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Point and Counter point~ John Briceno Wants to Be Remembered As the EDUCATION PRIME MINISTER

Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2023. 4:48 pm CST.

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

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: As Francis Fonseca, his dream-team at the Ministry of Education, and Schools across the country continue to face increasing public pressure to provide comparative data about the scholastic achievements of Belizean students, [we have not had any reports on how our children are doing since Fonseca and his dream-team at the MOE scraped the PSE in 2021], not only is the issue surrounding inclusion of all students in our system of education becomes a major concern, but you can also add to that the desire of our Prime Minister, the Hon. John Briceno, who is hoping that one of his legacies will be that he is remembered as the “Education Prime Minister”.  This is what it is rumored he had to say to a  closed circle of friends and political confidantes in Orange Walk recently.

Since Independence our beloved country has rode five waves of educational reforms with varying levels of success.  For example, in 1981 the Hon. Said Musa announced that we will have in Belize ‘Education for All’.  41 years later, we still only have 64% of the age cohort in secondary schools.  In 1993 the Hon Elodio Aragon, then Minister of Education from my hometown here in Orange Walk, announced that he would have ‘Free Education in Belize’.  Today, the average Belizean Family have to cough up $1,000 per year if they want any one of their children to access a high school education.  These, in my view, have been the products of the process we call Education Reforms.  They have turned out to be  small expensive attempts to make a bad situation a little better.  Today ,my vision is that of Education Transformation.  … If nothing else I want to be remembered as the Education Prime Minister, that is, the politician wo delivered to Belize “Free Education for All”’.  My sources in Belmopan tells me  that Minister Eamon Courtney has been charged to work with Education Minister Fonseca and Financed Minister Coye to ensure that this happens!  

Briceno’s revolutionary thinking about education has been inspired by the PUP Central Party Council and I suspect the influence of Mrs. Briceno, a lifetime educator; George Bush’s inspired vision of “No Child Left Behind”, and the education models followed in Rwanda, (the safest country in Africa) and in Singapore (one of the most robust twenty first century education system in the world). Briceno’s thinking is predicated on four pillars.  The first is the belief that there should be increased accountability for student performance.  Briceno wants to see that schools that improve achievement will be rewarded.  Failure will be sanctioned.  Parents will know how well their children are learning and that schools will be held accountable for their effectiveness with annual reading and mathematics assessments in Standard I through Standard VI.

Secondly, Briceno believes that we need to focus on what works.  “tax payers dollars” Briceno says, “from now on will be spent on effective research-based programs and practices.  So I am appealing to UB, Galen and UWI to get their research programs tuned to help our Ministry of Education to drive this process”.  Some funds in the new budget will be targeted to improve schools and especially to enhance teacher quality.  Thirdly, Briceno believes that we need to reduce the educational bureaucracy and increase flexibility. “Management always come whisper to me how difficult it is  to get the Teaching Services Commission to approve another needed teacher for them.  It is like pulling teeth! There need to be a lot more flexibility on both sides.”  He pledged to join Minister Fonseca and CEO Yolanda Gongora to ensure that additional flexibility will be provided to school management and to work with Minister Coye to ensure that flexible funding will be increased at the local management level.

 Finally, the PM believes that we need to do a better job of empowering parents.  “parents”, he says, “will have to have more information about the quality of their child’s school and students in persistently low performing schools will be given a choice”.  As a life long educator I find the Prime Minister’s vision to be consistent with his Plan Belize Manifesto and the necessary extension of it.  Our education and political leaders cannot continue to give lip service to our education laws that require all our students, including those with disabilities, to participate fully in the national public education experience.  In that context Prime Minister’s Briceno’s vision is appropriate and timely,  and I endorse the vision unconditionally.

Please feel free to challenge any or all the issues raised above and let us revive our engagement in the discussion on the sustainable development of our education system.       

Dr. Dоrіаn Ваrrоw іѕ сurrеntlу wоrkіng аt Gаlеn University as the Dеаn оf the Dераrtmеnt оf Еduсаtіоn. Не hаѕ а lоng hіѕtоrу оf іnvоlvеmеnt іn еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе, hаvіng ѕеrvеd аѕ а Lесturеr аt the University оf Веlіzе, аnd аѕ Сhіеf Ехесutіvе Оffісеr іn the Міnіѕtrу оf Еduсаtіоn. Dr. Ваrrоw іѕ аn еmіnеnt рrоfеѕѕіоnаl who іѕ wеll rеѕресtеd bоth lосаllу аnd аbrоаd. Не іѕ ѕеrvіng аѕ аn еdіtоrіаl mеmbеr аnd rеvіеwеr оf ѕеvеrаl іntеrnаtіоnаl rерutеd јоurnаlѕ аnd hаѕ аuthоrеd mаnу rеѕеаrсh аrtісlеѕ/bооkѕ rеlаtеd tо еduсаtіоn. Араrt frоm еduсаtіоn, hе іѕ аlѕо а ѕроrtѕ еnthuѕіаѕt.




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