Ministry of Education: Streamlining not amalgamating high schools

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Education clarified this week that it is “streamlining its resources” and not amalgamating Maud Williams, Excelsior and Sadie Vernon high schools.

Minister of Education Hon. Patrick Faber, accompanied by members of the Secondary School Unit and other ranking ministry officials, explained that each school will remain its own independent entity, and both first and second form classes will remain unaltered.

The changes
In third and fourth forms, courses of study will be shared between the three schools, and some classes will be offered at alternate campuses. Some classes will also be offered at the Institute for Technical and Vocational Education and training.

“The school with the best science lab will be designated to offer Sciences (Chemistry and Biology), and students from all three schools will report to the designated campus for that class,” said Brenda Armstrong, of the Secondary School Unit. “Likewise with other subjects such as Technical and Vocational, Business and Arts.”

The networking , she says, is expanding instead of contracting resources.
“In the case of Excelsior, which only offered technical and vocational, students now have the option to pursue business, science or arts at one of the other campuses.”

All in-house classes will be scheduled in the morning, and students will be bused in the afternoon by a MOE operated shuttle to the various campuses for their chosen subjects.

What this means for teachers
Faber explained that under the current structure, the schools are over staffed and that the new structure decrease the size, leaving some teachers displaced due to redundancy.

“I want to stress that those teachers that are made redundant because of the changes, the Ministry will be making every effort to put those that are qualified back into the system. Until such time those teachers will be placed on a temporary pension as required by the Laws of Belize.”

Faber added that teachers who have not made any effort at furthering their qualifications will not be re-employed by the ministry and placed on a permanent pension.
“I feel bad about this because they are getting a pension that they don’t deserve … If I had my way that would not be so,” Faber added.

The ministry maintains that it is uncertain how many of the total 61 teachers will be made redundant, because the schools are still undergoing registration and staffing will be done according to the school’s needs.

The need for the changes
The Secondary School Unit identified the need for the streamlining through its Quality Child Friendly Schools initiative, headed by Sister Claritas Lawrence.

Lawrence explained that the program has various levels of assessments and consultations with teachers, principals, parents and students to determine the schools needs. Of the nine participating schools, the three involved in the streamlining are the furthest in completing the program.
“We found there was a common thread that ran through the three schools. … There was a loss in population, there was a problem with dropouts, there was a problem with failure rate, there was a problem with curriculum,” Lawrence said.

“Nationally, the repetition rate of high school is 6.7 percent; however, the three schools have an average of 15.7 percent of students repeating annually. The dropout rate is also very high compared to national averages. Nationally, the dropout rate is 8.4 percent, and at these three schools it’s 19.2 percent,” said Dr. Neulin Villanueva.

The BNTU weigh in
Kathleen Flowers, president of BNTU’s Belize Branch, said that the union is supportive of the move to increase efficiency within the school but is concerned about the long-term prognosis of the exercise.
“We are concerned about how well all stakeholders have been prepared for the change as well as how much of a long-term plan is in place to ensure that this restructuring of the resources at the schools will work.”

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