Education in Belize: Breaking Free (Part II) 2

By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant

This past week I received very many emails and Facebook messages with readers’ comments regarding my thoughts on Belize’s September celebrations of Independence, and on its “Breaking Free”.  Since this topic resonated with many readers, especially Belizeans who shared their many thoughts on the subject with me, this week I offer more ideas along these lines.

To break oneself free of a habit or custom, whether it’s positive or negative, is by far much easier said than done.  Adapting to change is never easy for anyone, especially when he/she is set in his/her ways.  (To both my young adult sons, I humbly and publicly offer my “mea culpa”.)  Painful examples of peoples and countries throughout history that chose to break free of domineering rulers show that they went to great lengths, including fighting (civil) wars that incurred many deaths and great suffering, before being able to freely choose their very own path(s).  Moreover, people throughout the world who were once enslaved also had to fight and suffer greatly for long periods of time, both physically and emotionally, before finally gaining their emancipation and freedom.

Breaking free of habits that have made us set in our ways requires the same powerful determination and inner strength to even start to change and move on with our lives.   Examples that come to mind are the continuous determination and hard work required daily of cigarette smokers, drug users, or alcoholics who want to “control” (end) their addictions or uncontrollable habits.  The original decision is usually made for health reasons.  Nevertheless, an addict’s long and difficult journey to change must begin with one very first step: wanting to be free of the addicted habit(s).  Without that powerful inner desire to want to change, no addict ever changes or controls (ends) the habit.  And, if someone else forces an addict to end the addiction, it’s almost guaranteed that the addict will eventually slide back into the addiction.

Albert Einstein’s widely used description of insanity is, “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.  This description is posted throughout various social media networks on an almost daily basis.  So, what does all this have to do with Education in Belize?  First of all, we are currently living in the 21st Century, no longer in the 20th.  It is only logical, then, that we should have Education systems today that can produce students who are capable of living and working productively in the 21st Century.  If we do not have such systems, then it’s imperative that we create them!  Prime example: In today’s Belizean workplace, computers are NOT a luxury, but a necessity.  Do schools in Belize accept this?  Are they willing to prepare all students, starting from in Primary school, to work in a computer-dominated world?  One or two classes a week, only in high school, can never possibly be enough!  Moreover, we do not wait for several years after a student starts school to teach him/her to read and write.  We start from day one!

Specialists who teach computers must also “constantly” keep learning how to use new applications in order to be able to teach students how to use them.  New computer programs are introduced almost every year, if not more often, throughout the world.  However, based on Belize’s current economy (in the red), and on an overall dismal sense of public satisfaction throughout the country, are our schools preparing students/graduates to work, and succeed, in Belize’s computerized workplace today?  If they are not, what are they waiting for?  Also, how do our students and graduates today compare “in the realm of technology” with other students and graduates from throughout the developed and developing world?  Is the comparison positive or negative?

Above all else, in order to accept and adapt to current global change, school policymakers and educators in Belize cannot be forced to change; rather, they must first want to adapt to changes — for the good and improvement of the country, if for no other reason.  Admittedly, that will never be easily achieved.  However, those of us (especially parents) who see the need for and want change must also be willing to keep presenting our expectations or demands with “great effort”.  As I do in all my articles, we must live that battle cry of “never giving up”.  Also, interested parents, employers, and each stakeholder in Belize’s successful future must keep abreast of, and participate in government, church, school, and Board meetings, and keep giving positive input to educators and policymakers to show them that even though genuine change cannot be forced on anyone, it is achievable and attainable.  Too many parents mistakenly believe that just because they demand change in school systems it must and will be granted.  In other words, whoever wants to see positive changes in Belize’s Education system, must be willing to work for it, and not give up when/if no changes are adapted.

The key to be able to adapt to any positive change is to have a flexible “attitude”.  Therefore, before any 21st Century change is made or welcomed into Belize’s Education system, previous and current attitudes need to be flexible or willing to be changed.  Example: Other than just investing more money each year in schools, policymakers (private, government, church, and Boards of Directors) should also be designing some form of flexible school improvement standards and accountability standards.  In keeping up with the times they must be willing to listen to others, have open minds, and when necessary, be willing to “try other ways to see which is better.”  School standards today in Belize are almost the same as they were in the 1960’s.  Those standards may have worked back then, but they certainly won’t today.  Who, though, will be brave and flexible enough to first “want” to adapt changes in school standards to meet Belize’s workforce needs today?

I vividly remember starting high school in 1965.  The older generation in those days constantly kept criticizing our younger generation for trying (and enjoying) the new fads such as dancing the twist, rock and roll, girls wearing mini skirts, boys having long hair etc.  Now that I am older I look back on those days and quietly smile!  However, I doubt that young Belizeans can possibly survive 50 years into the future to look back fondly, and say, “Oh the digital age; we remember when no one wanted to accept it 50 years ago.”  In other words, when we fall off a boat and into deep and rough seas, we don’t have the luxury of choosing whether to swim or not.  We must swim for dear life! So, when I insist that Belize break free from complacently adhering to former Colonial (Commonwealth) systems of Education, it’s not because I don’t like Colonials; rather, it’s because our Education systems today are not adequately providing our Youth with survival skills to live in this new digital and global world.  We must accept that Belize, our jewel, is no longer one of Huxley’s “ends of the earth”, and will only survive/succeed as a country by being a part of all things global.  Scouts motto:  Be Prepared!

Finally, as a proud Belizean parent, I remind all readers that no matter how very much we love our children, we raise them  “to eventually let them go”, not to hang on to them all the days of our lives.  Believe it or not, they too (like we did) will find and make a life of their own!  Belize, you are now an Independent country: let go of your parent’s ways and start finding your own way in life — starting with how you choose to educate our Youth!

Author’s Note:

These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to fining the best path to follow, fellow educators!

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About Gustavo Ramirez

Gustavo A. Ramirez is an educationist with many years of experience in the field of education. He has worked in capacities as teacher and guidance counselor in secondary schools since 1978, and has been instrumental in incubating and nurturing guidance counseling through systems, curricula and people development, both in Belize and the United States.He writes several columns dealing with the constant need for adapting and embracing “change” in Belize’s Education systems. Ramirez holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology (Guidance Counseling) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin. He attended Holy Redeemer Boys School, St. John‘s College, and St. Michael’s College (Sixth Form/Junior College) in Belize City.

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