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La Educación
Número: (123-125) I,III
Año: 1996

Historical and Political Perspectives from 1950 to the Present and Influences on Education Reform

The country’s colonial history, the influence of the churches, the increased influence of the United States on the country in post-independence years, as well as political problems in neighboring Central America are some of the factors that have influenced education policy development and implementation and education reform in Belize. Political influences, whether by ideology or lack thereof, have also contributed to the way in which educational policies have been developed and implemented.

The devaluation of the dollar in 1949 was considered the “watershed of Belizean politics” and the birth of the nationalist movement in Belize (Grant 1976). The attitude of the British toward the colony, the social and economic conditions that were endured from the depression of the 1930s, and the lack of an open political system were also factors which contributed to this movement.

Aspiring politicians at that time used the events to push for political reform and to make a bid for the decolonization process to begin. The activities that followed led to the development of the first political party, Peoples United Party (PUP), in 1950, whose primary agenda was to take Belize out of the hands of the colonial masters and lead the country to independence. The PUP went on to win several elections, and later led the country to internal self government in 1964.

In 1974 the opposition, the United Democratic Party (UDP), made the first major gains toward political control of the government when it won the Belize City Council municipal elections. However, the PUP maintained control of central government and later led the country to independence in 1981. In 1984, three years after independence, the UDP won the general elections on a campaign that focused on the state of the economy and several social and other ideological issues. This was the first time an opposition party was able to take control of the government. Political control shifted back to PUP rule in 1989. In an early election call in 1993 power again shifted—this time to a UDP/NABR coalition. In the thirteen years after independence, the two major political parties have therefore shared almost equal time in office. According to Grant, however, the political ideologies of the two parties are not very distinct. In 1976 Grant wrote “..although the UDP was able to exploit [an] adverse economic situation to its electoral advantage in the 1970s, it does not offer Belize an alternative in terms of political ideology and economic policies....” He further stated that “both political parties had a more or less conservative outlook and are likely to maintain organizations that have little more than a vague feeling of identity with their respective members and supporters except during an election” (Grant 1976, 280).

An examination of the Development Plans and the Education Plans during the reign of each of these political parties supports this thesis. The 1980-83 Plan (in the era of the PUP) was designed to meet the needs of the “New and Progressive Revolution” and for outside development capital through economic cooperative programs and loan arrangements with international banks and agencies. It called for an education strategy that combined the “world of study with the world of work,” regulating preschool education, continuing the church-state partnership, construction of new schools, expanding the Rural Education and Agricultural Project (REAP) to more primary schools, local production of textbooks, curriculum reform to include physical education in the primary syllabus, and expanding the facilities at the teachers’ college. The Development Plan for 1985-89 (under the UDP administration) focused on the state of the country’s economy, which “was in crisis.” The plans for education supported many projects that began under the previous administration and new interventions did not show any significant ideological differences. Financial management, attitude toward foreign investment, and spending practices seem to be the main difference between the two parties.

The System of Education

In the period prior to self government in 1964, control of policy and financing of education was in the hands of the colonial masters. Government’s expenditure on education was minimal, and there was heavy reliance on the churches for assistance. Schools were heavily subsidized by donations from foreign denominational supporters. Managers and principals of schools were mainly foreigners and the curricula reflected this foreign influence. To date we still see the effects of this influence in the general tendency to mix American and English spelling of words in the same text.

The Education Ordinance of 1962 “was the legal device for execution of the government’s educational policy of effecting a national system of education which retained the traditionally accepted denominational character, but which allowed a greater degree of control by government over the system” (Bennett 1973, 81). Although foreign influence on the curricula of schools is still a factor to be considered, efforts to make the curriculum more relevant to the society have intensified. Some progress has been made in this regard since self government in 1964 and more notably since independence in 1981. In addressing the issue of the governance of schools, Byrd (1990) felt that the foreign influence has been reduced considerably and supported his theory by noting the change in composition of foreigners and locals running the schools. He referred to the “massive Belizeanization” of both churches and schools where today most managers and principals of schools are nationals. Byrd also noted that the establishment of a National Curriculum Unit in 1975 has also intensified efforts to implement a national curriculum. As he puts it,
the introduction of curriculum guidelines from the government side...has placed teaching emphasis not on religion but on nationally accepted curricula. Religious influence...persists now largely at the level of the continuing commitment to spiritual and ethical formation....” (165)
The question of the management of schools and the benefits of this partnership has been the subject of many reports and debates over the years, such as the Easter Report of 1935, West India Royal Commission of 1938, the UNESCO reports of 1964 and 1983, and the Education Symposium of 1990. It is felt that the partnership has its merits and so current government policies continue to support it.

Attempts at Belizeanization of the education system have resulted in many curricular changes which have been or are being introduced.
  • With emphasis on the development of a national identity and pride in our Belizean heritage, Belizean Studies (history) is now part of the curriculum in all sectors of the system.
  • In recognition of the role agriculture plays in the economy of the country, Agriculture Education (REAP) is now taught in many rural and some urban primary schools.
  • With the growing realization that English is not the first language of most Belizeans, the subject is now being considered as a second or foreign language and its inclusion in the curriculum is now being discussed. Belize Teachers’ College is giving treatment to this phenomenon in the training program.
  • Our geographical location on the Central American mainland makes it necessary for us to begin to consider the issue of the teaching of Spanish at all levels. Belize Teachers’ College has recently re-introduced a course in Spanish into its program of training with focus on developing teachers’ ability to teach the subject at the elementary level, and the curriculum is being adjusted to reflect this.
  • Our heritage and location require us to maintain and strengthen our ties with the Caribbean and to modify teaching materials to reflect this. Many textbooks developed for Caribbean audiences have been recommended for use in the primary schools by the Ministry of Education.