Belize Education Sector Strategy 2011-2016

Improving access, quality and governance of education in Belize



To be implemented in the five school years 2011/2 to 2015/16


I think most people will agree with me that when it comes to the potential for improving our individual and collective lives, for forming better persons and better communities, for contributing to social and economic development there are no greater expectations of any other sector than of the education sector. Indeed it is for this reason that governments across the world invest heavily in education. In Belize, where we invest in excess of 25% of our national budget in the education sector, we are certainly no exception to this rule. Compared to Costa Rica, Cuba and Barbados, Belize is the biggest spender on education well above the international FTI benchmark of 20% of recurrent budget and remaining constant at around 6.5% of GDP over the last few years. Therefore, we are certainly at the high end of the education investment scale when we consider our education budget as a proportion of our economy. This signals the priority that the Government of Belize continues to give to the education sector.

Yet, even as we congratulate ourselves on our high standing in terms of how much we spend on education there is the simultaneous expectation, even the demand, that we should be spending more. But any honest discussion on how much we spend and how much more we may think we ought to be spending demands a sober reflection on what we are getting in return. Therefore, even as we champion education’s transformative potential, honesty demands that we question whether education is or has been truly transformative? ...And if so, for whom?

On several occasions in the past, I have made the point that many of the issues and challenges that faced us in the education sector twenty years ago remain with us today. Today we have almost 100 thousand students enrolled in our schools at all levels—almost twice what we had in 1990, we have almost 5,000 teachers—more than twice what we had in 1990, we have 541 schools—more than twice what we had in 1990 and yes, we are spending far more on education at 190million—almost five times what we were spending in 1990.

Yet the increased spending has not been proportionately matched by increased outputs and outcomes. Many of those enrolled in our schools will repeat or dropout before graduating. Many of our children are still not achieving satisfactory levels of performance. There remains chronic shortages of trained and qualified teachers at all levels of the system. Rising costs and inadequate planning and management remain significant challenges. These very same issues were lamented more than twenty years ago in 1990 by a former Minister of Education.

Furthermore, we have been faced for some time now with the long-standing challenges of crime, violence and poverty that have continued to plague us for many years now. With media images and reports, not to mention personal experiences giving us a regular dose of crime and violence for many, many years now, can we say that education is truly transformative? With the 2009 Country Poverty Assessment showing that poverty increased by nearly 10% over about a ten year period, can we say that education is truly transformative?

On the face of it, I think we would be hard-pressed to conclude that education is or has been truly transformative for many, many years now.

In response to this apparent disconnect between education and transformative results it is easy to conclude that we are not investing enough. Yet, the record will show—as I pointed out earlier—that education expenditure has not only increased significantly over the years but has also enjoyed the lion’s share of the national budget without consequential results. And thus, it begs the question: How do we justify the continued heavy investment in education if such investment is not leading to the transformative results we desire?

The answer to this question is that education can be truly transformative and so the challenge is not so much about investing more as it is about doing things differently! Therefore, education in Belize will be truly transformative only if we transform education. That means not investing in a more expensive status quo but changing the status quo! Any additional investment in education must be aimed at changing the status quo!

Over the last three to four years, we in the Ministry of Education and Youth, along with education stakeholders have embarked on a process of transforming the education system so that it can yield the transformative results we so desire. These initiatives have focused on ensuring every child starts school ready to learn, getting and keeping young people in schools for more years of learning, improving achievement and quality assurance and investing in teacher education and professionalization. We have made significant strides but as Fenton Whelan reminds us in his book Lesson’s Learned How Good Policies Produce Better Schools, ‘education reform is a long game—both because the process of change takes time, and because it is often decades before the benefits of improved schooling are felt in the economy or society as a whole…’ and therefore the major reforms we have initiated require sustained effort or as Michael Barber, quoted in the same book puts it, require ‘Stubborn persistence, relentless monotony, attention to detail, and glorifying in routine…’
We have come a long way! But we have a long way to go! And like any good school it is worthwhile to periodically assess how we are doing, to ask ‘how do we know?’ and then to ask ‘what we are going to do about it?’

It is in this regard that with support from the Caribbean Development Bank, we embarked on a sector diagnosis and the preparation of this Education Sector Strategy 2011-2016. The financial support from Caribbean Development Bank allowed us to secure technical assistance from Cambridge Education to assist us with this work. This strategy is a response to the education sector diagnosis which included an examination of education statistics, feedback from stakeholders (both users and providers) and an analysis of education finances.

I am sure you will agree with me when I reiterate that we do not wish to have a more expensive status quo and therefore this strategy must be about transforming the education system so that we may achieve transformative results. It must therefore be about increasing equitable access to education at all levels, about improving the quality, relevance and efficiency of education and about improving governance and accountability; in short, it must be about excellence and fairness. Let us make this sector strategy about making better schools, better citizens, and a better Belize—it’s everybody’s business!

Hon. Patrick Faber
Minister of Education, Youth and Sports



Better Schools, Better Citizens, Better Belize...It’s Everybody’s Business!

© 2013 Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture::Government of Belize