the teachers not aware? Why were the teachers taken out of the classrooms for this specific test? What organization is conducting this survey? What will the data be used for? Why did our children have to write their names? This is personal information about our students and our lives,” the mother continued.

“On the day of the test, my daughter told me that she thought the questions were too personal for a test,” she disclosed of her daughter’s thoughts on the quiz.

Another mother we spoke with said she was not even aware of the situation until another parent contacted her asking if she knew about the survey.

“Normally when answering surveys they would ask us, parents, if we agree for our child to answer but in this case, they did not!” she told BBN.

“She said she felt weird and frightened and my self as a parent I feel very upset about it because I feel like they did force my child to answer these questions,” the mother of the 12-year-old student told us.

Another furious parent told us: “I will address the school regarding this as I believe the questions they were asked had nothing to do with school work. My son says that they were told that they would be doing a ‘math’ survey.” This parent’s child also confirmed that his teacher was asked to leave the classroom while the survey was conducted.

President of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) Elena Smith told BBN that prior to our reports, she was unaware of the survey and the situation. She has told us the BNTU is now in the process of gathering more information about the survey in question.

A source from one school shared: “I am not sure if the Administration was aware of the specific items. From my experience, we were just told that MOE personnel will come to administer a Computer Science test. But teachers didn’t see the items prior. MOE is the one not following protocols. Furthermore, it was personnel from MOE that administered the test and not the teacher.”

A lawyer we spoke with also shared her opinion on the matter saying: “This is definitely inappropriate! It should certainly be anonymous and ONLY AFTER such a survey is approved by a majority of the parents, inclusive of the option for disagreeing parents to have their child(ren) not participate in the survey. If this were done at my son’s school I’d be furious!”

Attorney Audrey Matura has also given her public opinion on the matter saying: “From my view, as a parent, I am totally opposed to my child being asked such personal questions where the answer can be traced back to her and as an attorney I can assure this is an abuse and breach of the child right to privacy and the confidence we have the schools to protect our children, not to exploit them.

I, therefore, demand that this survey/test be stopped immediately and ALL data already collected be destroyed forthwith!!!”

Meanwhile, we continue to await word of an interview or press briefing with the MoECST or Minister regarding this matter.

In Barbados, the IDB has since issued an apology for “inadvertently” leaving the offending questions in despite protest from that country’s Ministry of Education to have them removed. The Barbados Minister of Education is also facing public calls to step down from her office, which she has indicated she has no intention of doing. The Barbados Ministry of Education, however, has collected all the instruments filled out by students and has committed to destroying the instruments in a proper manner. It remains to be seen what action if any, will be taken regarding this matter.


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