In our last week’s Editorial we did not intend to infer that the Ministry of Education was not doing a good job in educating the young men and women entrusted to its care. We said what we intended to say: that the Ministry has not been able to improve the PSE scores in any substantial way, especially in reading and math, and we suggested that closer consultation with teachers, especially on the use of certain reader and math textbooks, would yield a better result.

Poor student performance, especially at the PSE level, is due to a number of physical and sociological causes including poor self esteem, poor motivation, poor housing conditions, and perhaps the biggest one of all, the growing use of marijuana among children as a recreational drug.
No studies have been done in Belize about the generalized use of marijuana in homes and among students. But we were gratified to learn about the consultation earlier this week, organized by UNICEF, between social workers and teenage students. At that consultation we learned that there are some 85,000 young people in the age range of 12 to 19, from a population of 350,000.

At that consultation there was also a generalized call for greater enforcement of the law to reduce alcohol and drug abuse which can lead to premature sexual activity.
The focus of the consultation with these young people was primarily to get a handle on the exploding incidence of teenage pregnancies. But since the causes which lead to early teenage pregnancies are the same as those which lead to poor academic performance, the consultation proved valuable for educators as well.

The relationship between early teenage boys and girls and neighbourhood street gangs needs to be examined more closely because there is unmistakable evidence that street gangs are now recruiting younger boys and girls to advance their domain.
Street gangs make their money from the sale of drugs, notably marijuana. They protect and expand their turf, and they actively encourage young people “to try” the stuff and to get others to try it. They know that once they get a teen-age person to try marijuana, they will probably have a loyal customer for life.

Some secondary schools (the better ones) monitor their students through a policy of periodic blood tests. They recognize the danger which young people face. But many other schools, among them primary schools, seem to be blissfully unaware that there is a problem.

To get back to the subject of low grades in the Primary Schools Examinations, the reality is that many, if not most, students do not get parental help at home. Because of cramped space and other social conditions, especially in single parent homes with two or more siblings, students have to be highly motivated to do any studying on their own.
To overcome the problem teachers rely heavily on textbooks. Textbooks must have colour pictures. They must be interesting. They must repeat the lessons over and over until the student gets to understand them. This calls for a lot of repetitive work; a lot of drilling.

That is why some text books are better than others.
As Belize struggles to its knees, to climb out of endemic poverty, and as parents come to appreciate the high priority importance of education, things will get better. But for now, we need to all we can to help our boys and girls to make it safely through their adolescent years.

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