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Point and Counter Point: OUR ITVETS: The Harlots In Our Midst

Posted: Friday, February 9, 2024. 8:45 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.: Thomas Secker, an Archbishop of Canterbury, once said that “If you would not step into the harlot’s house, do not go by the harlot’s door”.  The maturing process of becoming a recognized educational establishment in Belize is akin to that of a harlot.  First you do it for love, then for a few friends, and finally only for money (Moliere).  Our ITEVETs have been doing what they do best, providing technical and vocational education and training services, for a long time just for the love of it.  Now our ITVET-Teachers not only want to get paid – some even claim that they have not received their salaries for six months, from September of 2023 – but also want the quality of the work that they do and the many wonderful opportunities that their ITVET-Institutions offer to our marginalized young men and girls to participate meaningfully in the sustainable development of Belize, to be recognized.  For me, the real question is what does the Ministry of Education (MOE) have planned for our ITVETS and when will these plans be rolled out?  More importantly, why have we invested so much (over $30M Bz.) in rut ITVETs and what have been the returns on these massive investments so far?

In this essay I look at what that investment has been over the last thirty years and speculate on what I think could be done to bring our ITVETs formally into our education system from the periphery where they have been for the past three decades.  My thesis is that with the kind of leadership that we now have in the Ministry of Education, including our Chief Education Officer, Ms. Yolanda Gongora, who is a US trained specialists in technical vocational education and training (TVET), and with real possibility of significant grant funding from international financial institutions like the MCC of US State Department, ITVET-education is on the cusps of helping us to advance, as Dr Zab would say, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ in Belize.  Here is why I feel so optimistic.   

Presently we have six Technical Vocational Education and Training Institutes, known as ITVETs, in the country, one in each district.  The two most celebrated and populous are the ones in San Ignacio and the other in Orange Walk Town.  As currently operational our six ITVETs do not belong in the formal education system in Belize as they are neither classified as Primary, Secondary or Tertiary level institutions.  They therefore are not members of the Association of Secondary Schools (BAPS) nor the Association of Tertiary Level Institutions (ATLIB), though in the recently revised National Accreditation Council’s legislation they are classified with the tertiary institutions (Junior Colleges and Universities) and the Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Technology,  the Hon. Francis Fonseca, in his opening remarks at the 2024 Consortium for Educational Development in Belize (COBEC) Winter Conference at the University of Belize, expressed his interest in the ITVETS being welcome to that fold.  

ATLIB, however, does not consider our ITEVETS to be functioning at the tertiary level, and the Chair of ATLIB, Mr. Hugo Gonzalez, said that this isa  matter that would have to be formally taken up with the ATLIB body .  The status of the ITVETS is further complicated by the fact that the ITVET in Belize City is planning on offering a bachelor’s degree in engineering in a year’s time.  In this regard, our ITVETs find themselves between a rock and a hard place when in comes to how and where they fit in our education system and the MOE will have to decide, and soon, if our beloved ITVETs are fish or fowl!   The Minister seems determined to do so sooner than later, and word around Belmopan is that he is waiting for the Belize Accreditation Council to become fully operational before he decides, and that, he says, may be as early as March 1, 2024.

As people in the sector knows very well, there have been strategic paper plans going as far back as 2003 when Dr Cecil Reneau (Chubby) was Chief Education Officer and now that one of his protégées, Ms. Yolanda Gongora, is now the new CEO in the Ministry of Education, I suspect that what they have plan on paper will be given some traction and soon.  With regard to TVET, the strategic aims the plan is first and foremost to improve the quality and relevance of technical and vocational education and training so that more graduates can gain access to appropriate employment.  Attention is also to be given to current high dropout numbers and the under-utilization of institutes for Technical and vocational education and training (ITVETs).

There has also been the long-awaited promise of reforms.  For the MOE, the starting point of reform will be the development of a Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS) which will map the labor market and establish current and final employment trends and needs.  Furthermore, the TVET curricula will be reformed according to the outcomes from the HRDS.  Additionally, and this is significant, TVET programs will be established at the tertiary level.  In this regard institutions like Galen University, Independence Junior College, and CEMJC in Corozal are working closely together to establish such programs.  For example, they are work with a US counter-part institution, STEM U, to offer a program in wielding engineering.  Additionally, the MOE will also conduct a survey to establish the progression path of recent ITVET graduates.

But that’s not all, the MOE is setting some targets for the ITVETs in Belize.  They want to reduce the drop-rate from our ITVETs to a maximum of 10% in each ITVET.   They want to ensure that at least 75% of the ITVET graduates either find employment in work related to qualification or progress to further education or training.  They also want all our ITVETs to operate at a minimum of 90% capacity for full-time programs and they want all the six ITVETs to offer customized part-time courses.

So, my optimism for our ITVET is based on the fact that there is a planned strategic way forward, but it is also based on the confidence I have in the people at the helm, the Chief Education Officer in particular, and in Hope.  But what is hope?  As DH Lawrence once said, hope is “nothing but the paint on the face of Existence, the least touch of truth rubs off, and then we see what a hallow cheeked harlot we have got hold of.”  But then if our ITVETs, hasn’t got  a tiny streak of harlot in them, they are nothing but an empty shell; just empty, pretty buildings without a soul.  I am confident that out ITVETs can evolve into our national network of Junior Colleges of Technology.

Please feel free to object to any or all of the claims made above and let get the discussion on the future of technical and vocational education and training in Belize going.



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