Features — 21 June 2013 — by Miriam Longsworth
Restore Belize literacy program aims to do more than just teach

Michael Young, 22, decided that school wasn’t for him while he was a standard six student at Wesley Primary School. He told everyone that he just didn’t want to be in school anymore, and only years later admitted that his reason for dropping out of school was that he couldn’t read.

“I had too much pride to admit to it,” he said. “The first thing that would come to someone’s mind when they find out you can’t read, is that you’re ‘simple,’ you’re dumb. And that used to really upset me,” he explained.

Young said he told his mother not to waste her money on sending him to high school because he wouldn’t go. She agreed and he decided that he would try to make a living for himself however he could.

Young said his literacy challenges kept him from being able to find a job and he turned to doing illegal activities in order to make money. However, during his late teenage years, Young decided that he wanted to change because the life he was living was not one he wanted to continue.

He thought about the possibility of having a family of his own and he couldn’t see himself having that while living the type of life he was leading.

He joined the Youth Apprenticeship Program in 2011 and after completing it was hired at Belize Diesel. Young said he’s grateful for the program and the opportunities that have come his way since. But he has realized that the only way he can do more for himself is if he learns how to read.

“I make an honest pay and that feels good, but in order to make more I need to have that education,” he said.

Young’s reading difficulty is not a strange issue in Belizean society. He is one of the many Belizeans who either dropped out of primary school due to a learning problem or struggled with literacy or numeracy skills throughout their school years. It’s the poignant reality that many societies face but have little resources to alleviate.

The Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL) Program has been in development since June 2010 by Restore Belize and was launched in December 2012 after the organization received from the Republic of China (Taiwan) BZ$318,936 in the form of computers and math and reading software that would serve in the CAL program.

Mary Vasquez, director of Restore Belize, said the need for the program became clear to them after a consultation with primary school principals in June 2010. The principals expressed the need for a literacy program due to the trend they were seeing in schools where children were moving up in class levels, but were not reading with adequate skill for their level. This was due to a lack of literacy programs to support what was being taught in schools.

That need became a core concern for Restore Belize, which led to the CAL program being established. The program is a remedial program that is focused on strengthening weak literacy and numeracy skills.

“It is to help in the areas where children are not coping and you can see from the PSE results every year that children are not coping,” Vasquez said. “So this is a tool to help the children to be able to cope with the core curriculum in primary school.”

Although it’s geared towards literacy and numeracy improvement, Vasquez said that they expect the program to have a wide-range impact on society.

“We have seen the need for literacy and numeracy skills as a type that runs across all sectors and has been an underlying issue,” Vasquez said. “It is expected to have impact on the reduction of crime, on the improvement of academic performance, school completion, classroom participation, employment, and entrepreneurship,” she said.

This wide range effect is aimed at at-risk youth because research has shown that reading difficulties result in disruptive school behaviors, which are indicators of future aggressive and antisocial behaviors linked to criminal behaviors.

Marie Munoz, public outreach officer for Restore Belize, said that those behaviors could be avoided if students receive the necessary the assistance they need at a young age, preferably before they get into standard two. Thereafter, learning to read becomes more difficult.

Munoz said that thus far the agencies that are implementing the program have reported that they have seen significant advancement in the reading skills of the children they have been helping.

The program is available for persons of all ages who are in need of the assistance to improve their reading and numeracy skills.

Young has become a part of a literacy program that is being piloted by Restore Belize. Since the launch of CAL in December, he has become one of the faces of the program.

Young said that ever since the program last year, he has been looking forward to starting it and seeing what the program could do for him.

This summer, Young and many other individuals who share his experience will be given the opportunity to become a part of the program. The UBAD Educational Foundation, Eglah’s Community Center, NARCIE at the Ministry of Education, Youth Hostel, Water Walkers and the YMCA are agencies in Belize City which are a part of the program and will be accepting participants for the summer program.

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