Posted: Wednesday, November 29, 2023. 11:24 am CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D.: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has gained significant notoriety and momentum in recent years (Drozd, 2020). STEM literacy highlights the vital connection between an educated STEM workforce and national prosperity and educational and political leadership. As J. Alexander Bennett would assert, STEM education and job placement goals have been a priority in Belize over the past 70 years from the 1950s when the Belize Technical College was created by the then Colonial Government. However, the STEM gap has continued to widen contributing to increasing the social injustice milieu of a noncompetitive work force in Belize, thereby undermining efforts to create prosperity and sustainable development. As part of his legacy as “The Education Prime Minister”, the Hon. John Briceno is trying to change all this. In a recent telephone conversation with Briceno on what he is calling his Government’s STEM Education Initiative in Belize the PM said that:
“Belize needs sustained small business growth built on sustained innovation to fuel the economy, and this requires more scientific research and development at our local universities and a more focused and practical hands on dissemination in our schools and junior colleges, which is why my government will continue to invest more in Research and development (R&D), STEM and Vocational Technical Education at our Universities, our ITVET Centers, Junior Colleges, High Schools, and Elementary schools. Through this “Educate to Innovate” Program we plan to generate more than 10,000 new STEM Jobs over the next five years.”
But what are these STEM Jobs of which the PM speaks? Briceno says that today, from his conversation with business leaders all over, nearly 60% of employers are having difficulty with filling STEM Job openings in a timely way because of a critical skills gap. Briceno believes that this gap points back to the education system and a lack of a robust STEM education in Belize. “For example, right as we speak, SANTANDER needs 30 certified wielders and cannot find any locally. Only one of our ITVETS are producing wielders and even there, international accreditation Is a challenge. The same is true for the current demands in engineering (Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical, Auto-mechanical and Civil); software development, data scientist, computer systems analysis, chemists including cannabis scientists, environmental engineers, plumbers, skilled construction works, agriculturalists including food processors. It is as difficult to find a computer hardware engineer as it is to find a statistician or an expert in business analytics.”
PM Briceno is hoping that with funds from sources such as the MCC (about US$40M in the first instance and up to as much as US$500M over the long run) he will be able to radically expand his “Educate to Innovate” initiative, while at the same time working on the country’s energy security and IT infrastructure, since STEM requires affordable electrical power and stable and reliable high quality internet service throughout the country to reinforce STEM Persistence with implications of STEM theoretic frameworks on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Briceno also has his eyes on the future and seems to agree with Pethohoukis (2018) who estimated that 65% of today’s elementary students will wind up working in STEM occupations that do not exist today that include advanced artificial intelligence fields.
I concur with the PM that STEM/VoTech Education is the obvious future for Belize’s long term sustainable development, the challenge to ultimate success will be the divide between the recalcitrance of some of the state’s education leadership who continues to favor the status quo and the small pool of our more progressive school leaders who are sufficiently agile to undergo the transformation necessary to achieve this new vision. But as they say In physics, structures that are not agile enough to bend with the changing times will break. For JB it is innovate or evacuate.
Please feel free to challenge any or all of the claims made in this piece above, and let’s get the innovation revolution going.
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