BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 17, 2020– Members of the House of Representatives debated a supplementary appropriation bill at length during Wednesday’s House meeting. One of the main topics of the debate was the allocation of $7.6 million dollars to the Ministry of Education for the purchase of hardware and software to be used by students who will be engaged in virtual learning.
As was previously reported, the Ministry of Education has embarked on a monumental task to equip students to participate in effective distance learning. At the start of this new academic year, the classroom will be taken online in response to the need for social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent press conference held by the Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, he announced that 8000 tablets would be given to high school students to allow them to engage in distance learning.
According to Faber, with high schools scheduled to open on the 5th of October, the Government of Belize went into high gear in order to procure the necessary hardware and software needed to ensure that students have the tools to access online classes. As mentioned, the price tag for the tablets that will provide the necessary hardware and software for thousands of students is around 7. 6 million dollars — an investment, Faber says, that is absolutely necessary and is based on getting the most value for the monies being spent.
On the other side of the aisle, the Leader of the Opposition questioned what tendering process was used to select the entity from which those tablets would be purchased. The Opposition leader went on to remark that selective tendering is “a whole set up”, and he stated that open tendering must be done to get the highest quality products possible. In response to those remarks, Faber pointed out that a stringent selective tendering process, which was overseen by the Caribbean Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and members of UNDP, was carried out to select the company which will procure the over 15,000 devices.
Faber added that contrary to the insinuations made by the Opposition, no misappropriation or skullduggery was done in the awarding of the contract, and in fact, according to Faber, a PUP operative, the owner of Cellular World, is the beneficiary of the contract.
Area representative for Freetown, Francis Fonseca, also shared concerns about the inadequacy of using tablets for e-learning as opposed to laptop computers.
The Minister of Education, in response, went on to share the specifications of the device bundles, saying the package would consist of a 10-inch tablet purchased on a 3-year warranty, a carrying case, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a headset. He shared that funds have also been allocated to train teachers to properly use the device.
Funds are also being disbursed in other areas. The Ministry of Health will receive 8 million dollars, the Ministry of Human Resources will receive an additional 4.5 million dollars for COVID-19 assistance, and an additional 1.5 million dollars is being allocated to the Ministry of Works for the Caracol Road Project.
Leader of the PUP, John Briceño, has warned persons investing in roadwork projects that if necessary, they will remove and reallocate funds to be used in other areas if the PUP wins the general elections in November of this year.