Human Energy is the key to school reform! While money is widely used as an excuse, money simply buys time. The main factor in successful schools is human energy. Where such human energy at the local level is thwarted by centralized dictates from Belmopan, the schools do not perform to standard. A lot of educational research in North America geared to the requirements of the 21 st century are centered on changing school systems that now exist, to fit more into the flow of human energy that can be increased. High Schools are going to be smaller, for example.
Growth and success it has been found, do not result either from policy initiatives ( top down rule ), or from classroom-based instructional innovation ( bottom up hierarcheal conformation systems). Instead, it has been shown in recent studies on successful schools that growth results from the interaction of human energy and order across all levels of school organization and community participation.
What we are looking at in Belize is the national policy development in Belmopan. This should be in the form of matching GRANTS, perhaps standardized tests on core curriculum subjects, but also tests on the inclusion of local environmental subjects. How many elementary schools in Belize teach honey production and the care of bee hives? Or require students to make and study flash cards on local birds, animals and fish? Policy development from Belmopan should be more in the financial control realm, administered through financial rewards, rather than dictates of curriculum.
There is no arguing the fact, that the lack of District Governments and District School Boards, the local citizens have no voice in curriculum development suiting the economic needs of their geographical areas. This is a huge drawback to successful implementation of 21st education needs. Teachers bound by centralized curriculum guides, or their perception that they are so bound, lead to traditional textbook-centered instruction and this teaching apathy changes ever so slowly.
The same centralized problem faces the school level adjustments required for the systems and structures in local districts.
Faculty development seem to be increasingly addressed by seminars and workshops, though probably not enough of this is being done, due to the shortages created by centralized educational control.
Changes in the student experience is also lagging mostly in the more difficult access villages. Mostly from the centralized control aspects of curriculum development from a centralized source in Belmopan.
While the Colleges and University level in Belize have made great strides in the last several years in more relevant and autonomous education, the next step for the 21st century in Belize is the challenge of improving elementary and secondary school education throughout the rural districts of the nation. What is important to remember in a country like Belize, is that the largest percentage of the population will never see more than elementary school. The second largest segment of the population will never see more than two years of high school. When discussing change and modernization, these facts should be kept in mind. If you are going to develop and build a nation ( a much worn phrase over the last 30 years ) educational reform needs to be concentrated on the elementary school first, the high school second and the higher levels of education last. There should be a lot more alternative and optional subjects at the lower levels of education. At Caye Caulker RC elementary School when I taught back in the 1960's, we included typing, electrical wiring, making of fish nets of different types, marine biology and life cycles of different fish specie effecting the village economic well being, outboard mechanics and public health and pre-maternity options for village girls. This was in Standard 4, 5 and 6. Certainly not a dictated curriculum from Belmopan, though we followed their core curriculum courses also. The presumption was that the majority of villagers would never see the inside of a High School. Most of the country villages do not have either the resources or outside experienced teachers to make these innovative steps; but could probably do so, if their educational system was controlled by a District Government School Board for the future. And district governments had their own money to spend as they saw fit.
Systemic change depends on high levels of human energy exchange, both from the school staff, the parents, the district government, village government and community at large. It has to be self-organizing according to local limitations and circumstances, with a shared vision of student learning of that local village school. The role of a national government is in standards without regulation, finance without control and interference.
Community Colleges in Belize are coming along nicely in innovative changes. The dispersal and autonomous aspects are providing some wide ranging results. One of the lacking items discussed recently on the Belize Culture List, was the problem of course and degrees not orientated to the needs of the community. Even the Minister of Education in Belmopan was lamenting that the UCB Belize City branch is producing too many MBA's and not including enough courses or certifications in Public Administration. There is certainly a need for courses in National Park Management and there are rows and rows of books on such Park operational and Administrative courses in the USA.
An interesting input was from Brian Keating, Belizean, who is a Dean, or Chairperson, or something, in the Community College system of the USA state of Louisiana. He was picked from all around the state two years ago, to be on the Committee to build a brand new Community College in the very large city of Baton Rouge, the first such college in the state for 30 years. It has been interesting to read of his surveys out to the community attempting to find the needs of the community and courses and certifications that would be needed to enhance people's earning capacity and that of the economic community. By contrast in Belize, the system of Europe has been followed in the past, in which national educators select such courses, by guess and by golly!
He recently commented on a DACUM Study they just finished. In which they tailored coursework and degrees issued specifically to what the business community needed. As he mentioned, this is very tough for some old time entrenched academics to except. Academics, especially old teachers, like to brag about their twenty years experience. When in the reality of the business world, what they have, is one years experience repeated twenty times.
A committee of twenty three bankers recently designed some new courses for the college, all entry level stuff; tellers, customer service reps, mortgage loan supervisors, etc.. These bankers now have their own college course and new hirees with that certification will be given first preference. Should there become a question of excess applicant competition, guess which candidates will get the job? Just a one year certificate from a Community College.
He proudly bragged about their new AAS degree, a process technology course, which is completely sold out. Local industrial plants have been already telling applicants that there is no job without the AAS degree. The petro-chemical industry wrote eleven of the courses in the degree. This is the local industry curriculum.
As Belizean, Educator Brian Keating points out, there is nothing more arrogant than educators thinking they know what business needs. In Belize this has been lamentably the standard for a couple of decades, but it is changing, the growth of educational committees notwithstanding. Brian's advice to Belize? Get some local business/industry people to form some committees and decide what kind of courses they need for job applicants. In Toledo, I would expect both the agricultural farms, national parks and logging industry would have specific requirements, that might startle Belmopan and Belize City academic types. Welding up a three man portable saw mill might be one course, engine service another, chain saw blades for different hardwoods another( believe me you better know this, or you will go broke quick) and how to repair and maintain them, temporary overnight shelters in rain forest another. This is not real rocket science stuff as Mr. Keating points out; nor do you need a Phd before you can teach it.
The 21st Century goal of education in Belize needs to start out the new century with more effort and emphasis on the poorest and most at-risk citizens in the villages, where any productiviy must come from, for export potential. It is a shame we have lost the last six or seven years by our party structured political apparatus; that chose to get money in the form of cash profits, dividends and taxes from the telecommunications monopoly to enhance their borrowing lifestyle and to plow into only one district capital, creating an African style,inner city ghetto monster rather than develop the country as a real nation, by serving the six districts geographically and financially equally. Instead of an expanding one megapolis population to which country people migrate with a rise in crime, copied from Kingston, Jamaica; we could have had and should have had by now, that telecommunications money spent on telecommunitations with land lines and telephones to every village, farm and house, in the six district nation. Free internet service and education and research to every home in the country! Nearly four hundred million dollars of telecommunications earnings have been misspent, that could have placed all of Belize on the forefront of technological change and advancement and six or seven years wasted, if it had been poured back into infra-structure.
There are hundreds if not thousands of jobs, both for pay and for entrepreneurial style self-employed activity, that do not require either a High School degree, or a Bachelors, or Masters Degree from higher education in Belize. That must be the focus of educational reform starting this new 21st century. Unfortunately, though education is leading politics in reformation and development throughout Belize, without the partnership of political re-structuring to a more flat, horizontal managing system to replace the centralized hierarcheal model, it is unlikely that educational reform at the elementary village level will succeed. Or even take place! The two go hand in hand. One relies on the other.
It is funny to note, that almost all of the suggestions for educational reform also fit the needs of political reform. Indeed, it is unlikely that long standing educational reform will ever be successful, without the dual process of political reform. The hierarcheal, bureaucratic model of organizing work does lend itself to certain abuses, recurring problems that seem inherent to the form and especially crippling in today's fast-moving society. Elected party representatives think they have 'free will' and are independent thinkers, but in reality they are prisoners of a political constitutional structure that dictates their actions based on emotional predictable human behavior. The biggest problem facing organizations, whether educational or political in Belize are an overabundance of high paid under- utilized bureaucracy and hierarchy. This type of model fails to consider, or involve the humany energy relationships, or aspects of education, or politics. The whole model is resistant to change. The struggle is how to create the environment and challenge to restructure effectively, to utilize current theories and modern practices of successful productive organizations.
Teams become learning centers as the members critique, share and coach one another from their experiences. As organizational structures flatten, as higher education is now doing in Belize, teams replace many hierachical structures. Co-operation and consensus builds more successful long term interdependent workig relationships.
In any field, be it educational reform, or political reform there must be accountability. The alleged accountability provided by hierarchies is not impressive. In Belize, it is non- existant on the political front. The accountability that exists in larger bureaucracies is very weak and inaccurate.
The current experience in Belize in higher education is that shifts in political control and policy themes, when combined with the relatively short life of most policy initiatives and lack of follow through from Belmopan, leads to an image of 'faddishness'. Certainly, one gets that impression when judging solely from events in the one district town, the port of Belize City dominated by intellectuals. On the longer historical view and nationwide, I am convinced there will be eventual more success; but only if it is accompanied by political reform.
As district and school policies aimed at teacher empowerment, professionalization of teachers and the profession and these team decided shared decisionmaking results, become more prevalent, the resulting de-centralization of both resources and staff are becoming more obvious nationwide.
If I had to say what was needed from this humble fisherman's perspective for education in the new century, it would be summed up in three words. "Technology, technology and technology!" Almost without exception, from butterfly farms, to logging, to government; information access via the internet and it's descendants as time passes, is the single most critical factor. It is sad we lost all that money from telecommunications these past six or seven years and have deprived every village school, home and farm in the country from the opportunities for education, marketing and competitivness in the new global economy, through greed in our leadership style structure. Can we play catchup? Yes! But it will take not only educational reform, but political reform as two sides of the same coin. Otherwise the outlook is bleak and our status quo as a small tinpot banana republic is assured in the Caribbean basin. We need a land line, a telephone, free internet service and a computer in every single house in the nation. We could have done it already from our own technical and financial resources, but it still can be done. Unfortunately, it will take a different political structure, more flat and decentralized than now. The 21st century is upon us. Remember! TECHNOLOGY! TECHNOLOGY! TECHNOLGY!