Features — 14 August 2015 — by Johnelle McKenzie
Belize educators and students discuss open learning

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Aug. 11, 2015–The Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA), Canada/Caribbean Chapter, is presently holding a 3-day conference on open learning for Belizean educators and students at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City.

Organizers hope that the participants will embrace this method of learning, which would lead to more schools implementing the program.

Today was day 2 of the Belize City conference. Among the presenters at this morning’s session were Mrs. Frances Ferreira of Commonwealth of Learning (COL); Mrs. Beverly Faber of the University of Belize (UB); Dr. Lorna McKay of Gwen Lizarraga High School’s Open Learning program; and Ms. Lystra Sampson of Trinidad & Tobago Open School.

Mrs. Beverly Faber, Open Distance Learning Coordinator & Instructional Designer, said, “The open schooling mainly focuses on persons who did not complete their primary or secondary education. The open school provides another avenue of how they can obtain their education.”

In Ferreira’s presentation, she said that they work with Ministries of Education across the Commonwealth to address their national priorities. She went on to say that open learning is just one tenth of the cost of conventional learning. She added that although people may say that it is an inferior system of learning, the reality is that students sit the exact same examination. However, the approach is different in that open learning requires that students are more self-motivated.

Ferreira also pointed out that open learning looks at the individual needs of the learner and the curriculum is modified to suit those particular needs.

“Also open schooling creates collaboration on a platform of Notesmaster with other teachers in your own country, in the region, across the Commonwealth and across the world. There are many benefits that open learning provides, namely: access, quality, equity—and it advances education,” Ferreira said.

According to the chair of COMOSA’s Canada/Caribbean Chapter, Dr. Cynthia Thompson, COMOSA has been in existence for 6 years. Delegates from Belize attended its very first meeting held in 2009 in New Delhi, India; however, it was not until 2013 that Belize implemented COMOSA’s open school at Gwen Lizarraga High School.

Dr. Lorna McKay, the principal of Gwen Lizarraga High School, where open learning is currently being administered through the evening school program as part of what is currently a blended scheme in which students attend 4 days of face-to-face training from Mondays to Thursdays and take online training on Fridays, said that there were a total of 121 graduates in 2013; 123 graduates in 2014, and 143 students in 2015.

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There are many stakeholders in the e-learning process, including COMOSA, Commonwealth of Learning (which assisted in the establishment of the COMOSA), Notesmaster and CXC.

“Notesmaster is the [e-learning] platform through which the open school is delivered,” said Dean Dundas, the director and co-founder of Notesmaster.

Dundas said that it is designed to empower teachers to create content and to simplify the online learning environment for students. The program revolves around the digital version of CXC syllabus, he explained.

“CXC provides us with their syllabuses and we then create an interactive digital version of the models, topic and objectives. Teachers create interactive resources—for example, notes, inserting them under the specific objective. Students are able to look at the relevant notes under each objective and then register,” he furthermore explained.

In the case of Gwen Lizarraga High School, Mrs. Beverly Faber was one of the instructors who trained Gwen Lizarraga’s teachers in developing their content using Notesmaster.

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