Education in British Honduras in the first half of the twentieth century was in line with the interests of both the colonial authorities and the dominant Christian denominations. Education in British Honduras was not designed, then, for any kind of nationalistic growth and development. Education in the colony emphasized the liberal arts, because the British were looking to train clerks to run their civil service administration and the Christian missionaries were looking to train native priests, nuns, and clergy to build their denominational appeal in Belize.
The Belize Technical College (BTC), introduced in 1952 or thereabouts, was almost an absolute anomaly on the education landscape we described above. Technical, the first government high school, emphasized science, technology, and skills training. Within a decade, it proved a great success. The school was not tied to any church, and it was practically in the center of a Belize City which was experiencing anti-colonial political ferment which would be followed by demographic change at both city and national levels.
Technical was such a great success that Father Leo Weber, S. J., the education guru at St. John’s College (SJC), which had taken over leadership in secondary education in Belize, introduced a new department at SJC in the early 1960s which focused on the type of technical and industrial training which was making Technical such a hit.
It is a little surprising that no Belizean scholar has ever done a study of the Belize Technical College phenomenon. But then again, perhaps it is not at all surprising when you consider how oppressive and intimidating the academic climate is in Belize. One thing is for sure. Technical produced the sensational Socorro Bobadilla: she and other Technical students closed down the other Belize City high schools during the Heads of Agreement uprising in late March/early April of 1981. Technical, the outstanding education success, thus proved itself to be a hotbed of political militancy at the most explosive period of modern Belizean history – the final People’s United Party (PUP) push to political independence.
When the PUP returned to office with a landslide in August of 1998, they soon came up with a plan to amalgamate five government secondary/tertiary institutions and form a national University of Belize (UB). The five institutions were the University College of Belize (UCB), the Belize Teachers College, the Bliss School of Nursing, the Belize College of Agriculture, and Belize Technical College.
In 1984, the then PUP government had attempted something similar to UB when they established the Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology (BELCAST), but the United Democratic Party (UDP) government which took power in December of that same year immediately dismantled BELCAST, and went on to introduce the UCB, which, in complete contrast to BELCAST, had a heavy business bias.
Anyway, here came the PUP fifteen years later with a macro version of BELCAST, and they set an opening date for UB – August 1, 2000. The Said Musa PUP administration was uncharacteristically low key about UB. (The new Prime Minister had been the Minister of Education whose BELCAST had been torn apart by the UDP’s Derek Aikman.) When Amandala publisher, Evan X Hyde, was elected chairman of the UCB board in late 1999, the UB project had been so much under the radar that he knew nothing about it. The new UCB board inherited a Cabinet project which was well under way from the bureaucratic standpoint, but which was sure to face controversy and opposition before its inauguration date, and the most volatile of the campuses would surely be Technical.
In retrospect, it is pretty clear that the UB project had a cynical real estate angle, and the big prize was to be the BTC campus, prime real estate in the middle of the nation’s population center and probably already ticketed to become the office complex of the PUP’s new telephone company – Intelco.
When the UB controversy began to build in early 2000, there were major Cabinet promises made, the most important one being that the Technical foundation would be upgraded into an engineering college.
Now, if you were to read issues of the Opposition UDP newspaper from 2000 to 2004, you would note an extraordinary amount of negative articles on UCB and UB. Most of this negative publicity was being financed from inside the PUP Cabinet. (There is a very special relationship between two individuals at the very highest levels of the PUP and the UDP.) The reason for that negative publicity was because the UCB/UB chairman was not following instructions: he refused to begin the dismembering of the Technical campus.
This is a long story, but the point of the essay is that when it became clear that Technical was irreplaceable, and when it became clear that the engineering college promises were bogus, Technical could have been re-established, because the campus remained in place. In fact, a Technical prototype could have been introduced by the new UDP administration, if they had had such a will.
In summation, we would say that the PUP made a mistake when they brought Technical into UB, because, we submit, there was a desperate, serious need for the science and technology-based secondary education Technical was offering. That need has only grown in the third millennium Belizean economy. If there was indeed such a desperate, serious need, and certainly the CET and IT-VET initiatives were designed to address such a need, is it not time for the experts in the field to give us an assessment of how successful, or otherwise, CET and IT-VET have been?
Our thesis at this newspaper has been that church-controlled education, even if it was a success in the twentieth century, has proven to be a failure in the twenty-first. It is a cardinal responsibility of governments to educate their citizens. Both the PUP and the UDP are lying to the Belizean people: for the masses of the Belizean people, church-state education has been a failure. The most serious experiment in secular education in the twentieth century, the Belize Technical College, was a manifest success. The price Technical paid for its success was amalgamation into UB at the beginning of the twenty-first century. There is need for a new Technical. We challenge the education experts to prove otherwise.
Power to the people.