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By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant   -   According to Maya time wisdom, we are this year completing a significant calendar cycle. Moreover, we have just held/completed National and Municipal elections throughout the entire country of Belize. Following along those lines, this week’s column directly follows The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, (all parts) as well as Lets Start to Improve Our Schools and End of Year Notes. The Minister of Education, and his entire staff, including the Chief Education Officer, continues to head/steer our Belizean Education Systems and Programs. However, though neither the Minister of Education nor the Chief Education Officer works “directly” with our young people on a day-to-day basis to educate them, it is extremely important that they both be aware of 21st Century challenges that keep “adding up” in schools throughout Belize today. Those challenges (especially those coming from students) that confront educators and teachers every single school day are a part of our rapidly changing world in this “new cycle of time”. My weekly columns are written free of politics -- for the record, so is this week’s!

Not too many countries are fully satisfied or totally happy with their Education Systems. Belize is a fairly young (Independence 1981) and “still developing” country, and is no exception. Our Education Systems and Programs still have quite a ways to go to catch up with and be able to meet the needs of youth in 21st Century Belize. We need: more computers in Primary and Secondary schools, teachers who are professionally trained to work with and help various kinds of students to learn, smaller classroom sizes (current ratio of students to teacher is unacceptable), professionally trained curriculum planners/makers, and much more. Nonetheless, I am very excited that our government and schools do now acknowledge the great need for providing Guidance Counselors to students in Primary and Secondary schools throughout Belize. With the help of guidance counselors, high school graduates will no longer be forced to face a future of “survival of the fittest”. Heartfelt congratulations and wishes for continued success go to the Belize School Counselors Association!

As Belize begins/continues a new term of leadership in Education, I humbly yet boldly point out to the planners and leaders of our Education Systems the intense frustration and desperation of a reader/teacher (who works everyday with playful students) that is reflected in recent comments posted to this column. In addition to providing Dealing with Loud, Playful, and Difficult Students I will continue to work “within” Belize’s existing Education Programs to offer professional advice. However, I will continue to advocate for change(s) in our Education System when/where I see the need!

As Belize moves closer towards attaining its goals as a new nation, and tries to educate and prepare its youth to live in the 21st Century, it can no longer rely on and keep using “Colonial Era” systems of Education. We need new systems! Without a doubt, we must always promote the basics or 3 R’s (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) as well as Sciences – especially Computer Science – so we can “keep up” with 21st Century technological advances throughout the world. However, contrary to what Colonial Era systems of Education advocate, Belizean students can no longer afford to attend school everyday only to keep doing the same precisely-defined repetitive tasks in the classroom! Our schools must go beyond preparing students for CXC or other “outside” examinations. It’s time to start training our students, beginning at the Primary level, in the skills of Belizean “creative processes” instead of using “outside examinations and results” to validate our students.
   
Each student, not only “art-oriented” students (authors, painters, poets, sculptors, dramatists, singers etc.), should be educated in the creative process. The creative process is one of the most successful processes used for accomplishments throughout History. Look at the great accomplishments of our Maya ancestors, and of 20th Century computer giants who created Microsoft (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and technological “social” programs such as Facebook, Twitter, and other industry-specific specialized computer programs that billions of people use today. After “reaching the moon” scientists and engineers can now create space ships/rockets that can travel for long periods of time throughout the universe to collect and interpret data. Were these achievements the results of only memorizing repetitive tasks? Without a doubt, their creators dared to dream, be creative, and experiment! As we embark on a new beginning, let’s start to educate and encourage Belizean students in “creative processes”, not only teach/prepare them for “outside examinations”.

As of today, not tomorrow, I strongly encourage the planners/leaders (the government) of Belize’s Education Systems to consider the following,

*Despite the fact that an alarming number of Belizeans, including educators, are clamoring that our schools should not change (Wake up and Smell the Coffee) our schools must change and adapt to be able to meet the needs of our youth AND needs of the nation in 21st Century Belize.

*Teachers who work in our schools today with Belizean youth need specialized training in how to work with young people today. A Sixth Form diploma or University degree does NOT automatically qualify anyone to teach – whether Primary or Secondary! If our teachers are not “prepared/qualified” in Education and teaching they will always feel “handicapped” as they attempt to educate/prepare young Belizeans for the world in which we live today… and tomorrow.

*Professional training that is provided to Primary and Secondary school teachers in Belize today should include training on how to provide students with coping mechanisms and tools they can use to deal with 21st Century daily challenges.

*The best investment that today’s policy makers, planners, and leaders/guardians of Belize’s Education System should make is NOT financial. Rather, that investment is to work “continuously” with educators, students, and each of our communities to find ways to strengthen our Belize School Systems at all levels so that educators/teachers are able to “educate” our youth for today and tomorrow.

I encourage students, teachers, parents, and the community at large (politicians included) to continue posting/sharing views and comments on different “Ways to Improve/Strengthen Education in Belize”.  Sharing and stressing classroom practices “that work” is an integral part of strengthening Belize’s School Systems at all levels. Once we are aware of “what works” in the classroom then educators/teachers are able to successfully educate our people and effectively respond to the rapidly changing world around us. Belizean educators/teachers, national and local government leaders, parents and communities:  let’s work together so that no teacher ever feels weighed down by the task of educating youth in 21st Century Belize.

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