A May 2013 paper produced by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) essentially says that the Government of Belize has been investing more money in the education system over the last ten years and getting out less where positive results are concerned. This is a research paper put together by three impressive scholars, and the work is scientifically done.
The most important thing to note is that the research period basically covers five PUP years and five UDP years, so you have to throw the party politics out and look at the financial inefficiencies of Belize’s education system. For many Belizeans, especially older ones, it’s quite difficult to throw out the party politics, a big reason being because spokesmen for the two political parties are the loudest voices we hear every day, and they are not only loud: they are aggressive and they are abusive.
This IDB paper is so scientific that at one point there is a mathematical formula introduced which must really be like something at the level of the complicated banking derivatives. This is big time academic stuff, and it is corroborating what domestic observers like Assad Shoman and the late Leroy Taegar have been saying for many years.
Personally, I have seen the same things Shoman and Taegar were seeing, but I do not consider myself in the intellectual category of these two gentlemen. I came home to Belize in 1968 after a first degree, and what I have done over the years is try to translate some of the graduate ideas into a language which the masses of the Belizean people can understand. In the first few years of that process, I felt isolated because of the intellectual programs through which my mind had been run: in other words, it took a while to come off the university high. As all these 45 years have passed, however, I have fallen quite a bit behind where pure academics are concerned, and the result is that I am not so sure of myself in the intellectual sense.
I therefore welcome research such as that done a couple years ago by Dr. Herbert Gayle, and now the paper produced by the IDB scholars. Dr. Gayle was talking sociology and anthropology. What he did, from one standpoint, was vindicate the Southside Belize City model that this newspaper had introduced around 1995 or so. Dr. Gayle’s research established that homicide levels on the Southside were the equivalent of what scholars would consider a civil war.
Incidentally, the Southside academic model has achieved what it was intended to do, and we will therefore set it aside. Over the years there have been some complaints about the Southside model, most of those complaints being sentimental or technical. There will be no need for future complaints, because at this newspaper the model will be no more.
In an editorial a couple years ago, we said that Belize’s education system required philosophical and structural changes. We focused on the fact that such changes were not forthcoming, because of how powerful the churches, which control most of the schools, are in Belize. There is another aspect of the education status quo which we did not mention in the editorial, and that is the fact that the teachers’ union is the most powerful union in Belize.
It is for sure that Patrick Faber has been a relatively daring Minister of Education. He has challenged both the churches and the teachers’ union on different issues. If you read the IDB paper, you will tend to feel that Mr. Faber has been trying to tackle some of the issues which that paper raises, perhaps the most striking of them all being teacher training, or the lack thereof.
The more experienced politicians in Mr. Faber’s ruling UDP were aghast when he challenged the churches a few years ago, because they saw how politically dangerous that could be for the UDP. It must be that Patrick has a lot of confidence in his Collet constituents, but, from a politically pragmatic viewpoint, my first inclination was to agree with the UDP mainstream: you can’t fight the churches.
Meanwhile, we are saddled with an education system whose performance declines even as we invest more and more money in it. The most troubling aspect of the system’s failure is the fact that a clear majority of our young people will not graduate from high school. In the modern Belize, even a high school diploma will not guarantee you a job, but more than half the youth won’t even get such a diploma: they have to become criminals. Yes, you can blame their parents and their families, in the first instance, but at the end of the day you have to blame the state which does not train or educate them. Jump high, jump low, Belize’s education system is a mess.
In Belize City, we have lavish parties for pre-school and primary school graduations. I am not a sociable person, but I can see where there would be socializing benefits to be derived from these functions. From where we are on Partridge Street, however, I am troubled at the financial strains the parties impose on some struggling parents. Graduation from pre-school or primary school doesn’t bring a job with it. Why the big celebrations?
The point of the previous paragraph is this: at the base of the pyramid, Belizeans have to help themselves instead of looking for another excuse to party. This was the first lesson of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and it was the first lesson of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Yes, I know it’s tough. In fact, it’s very, very tough. We’re paying all these different taxes, just for the education system to waste our money. It’s not Evan X Hyde saying it: it’s the IDB, for crying out loud.
There was a time when our ancestors had chains on their feet, right there on Regent Street, if you don’t know. Today, we have these chains around our brains. When I came back from school in 1968, I felt I had a lot of answers. Today, I’m not so sure. Belize has changed a great deal since 1968. I’m an old timer now. This means that I need younger people like Ya Ya Marin Coleman and Sticks Smith and Sean Taegar to give me courage. The struggle goes on.
Power to the people