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Point and Counterpoint~ We call it: Education Justice

Posted: Tuesday, December 5, 2023. 8:34 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.:  Peter Tosh, the famed Rasta man and roots reggae singer, once chimed that “there will be no peace, until we have equal rights and justice” – Education Justice!  Today our politicians give lip-service to social justice, and the environmental lobby, to climate justice.  I am joining the ranks of those progressive educators in Belize and elsewhere, who are, in many different voices, calling for Education Justice.

For us, Education Justice (EJ) involves schools and communities that work to provide “equitable and adequate distributions of highly qualified teachers, who can provide quality instruction, equitable access to educational resources, advanced courses, and a focus on restorative justice to ensure that all students graduate from high schools” ready for preferably STEM careers or junior college or university.  I firmly believe that it is imperative that we do better in delivering pre-K, primary, and secondary education to all our citizens and Education Justice is the mind-set and the conceptual framework to guide us to this magnanimous end.  But what are the tenets of an Educationally Just system of schooling in Belize and how will it differ fundamentally from what we currently have?

An old friend and colleague, Dr. Alvaro Rosado, told me about a decade ago, that if he had the power and it was all up to him, he would “bull-doze down the entire education system and start anew”.  The only problem was that he had not yet figured out what to replace it with.  A group of us, including, Ernest Raymond, Carol Keller, the late Dr. Cecil Reneau and Dr Samuel Lochan, who had been grappling with the issue for a long time, at the time thought that Alvaro’s perspective was too “catastrophic” for our gradualists worldview to work with.  But it may have been the shock and awe that our education system needed.  Today, twenty-three years into the twenty first century, and we are still not behind the eight ball as the pool-sharks say in pool; still going through reform after reform after reform, spinning our tops in mud, in motion but no real movement; with rhetoric galore, but no real substantial progress!          

Inclusive, integrated, and equitable public schools In Belize is still largely an illusion in the minds of some politicians and education bureaucrats.  The prosperity and independence for all students and their communities promised has largely been vacuous rhetoric.  Children of all income levels continue to be impacted by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), but children of poverty continue to face significantly more barriers to coping.  Poverty continues to affect students’ academic readiness and abilities which adversely affects schools and their ability to reduce gaps experienced by children living in poverty.  A country whose leaders don’t believe in public schools as a public good, and continues to treat our children as such, cannot achieve Education Justice for all children.  Education Justice, for me, is the truest route to prosperity an independence for all students and their communities, but it must be guided by some fundamental principles.  Allow me to share a few of those principles of Education Justice with you.   

The first tenet of an Educationally Just school system is to have integrated equitable schools that prepare students to become citizens and leaders in a diverse country.  Secondly, we need to have pre-K schools for all eligible citizens and residents in Belize.  Currently, we have less than a fifty per cent (50%) capacity in this area.  Most importantly, in a school system designed to administer Education Justice, we need to have equity of opportunity for all ethnicities and abilities and inclusion and safety for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation.  Furthermore, such a system needs to provide a trauma-informed approach and learning environment.

But we also need to do much more for our teachers and their families.  We need to find ways to teaching educators and their children, how to best use social and environmental learning (SEL) tools to help students to be socially, as well as academically, successful.  But we also need to change our approach to discipline and classroom management.  In this regard we must adopt restorative practices that keep kids in school and seek to end the school-prison pipeline.

Finally, the cost of Education Justice.  Belize right now spends close to $200M (Bz.) to support public education in the country.  Most of it (94%) goes to paying the salaries of teachers, staff, and education administrators.  The lion share of this money goes to supporting schools owned and managed by religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist and the Anglican Managements, as well some evangelical churches such as the Baptists, Calvary Temple, the SDAs, Salvation Army and the Nazarene Missions.  But some of the developmental monies also goes to the creation of elite public schools such as the STEAM Academy in Belize City, that caters for the children of the Belizean elite society.  These schools like many of the denominational schools, operate like elite private schools with no Education Justice policies in place.  Some of the money also goes to the politization of the school assistance programs.  Very little recurrent funds are spent on our ITVETs.  This is shocking given the lived and professional experience of some members of the leadership of the sector.  So what we have now in place is a runaway gravy-train that is not sustainable and that may derail if left unabaited. Though we cannot shy away from the fact that Education Justice is not free,  a well-managed Educationally Just system of schooling in Belize will cost less and produce many, many more productive citizens. We can use the resources we are squander on this current education system and fully fund all schools in an Educationally Just school system, including resources and monies for support staff.  We can populate our schools with high quality teachers and administrators who are valued and retain in every school.  Finally we can use portions of our current education budget to create an assessment system that does more than just measure students’ economic background and that keep marginalized students from rigorous classes that is contributing that is contributing to the huge gender gap in college enrollment and competitiveness.  From this perspective, Education Justice in Belize can become more than just another cliché.

Please feel free to comment on any or all of the points raised in the piece above, and let’s get the discussion on Education Justice in Belize going,  

 

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