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The Bitchery and Abomination in: Transforming Our Education Workforce

FeaturesThe Bitchery and Abomination in: Transforming Our Education Workforce

by Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University

Sunday, March 18, 2024

Dear Editor,

As the World Bank just recently pointed out, Belize is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). There are still 24,000 preschool and secondary school-aged children out of school, and more than 60,000 in school who are not learning the basics of the skills, knowledge, and values required to thrive now and in the future in Belize. And, as Dr. Carol Babb just recently made clear in her presentation at Galen University’s Eagle Day on March 15th: “Teacher quality is the most important determinant of learning outcomes at the school level”; but, as the World Bank’s Country report points out, good teachers are in short supply, and I must add, isolated, and not supported to provide effective teaching and learning. Hence the bitchery and abomination of the Belizean Education Workforce as admonished by the World Bank when it claimed in the recent country report that “Belize is not getting the returns it should on the huge investments the country is making each year in education”.

Although the World Bank’s malicious and unrestrained response to the state of education in Belize is that thing that causes disgust among a sector of the Education Workforce in Belize, it is also a wakeup call for others who have been concerned about the development of education in Belize over the years, who may now view this abomination as an opportunity for us to turn things around in the field of education in Belize. I am especially delighted to know that educators like Dr. Carol Babb, former Chief Education Officer, share this optimism.

Though this may be an opportunity, such an opportunity can only be grasped if more of the significant others in education in Belize, which includes the political and administrative leadership in education in Belize, are on the same page when it comes to the way forward, for we are in a bad place. For Belize to meet SDG 4, teachers are critical, as the Bank points out, but they cannot work alone. It takes a team to educate a child – teachers need leadership and support to be effective and to help learners with the greatest needs.

Achieving inclusive and quality education for all requires urgent action to harness the broader education workforce in the country. As the experts in the literature say: “The workforce is an education system’s biggest investment and one of its greatest levers to change” (p.3). The Belizean workforce must therefore evolve to keep pace with the rapidly changing world and embrace these new opportunities these changes bring.

It is important to note that there are no magic wands, and any solution to this problem has to be a collaborative effort; however, I do believe that we can address the urgent education challenges Belize currently faces and leverage opportunities for change by embracing these three principles as our first order of business:

First and foremost, we need to strengthen our existing education systems, including our ITVETs, since just basic education does not provide students with the needed life-skills to transition seamlessly to the world of work. We must do a lot more to professionalize all our teachers and other key roles with appropriate recruitment, training, professional development, career paths and working conditions to enable them to be effective. We must insist that all teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in their teaching field before they are given a full license to teach, especially teachers in our primary schools and ITVET Institutions. We also need to improve workforce planning and development, which means robust data must be available and utilized. In this regard, as Galen University is finding out, AI can be a great help to establishing a robust data science culture in Belize.

Secondly, we need to get away from this silo mentality where we don’t share knowledge and collaborate with one another, which is a factor that is leading to difficulties in achieving our long-term goals in education. Instead, there is an urgent need for us to develop learning teams. The collaboration teams should focus on improving education outcomes in the classroom, within schools and at all levels in the system to result in more reflective teaching and better support for inclusion, on-the-job learning and innovation. It is important to note that developing learning teams does not necessarily involve hiring new staff – it entails diagnosing the challenges, understanding existing roles and skills, and understanding how best to utilize them in a team; realigning roles; focusing any new roles on the area of greatest need; and enabling more team-work.

Most importantly, we need to transform our current education system into a learning system. What we now know as schools needs to be transformed into Professional Learning Communities (PLC). This means harnessing learning teams to build networks of schools, professionals, and cross-sectorial partnerships that use data and evidence to transform education systems into learning systems that are self-improving and adaptable to change.

But how do we use these principles to move us from where the World Bank says we are, to where we want to be, to where we are getting the type of returns on our investments in education that the country and the people justly deserve? As Dr. Babb says, “Workforce reform depends on the context, but also our students”. Apart from the involvement of our students, common ingredients for success include: strong leadership; drawing on evidence; engaging with and empowering the workforce to lead change; ongoing communications with key stake-holders; monitoring and adapting implementation; and building the structures to sustain reform.

As our Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño has acknowledged: “Financial support from agencies such as the MCC for investment in human and social capital of the education workforce is needed”. My view is that only smart investment will deliver long-term returns through improved efficiencies and greater effectiveness. God willing, we can turn this bitchery and abomination of the education workforce into an amicable and alluring state of affairs. But we have to begin our actions now!!!

Please feel free to challenge any or all of the claims made above, and join me and Dr. Babb in our conversation on how to transform our education workforce.

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