This is a column I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but always kept putting off. In Belize, we are having a very difficult time educating all of our children. That is because the education system in Belize was designed, from the very beginning in the early nineteenth century, to prioritize the education of the children of the local elite, so as to enable them to compete at regional and international levels.
If you look at the hype following the recent primary school examinations (PSE), the media focus is on the student performances at the very top, such students being a small minority. Without demeaning the top students’ performances in any way, I would say their successes are reflective of the socio-economic comfort zone in which most of them were operating. The matter of all those children at the base who may be described as being rejected by the education system as it is presently structured, and as our society is presently structured, is not a matter on which Belizeans want to focus.
But, that is not an issue we can discuss thoroughly in a column this size. Today, I want to discuss my personal experiences in primary school, high school, and sixth form, and I believe I can make the discussion entertaining, and instructive, by telling you about a guy I was in school with from Standard III at Holy Redeemer Boys School all the way up to sixth form (junior college) at St. John’s College, a matter of perhaps nine years plus.
In 1956, Carlson “Buzzy” Gough had transferred from St. Joseph’s School to Holy Redeemer Boys School, where I had been unchallenged academically from the time I entered the school in 1952. Carlson disciplined me, which is to say, he passed ahead of me when he entered Standard III, something that had never happened to me before.
I think that because our educational system was biased in favor of the liberal arts-oriented student, as opposed to the mathematical and scientific mind (a notable exception was the Belize Technical College), I was able to establish grade superiority over Carlson after Standard III. But, I always held him in the greatest of respect, and I had to concede early that he was better that I in mathematics. Carlson became a civil engineer, one of the very best in the Caribbean, and probably the world.
He and I were skipped from Standard IV to Standard VI together, where we met two students with whom we would go on all the way to sixth form together. These were the late Dr. Neil Garbutt, an urologist; and the historian Carlos Perdomo, who is the Cabinet Secretary for the present Barrow administration, sometimes acts as Governor-General, and was once a United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet Minister.
When we four began S.J.C. in 1959, we met the late Pedro Carrillo, who went on all the way to sixth form with us. Pedro was a humble graduate from an Orange Walk village primary school, Douglas or Yo Creek, I believe, but he was an outstanding student, and became a Caribbean engineer, as Carlson did. And we met Julian Castillo, who had done primary school at St. Ignatius. Julian won the Second Open Scholarship in 1965 and became an accountant.
When Pedro died suddenly a couple years ago, I contacted Carlson to see if he had heard the news. He had. Since then, Gough and I have chatted on a few occasions. You should understand that both Carlson and I have cantankerous streaks. For different reasons, especially our academic rivalry, we were never friends. But, to repeat, Carlson Gough is gifted with a very special mind.
He has said to me that the most important ability a student must have in order to learn mathematics is reading ability. I’d never heard that take before. I paid big attention to his opinion, because he was the very best mathematician amongst my contemporaries. I didn’t pursue the subject with Gough. He is not a man who speaks carelessly. I have spent time thinking about what he said.
More than two decades ago, Silvana Woods began a project which was dedicated to proving that the key to learning English was emphasizing the learning of Creole. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. I never agreed with Silvana, but she was being supported from both domestic and international sources.
The fact of the matter in 2018 is that nothing has changed since I was a child: the masses of Belizean children are not learning English and they are not learning mathematics. As I understand Carlson, reading is the key to mathematics. I assume that mathematics is not the key to learning how to read.
Please forgive me for ending on this somewhat personal note. It would seem to me, and I am referring to recent statements made by the Right Hon. Prime Minister, that, in pursuance of improvement in reading and writing, in Belize we should want to encourage newspapers more than social media, social media being an area where the English language is routinely and recklessly abused. But, we know Mr. Barrow’s agenda is political, so his opinions reflect that priority, politics, that is.
By the way, Gough comes from a heavy NIP/UDP family background. I am of the opinion that he himself is basically apolitical. Presently on retirement from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), where he was an engineering consultant for decades, Carlson worked briefly for the present administration in their second term. But there were things he could not abide, and so he walked away. I respect him, and I hope that today I have honored him.