Education — 09 September 2008 — by Aaron Humes
This morning at the Cahal Pech Room, Radisson Fort George Hotel, flanked by his most senior public officers and the top executives of the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU), the Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, offered an update on the latest goings-on in the Ministry of Education (MOE).
While stating that he is committed to maintaining an open dialogue with stakeholders in the education field, Hon. Faber nonetheless appeared not to deviate from his position in an MOE press release sent out last week, which promised to review “genuine” cases of teachers who have been transferred this summer from government and grant-aided schools.
Hon. Faber revealed this morning that to date, the Ministry has received “seven or eight” such cases, which, he said, the Ministry is “close to resolving or have already resolved.”
Faber argued that contrary to media reports of an epidemic of unhappy transferred teachers in Orange Walk, the majority of transferees are in fact satisfied with the outcome of their appeals to the Ministry.
As for another issue brought forward by the BNTU, the timing of the dissolution of the school management boards of all 12 government-run high schools in Belize, Hon. Faber, in answering a question from Amandala, said the Ministry is currently sorting through applications for posts on each board as necessary and that every board member in every high school would be in place “as soon as possible,” with as little disruption to the schools as possible. While refraining from giving individual statistics, Hon. Faber confirmed that all government-run high schools were affected by the Government’s decision, made after general elections in February.
Hon. Faber confirmed, as reported in the Sunday, September 7, 2008 issue of the Amandala, that vice-principals Shauna Arnold-Sanchez and Dr. Francis Arzu have been reinstated at Toledo Community College and clarified the Ministry’s role in the debacle as being asked for advice as to the suitability of one candidate, unidentified, for the principal’s role, whom the ministry recommended against.
The Minister denied that the Ministry ever had a hand in selecting the new TCC principal, much less “reversing” the school board’s decision. (See story on page 2 of the same issue of Amandala, “The shakeup at Toledo Community College.”)
Hon. Faber also announced that he was holding talks with officials from the Belize City high school, St. John’s College, over the institution’s alleged refusal of GOB-endorsed vouchers given to students applying for financial assistance to pay school fees.
But by far the biggest announcement was a developing situation regarding the transport of schoolchildren by bus in the Belize, Cayo and Stann Creek Districts.
The Minister said he was aware of such cases in the Belize River Valley and in Mahogany Heights, Cayo District. In the Valley, a bus operator who signed up for two runs is only doing one, and so “cheating,” the Ministry, Hon. Faber said, while in Mahogany Heights, parents are calling for their children to be transported to Belize City primary schools when the La Democracia school is much closer.
The nearest high schools, according to Faber, are in Belize City (actually, Belmopan City is about 20 miles from Mahogany Heights, while Belize City is about 30 miles away), and so students will be transported there. But parents and primary school students ought to save the Ministry expenses and transfer their children to La Democracia, which is closer, Hon. Faber said in responding to a query on whether parents were informed before the start of the school year, as it is currently the most expensive bus run for the Ministry, at $2,000 per week.
Belize National Teachers’ Union president, Jaime Panti, and general secretary George Frazer, while acknowledging their willingness to dialogue, are not as willing to back away from their call for an end to politics in education.
Indeed, Frazer today announced an attempt by a new bus operator in the Stann Creek District to compete with an established service carrying teachers from Dangriga to schools in the villages of Cowpen, Silk Grass, and others along the Southern Highway.
According to Frazer, the new operator reportedly threatened the longer-established operator this week with going to Hon. Faber’s office, but the BNTU representative in Stann Creek has told the head office that a check with local education officials revealed this individual has not cleared his operation with the Ministry. The Minister promised to look into it.
Frazer told Amandala he would continue to press for the Minister to meet with the Opposition, as he told us last week, despite Faber’s statement today that he is beginning nationwide consultations for planned amendments to the Education Act 1991 and Education Rules 2000 and will not meet with the Opposition before then.
According to Frazer, the Ministry must take a clear stand on its jurisdiction in certain cases in order to prevent continued political interference in schools, as proven by the TCC case.
Closing with good news, Hon. Faber announced the start of several new initiatives, including the promised $300 subsidy for students, given to 2,469 students this year, as well as honoring requests from specific constituencies.
To prevent situations like the impasse over teacher transfers, the Ministry will establish a Teacher Services Commission to “hire and fire” teachers.
Initiatives are being planned to address school security, highlighted by the recent robbery at St. John’s Primary School; the school curriculum; the special problems of boys in school, money to finance education; teacher training; and truancy.
The team to handle these initiatives was announced today, and includes David Leacock, Chief Executive Officer, and Chris Aird, Chief Education Officer, assisted by veteran educators Allan Genitty and Carol Babb.