By Alexis R. Milan
An appraisal report prepared by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on Belize’s education sector has identified numerous critical deficiencies and lapses in the country’s education department, despite having invested more than US $130 million in the sector over the last 10 years.
The report, which was prepared before the approval of the government’s recently tabled US $35 million education loan motion, is an analysis of the sector, identifying key areas most in need of support and reform.
Minister of Education Patrick Faber said the report was not an indictment of the government and added that GOB has never shied away from the problems facing the sector and hopes to address those issues with the strategies and financing from the new loan.
The report identified areas of concern, including governance over the sector, quality and relevance of the material, access and participation, internal inefficiencies, infrastructural needs and the need for a country sector strategy.
According to the report, one of the problems relating to governance is the fact that basic education in Belize is characterized primarily by a church/state system of management in which more 80 percent of all schools are privately owned by the church, which maintains significant autonomy over the management of the institutions.
The churches, according to the report, have not always adhered to the standards and accountability measures proposed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for improvement in the sector.
The report also said that even though performance in the Primary School Examination (PSE) improved a bit between 2009 and 2012, in 2014 over 25 percent of children who took the exam, failed to meet the minimum standard.
A similar concern applies at the secondary level, where in 2014 only 48 percent of all Fourth Form students were entered to write Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English and 21 percent for Math.
There were also significant performance disparities between rural and urban students, the report said. It found that a higher number of rural students are falling behind the minimum PSE standard and are less likely to sit CSEC examinations.
Other factors affecting the quality of education are the low rates of teachers who receive pedagogical training and non-alignment or curricula with workforce demands, leaving students virtually unprepared for the workforce when they leave school.
Even though attendance at all levels has grown over the last 10 years, the country still faces glaring inequalities in access and participation across the sector. The number of children in school represents only 71 percent of all school-aged children.
In addition, net enrolment rates (NER) are in general lower than regional neighbors, Mexico and Guatemala, and the member states of CARICOM.
Further, as evidenced by the survival rate of 63.3 percent in 2013 – 2014, many of those enrolled will drop out before graduating, the report said.
There are currently 216 pre-primary schools catering to less than half of the available students that should be attending. Such inadequate access is mostly attributed to the high cost of pre-primary education.
Approximately 75 percent of children not enrolled in primary school are from rural areas.