In my last column, I made a promise I quickly realized that I could not keep. I said I would study the subject of the Belize Technical College. One of the reasons I can’t keep that promise is that my days of trying to play hero ended a while back.
People in the Belizean academia and media do not discuss the Belize Technical College because the subject is too controversial. In fact, it is explosive, at least to my mind.
When I went to lead the board of the University College of Belize (UCB) around November of 1999, I ran into a Cabinet decision which had been made some months before to amalgamate five tertiary institutions by August of 2000 to establish a new University of Belize (UB). One of those five institutions was Technical. But did it really belong in the UB mix?
Rt. Hon. Said Musa’s People’s United Party (PUP) Cabinet promised to upgrade Technical (inside UB) so that it would become a school of engineering. At least, that’s what Bill Lindo, who was my Cabinet source on the UB board, said.
After a while, it became clear to me that the prime real estate in the population center which comprised the Technical campus had been targeted at some point to become the headquarters of the new Glenn Godfrey telephone company – Intelco. Intelco ended up failing because Lord Michael Ashcroft, who controlled the Belize Telecommunications Company (BTL) at the time, refused to allow Intelco to enjoy so-called interconnection.
As chairman of UB, I got into serious trouble with the big boys in the PUP Cabinet because I refused to allow the Technical campus to be divided in any way. So that, when the United Democratic Party (UDP) returned to power in 2008, if they had been interested in reviving the Belize Technical College concept, a concept which had been eminently successful from 1952 to 2000, the campus and infrastructure were intact and available.
This Technical subject is a somewhat sentimental one for me because my late maternal uncle, Buck Belisle, an electrician, was vice-principal of Technical under the late E. P. Yorke in the 1960s. And Belisle’s eldest daughter, Georgia, a mathematician, was vice-principal of Technical under Owen Morrison in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Because of my experiences at an American university between 1965 and 1968, I hold the role of an educational institution’s alumni in great esteem. I have always felt that the alumni of the Belize Technical College did a poor job of defending the institution when it came under attack from the PUDP politicians. But, this is Belize, and ruling politicians can hurt you if you open your mouth.
One of the problems with Technical, insofar as the power structure in Belize was concerned, was that it was a secular, government institution which was not controlled or influenced by any religious denomination. Belize, as you know, has been dominated by this church-state education system, and the early, spectacular success of Technical apparently threatened “church-state.” I’m just saying.
It is probably the case that Technical became a target of the ruling PUP in 1981 because the high school insurrection in Belize City attacking the Heads of Agreement in March/April 1981 was led by Technical students, most famously Socorro Bobadilla, who came from a UDP family. No doubt the PUP government felt that Technical’s teaching and administrative staff had to be blamed, justifiably or not, for the Technical uprising.
Now then, if Technical became a target of the PUP after the 1981 Heads of Agreement, would not Technical have benefited from the change of government in 1984 to the new UDP? There is absolutely no indication, however, that Technical was looked upon with any kind of favor by the UDP government of Dr. Manuel Esquivel between 1984 and 1989. And then, the PUP returned to power in 1989.
As I have said, no one in academia and the media has ever seriously studied the Technical subject. The reason I believe that they should is because there is something wrong with the education system in Belize if we are to judge by the huge amount of primary school and high school dropouts, the youth who have become the cannon fodder for Belize’s gang wars over the past three decades.