Cynthia Thompson*

There have been many attempts at reform in education in Belize in the period 1950 to 1998. During the period of the nationalist movement in the early 1950s, the focus was on “Belizeanizing” the system. Attempts at reform in the post-independence era addressed issues of access, quality and relevance.

This chapter examines some of the major attempts at education reform in Belize during the period. It highlights the policies and plans developed and the successes made in implementing these.


As with many other Commonwealth Caribbean countries, Belize’s education system displays a structural form that is the direct legacy of our past. The country’s colonial history, the influence of the churches, the increased influence of the United States, the post-independence moves to develop a national identity, as well as political problems in neighboring Central America, are some of the factors that have influenced education policy development and implementation 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.

Despite the perceived need for education reform, as evidenced in the numerous policies and plans over the period in review, it was not until the 1990s that the Government of Belize recorded its most comprehensive official attempt to formulate and articulate policies and strategies and to introduce the necessary reform measures. The following statement in the 1992 “Education Policy for Making Belizeans First” encapsulates the government’s intention to begin this era of reform in education.

For too long the educational system has been allowed to take on a life of its own with those who should direct it merely reacting to crises as they arise, or responding to initiatives from individual agencies outside the system. The whole thrust of the Belizean Government is towards Belizean taking control of their lives and their future. It is against this background that we take up the challenge to ‘launch a new era in education, prepared and determined to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that Belizeans are prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century.’

These statements were from a government with a serious commitment to the improvement of education. However, as Miller pointed out “the mere statement on paper of the intention to reform cannot be regarded as reform. Implementation is a critical criterion for policy measures to qualify for reform status” (Miller 1995, 48).

This paper will examine attempts at reform in education during three periods of Belize’s history: The Nationalist Movement 1950 to 1963, Self Government to Independence 1964-1980, and Post-Independence Belize 1981 to the present.  It will trace the major reforms that were attempted, from policies and plans to implementation and will present the political, social and economic factors that prevailed at the time that may have influenced their implementation.

Nationalist Movement 1950-1963

The devaluation of the British Honduras 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 that 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) in 1950, whose primary agenda was to take Belize out of the hands of the colonial masters and to lead the country to independence. This party was to lead the country to internal self-government in 1964 and to Independence in 1981.

In the period prior to self-government in 1964, control of policy and financing of education was totally in the hands of the colonial masters. The government expenditure on education was minimal and there was heavy reliance on the churches for assistance. Schools were heavily subsidized by donations from denominational supporters. Managers and principals of schools were mainly British or Americans and the curricula reflected this foreign influence.

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 especially 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 foreign 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 1975 establishment of a National Curriculum Unit 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...” (Byrd,165).

The political activities of the period raised the consciousness of the people of the need of a reform of the education system that would meet the needs of the citizens. There was the cry for more participation in decision making and for making school and schooling more relevant.  It was of no surprise, therefore, that several institutions were established on the basis of these. The Belize Technical College was established in response to the call for the inclusion of vocational/technical education in the school curricula. It later expanded its programs to offer Sixth Form courses. Two other Sixth Forms, St. John’s Junior College, and Wesley Sixth Form were the also established in 1952. St. John’s College and Wesley Sixth Forms were patterned from the British Sixth Forms offering two years of post secondary education and preparing students to sit the external Advanced Level examinations set in the UK. Over time, St. John’s College began to modify the courses and program more in line with the American Associates Degree programs. While the establishment of these institutions served to make education more relevant, they also served the purpose of creating access for Belizeans to meet matriculation requirements for university studies abroad. Up to this time the only option open to Belizeans who wanted a degree was to travel abroad to attend foreign universities.

The system of teacher training in Belize also got a significant boost during this the period. Prior to 1954, teacher training was obtained through study abroad or through the “Pupil Teacher System” that, although it is being phased out, still exists today. Through this system, secondary school graduates (and sometimes primary school graduates) were given tutoring by senior teachers. They took the Ministry of Education qualifying exams, which prepared them for admission to the teacher training college (when these were established locally). There was also a period in the 1940s when the Jeannes Supervisors provided support to the system. This move, which might have been considered consonant with Belize’s regional orientation and the move to forge greater West Indian ties, was short lived. In a correspondence to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Governor J. A. Hunter noted that “the root of much of the criticism [of the Jeannes supervisors] appear[ed] to be that the supervisors [were] Jamaicans, and it would doubtless be better to have supervisors born in British Honduras, when sufficiently qualified men [were] available” (Hunter 1942, 1).1

In fulfillment of recommendations of the 1947 Evans Commission to establish a local teacher training college in Belize, the government opened the St. George’s Teachers College in 1954. The Roman Catholic Church, within two months of the opening of the government funded training college, opened the St. John’s Teachers College. Interestingly, in 1957 the combined enrollment of the two colleges was twenty-seven, with nine in the Roman Catholic college (Grant 1976, 300). In 1964, the UNESCO Commission recommended the merger of these colleges and in 1965 the Belize Teachers College was formally established. During that same year the Joint Board of Teacher Education comprising the Ministry of Education of Belize, Bahamas and Jamaica was established. This body was responsible for accrediting and regulating the activities of teacher education institutions in the three territories. The establishment of a local training college was a significant move for the country as the hope was that this institution would meet the training needs of the country. However, the records show that the reform of teacher education has been on the agenda of each government over the last four decades with major efforts aimed at reducing the large percentage of untrained teachers and making the training more relevant.

Early attempts at curriculum reform were made with the 1945 Board of Education’s introduction of what is referred to as a uniform curriculum with a simpler variation used in small rural schools. However, in the Education Report of 1949 it was noted that:

The uniform curriculum [did] not take into account the wide range of variation in three essential factors, (1) the social, economic and cultural background of the pupils, (2) the general ability, training and educational standards of the teacher, and (3) the special interests and abilities of the teacher. Uniformity in the prescribed schemes of work [led] children in the Maya villages to study material which [was] of little value to them; it also put pressure on teachers to tackle subjects which they [were] poorly qualified by knowledge or interest to teach; and with any degree of uniformity in the amount of ground to be covered, the weaker teachers and the more backward schools [tried] to cover the whole program, and [did] it badly (Section 2, 45).

The Period of Full Internal Self Government 1964-1980

This period can be marked as the pro-independence era. The country obtained self-government in 1964 and continued its quest for independence and a national identity. It was during this period that the United Democratic Party emerged from a coalition of smaller parties and became established as a viable opposition to the popular Peoples United Party which took office in 1961. In 1974, the UDP made its first inroads in the fight for political power when it won the City Council elections. The influence of a stronger opposition was to mark some significant changes in the political history of the country. However, a change in political parties did not necessarily mean dramatic changes in education policies.

The Development Plan 1964-70, produced shortly after the country achieved self-government, was Belize’s first bid towards nationalizing the education system. The proposals for education reform included in this plan echoed many of the recommendations of the UNESCO Commission Report of 1964. At the time, 95% of the primary school population was said to have been enrolled and the literacy rate was quoted at 90.5% (according to the 1960 census). However, since 91% of the children did not go beyond the primary stage, it was felt necessary to provide these children with the minimum tools to help them to cope in the world of work. The following quotation from the plan emphasizes this point:

... at present the entire educational system of the country has a distinctly literary bias which, it is no exaggeration to say, is quite out of conformity with the country’s needs. It is vitally necessary in planning the educational system to take cognizance of the fact that the bulk of the country’s adult population would be engaged in agriculture in the future. It should indeed be one of the tasks of education to prepare successive generations for this role they would play in the economic life of the country and to equip them for playing this role in a modern and scientific way... All this would imply the need for an entire reorientation of education reaching down to basic reforms in the curriculum of the school itself... (UNESCO Report 1964, 93)

The report continued:

All age primary schools are not providing adequately and satisfactorily for the older boys and girls who attend them. These are the children who will shortly be leaving school and who need very much to be guided towards their future occupations and to be fitted more positively and purposefully for the transition from school to the world of work and adult responsibility. (Ibid., 95)

The major recommendation in the Education Plan of 1964-70 for the primary sector was the reorganization of all age schools into two schools—a primary stage, beginning at age 5 and lasting up to age 12, and a senior school from the age of 12+ to the age of 14 or 15. The curriculum of the primary school was to lay the foundation in the basic, or tool subjects. The senior curriculum would build on this foundation and in addition provide pupils with the opportunities for exploring new interests and acquiring new skills, particularly in the arts and crafts. Senior schools would be required to spend a minimum of quarter of their time to such courses as agriculture, woodwork, home management, and metalwork. These schools were not to be seen as vocational schools, but were designed to provide pupils with pre-vocational experiences and with a sound, general education. Recommendations to support this plan called for:

  • the construction of three senior schools in Belize City each with sufficient rooms for the teaching of woodwork and metalwork to the boys and home management to the girls;
  • the delay of the reorganization of all age primary schools in the rural areas because it would not have been practical in sparsely populated areas;
  • bringing education more into line with the environment and into a closer relationship with the real needs and interests of the children. Efforts would be made to make rural teachers more conscious of the place of agriculture in the future economy of the country; and
  • the training of teachers who “show the aptitude and interest” in two or more practical subjects which were to be introduced into the senior curriculum.

The plan gave first priority to secondary and tertiary education. Needless to say, many of the recommendations for primary reform never came to fruition. The establishment of three schools in Belmopan in the 1970s—an Infant, a Junior, and a Comprehensive School—was the closest the government came to implementing this recommendation. Other developments took place that were not necessarily full recommendations of the UNESCO mission, but were in keeping with the recurring theme for a nationally integrated curriculum. Two junior secondary schools were opened in Belize City between 1969 and 1972. These were three-year schools that accommodated students between the ages of 12 and 15. The inclusion of woodwork, home economics, and other craft subjects in the curriculum gave the schools a greater vocational/technical bias. In effect they resembled the senior schools that were recommended in the development plan. Graduates from these junior secondary schools who wanted to further their education went on to the Belize Technical College, which at that time offered further education at the secondary and post secondary levels. By 1990, both of these junior secondary schools were converted to four-year secondary schools. While they continue to offer courses in the crafts, greater emphasis is being given to completion of Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) syllabi.

The proposal to bring education in the rural areas more in line with the environment and to make teachers more conscious of agriculture was repeated in the Education Plans of 1972-76. In an effort to address the issues of relevance and the quality of education for the children in rural Belize, an agriculture education officer was appointed and the REAP (Rural Education and Agriculture Program) was launched. The program, funded by CARE, Heifer Project International and the Government of Belize, had its basis in the philosophy of the integrated curriculum and focused on nine areas of study. It was not to be seen as a revival of the “school garden” approach that preceded REAP in the 1960s, rather it should have integrated agricultural practices into the existing school curriculum. The program was launched in three districts in 1975 and was later expanded to include the other three districts. In 1976 REAP was introduced into the curriculum at the teachers college as a compulsory course to support the program in the primary schools. In the years to follow, the course was made optional, then compulsory, then optional again reflecting the lack of clear policies and consensus about the importance of the program and the course. This is perhaps the main cause of the problems experienced in the implementation of the REAP project. Others had to do with teachers lack of a clear understanding of the philosophy of the REAP curriculum and with the management of the project.

Since the foundation of REAP lies in the philosophy of the integrated curriculum, one would have expected to see efforts at “integration” in the REAP schools. Instead, the concept of the “school garden” prevailed and very little curriculum integration actually took place. One would also have expected the program to operate out of the Curriculum Unit established in 1975, since this was an effort in curriculum reform. Instead, it operated first out of its own offices and later out of the Vocational/Technical Unit, giving the impression that it was considered more a vocational program than a curriculum intervention aimed at making learning more relevant and meaningful. As a result, schools found themselves with two curricula to implement and no clear direction about how to manage them. Teachers also complained that the developers of the BNSE Exam (administered at the end of primary school) did not give consideration to the REAP curriculum and as a result the performance of children (mostly from rural schools) was poor. Because of their concern for school results, teachers began to place the REAP curriculum in the back seat. There was further setback when external funding dried up, and as is the case with most externally funded project, momentum was lost. The program continues to operate today in a few urban and rural schools with government funding, and is now known as Relevant Education for Agriculture and Production- same acronym different meaning.

The REAP experience should have alerted us to the problems externally funded programs and projects endure. Needless to say a proliferation of externally funded curricula interventions followed in the next two decades. Many of them did not have any basis in the ideology or policies of the government at the time. As the UNESCO Mission commented, “education has been made to respond to external demands rather than to act as a supporting service to over-riding national goals” (UNESCO Mission Report 1983, 11). Since its establishment in 1975, the Curriculum Development Unit has participated in a number of projects that were funded by external agencies. There was SHEP (School Health Education Program), PEP (UWI/UNESCO Primary Education Program), WIZE (Wildlife Inquiry through Zoo Education), PPTT (Posterized Program Teaching Technology), and a TESOL Project (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) among others. All these projects ended along with their external funding, supporting the long held view that programs that are planned and then passed on to the implementers without their consultation or input are bound to fail.

In an attempt to meet the changing needs of the system, there were other initiatives from within the curriculum unit, many aimed at developing more materials with local flavor and relevance. The Belizean Reader Series and a set of TESOL readers were introduced into the schools. The TESOL readers came out of the need for a series more sensitive to Belize’s diverse culture, and the realization that most Belizeans have a first language other than English. In addition, the education system has had to cope with an increasing number of children of refugee parents fleeing troubled Central American countries beginning in the 1980s. This has put considerable demands on schools to meet the needs of these pupils for language development.

The Schools Broadcast program introduced in 1965 was another attempt at making education accessible during the period. The program first operated out of the Government Broadcast Unit, but was later transferred to the Curriculum Development Unit under the supervision of a schools broadcast officer. The printed materials developed to accompany the radio broadcasts were considered valuable support materials since textbooks and resource materials were scarce in many schools. As a result, the printed materials were used more than the radio broadcasts (Richards 1988). The availability of radios and timetable conflicts was cited as the major reasons why the broadcasts were not used. In 1989 an interactive radio course in English as a second language was piloted using a sample of 240 infant school children from six schools. An evaluation of the program revealed that it was worthwhile but required the recruiting of more experienced personnel to supervise and assist in its administration. A proposal to extend the project was developed by the unit, however that and other broadcast activities went dormant in 1992 when the schools broadcast officer left to take up another appointment. This highlights the need to ensure that expertise in the management or implementation of a project does not rest in one individual.

Although not a formal part of the education system, preschool education also received some attention during the period. In the 1950s, many denominational preschools established kindergarten classes. However, these attempts were stifled by the Educational Ordinance of 1962 when it reinforced that compulsory school age should be 5 to 14, “and the Department of Education emphasized that provision for teachers salaries did not include kindergarten or nursery schools.”2

During the early 1970s there was a proliferation of private and community preschools many of them receiving support through UNICEF, many operating on the philosophy of offering care and a safe environment for children of working mothers. As time passed, however, these centers have come under increased pressure (mostly because of parents and some teachers’ expectations) to gear the curriculum towards early literacy and numeracy. The fact that many preschools were being established demonstrated the need for a policy regarding the curricula and management. However, there is notable omission of any policy regarding preschools prior to 1979.

Formal action or policies came in 1979 with the establishment of a Preschool Unit that received support from the Ministry of Education and UNICEF. The 1980-83 Development Plan promised to “implement a national program to improve and regulate preschools and to organize and implement the training of teachers for preschools.” This plan was effected with the appointment in 1980 of a coordinator with primary responsibility to conduct training for teachers mainly through workshops and to develop materials for preschools across the country. However, formal training of teachers continues to be an issue since the government does not have control over the employment of teachers for preschools.

Numerous documents point to the recognition by government of the value of preschool education since the 1980s. However, government acknowledged that it was unable to bring preschool education into the formal system of education. Nonetheless, attempts have been made to increase the level of access of preschool education with the establishment of preschool centers in many rural areas and with government providing financial support to many. The latest available statistics show an increase in the number of preschools from 26 in 1979 to 88 in 1996. These centers provide spaces for 3,306 children of preschool age (Education Statistical Digest 1996-97).

In response to the call for a more diversified curriculum at the secondary level (1964-70 Development Plan), a number of schools with vocational/technical or agricultural bias were established. Two Junior Secondary schools were established in Belize City between 1969 and 1972. These were three-year institutions with strong focus on the crafts. Students who wanted to pursue an education beyond this level went on to Belize Technical College for an additional two years where they followed a vocational/technical, secretarial or academic tract. Those who opted for the academic tract followed CSEC syllabuses.

Others schools which were established in the next two decades kept the vocational/technical bias but were mainly four-year institutions in rural areas. Because these schools are fully funded by government, the expense to parents is significantly reduced so many parents who cannot not afford denominational secondary schooling opt to send their children to these schools.

Post-Independence Belize 1981- Present

During the 1970s, Belize enjoyed fairly rapid economic growth. In 1975, the surplus in the fiscal budget was said to be as much as 25% of recurrent revenue (Development Plan 1985-89). Up to 1980, Belize enjoyed the position of having no significant dept burden with most of the external aid received coming in the form of grants and loans on extremely low terms. In the Development Plan 1980-83, the PUP government outlined its major objectives for education. The plan cited the rapid growth of the primary age population, the high drop out rate, poor student performance, the academic orientation of the curriculum at the primary and secondary levels, and the high number of unqualified teachers in the system as some areas of constraint to the development of education. In the education plan, the government promised to introduce a new curriculum that was more relevant to the Belizean society. The government also promised to construct more secondary schools with an orientation towards agriculture and vocational technical training, the production of local textbooks, expansion of the facilities at the teachers college, and the revision of the training curriculum.

By 1981, just after independence, the economy began to stagnate and Belizeans began to experience the true meaning of the term independence. The rate of borrowing increased and debt servicing began to rise. Preferential export market of the 1970s began to decline. The crisis resulted in unemployment and so most of the plans could not be fulfilled within the government’s term of office.

The steady influx of refugees who were fleeing unrest in neighboring Central American countries escalated the economic difficulties of the time. The increase in “aliens” began to create problems for the entire social fabric, including education. New settlements with predominantly refugee populations began to form. New schools were established and others had to be expanded to accommodate the increase in enrollment. Teachers had to cope with teaching children whose first language was not English and many who had little or no formal education.

In 1984, three years after independence, the UDP won the general elections on a campaign which focused on the state of the economy and several social and other ideological issues. This was the first time an opposition party was to take control of the government. Because of the economic conditions of the country, the UDP government began their first term of office with serious belt tightening. The Development Plan for 1985-89 promised a period of “sowing rather than reaping.” The Plan set out goals to satisfy the basic needs for food, education, health, and housing; for sustained economic growth and for nation building and social development. The following areas were to be emphasized:

  • Pre-school education with emphasis on the establishment of community preschool centers and the provision of guidelines to regulate these;
  • Primary school education with emphasis on providing quality education for all children within the statutory school age.
  • Technical, vocational, and agricultural training at the post-primary and higher levels of the formal school system;
  • Training for employment program embracing all levels of education;
  • Physical education as part of the primary and secondary curriculum;
  • Textbook program to ensure that textbooks are relevant and are at reasonable costs to schools and school children;
  • Restructuring the administration and management of the educational system;
  • Development of a policy for non formal education
  • Teacher education: to give attention to teachers as the foundation of the educational system especially with regard to their working and living conditions and to the caliber and orientation of the teacher education program.
  • Tertiary education to continue to develop of BELCAST (The Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology) as the leading post-secondary educational institution and to enable it to assume an increasingly important role in the education system.

One of the most dramatic moves of this new administration was the dismantling of the Belize College of Arts Science and Technology (BELCAST) in 1986. Established in 1979, BELCAST offered courses in certain technological fields to meet the demands for skilled workers who would become equipped with more advanced knowledge and skills than the program that the sixth forms were offering (Bennett 1990). The strategy was to amalgamate all existing post secondary institutions under the one body. This strategy was at the core of the problems BELCAST later faced. According to the New Belize,3 “BELCAST’s monopoly was not in keeping with government’s declared aim of setting a new and free course in its educational policy.” Government felt that some secondary school graduates should have a choice when pursuing further education locally. The article went on to say that “bringing all tertiary level institutions under one umbrella would not only lessen choices but could effectively strangle competition among those institutions, and that the traditional role of the church in education in Belize was being down-played by BELCAST.”

This move came as a surprise to many, however, it was to pave the way for the development of Belize’s first university, making a university education more accessible to Belizeans. The University College of Belize was established shortly after BELCAST was dismantled in 1986. As with BELCAST, the new university was located on the campus of the Teachers College until 1989 when it moved to its present location. The university has since expanded to offer several undergraduate programs and to collaborate with some US institutions in offering graduate courses through summer studies. UCB now has a central campus as well as a campus in the south and west.

The speed with which the institutions are being formed raises the issue of sound planning and quality of output. In his presentation on higher education, Bennett (1990) pointed to the “lack of skillful planning” as one of the major shortcomings of the efforts to develop quality institution of higher education in Belize. In support of this view he quoted the then President of the university as saying that “for most fledgling universities, there is a charter, then a council, then a campus, then an operating university. We had an operating university first, then a couple months ago a charter; today our council has its historic first sitting and later this month we move to our new campus.”4  This conclusion was again drawn by the task force which conducted a study of ATLIB institutions in 1994. The report concluded that “most schools are not yet engaged in long term planning. The necessary link between the school’s mission statements, its goals and objectives, its programs of activities, and evaluations are generally conceived on a year to year basis.”5 While the establishment of the university has created access to further education for many students, it needs to keep the quality of education students are receiving at the top of its agenda.

In 1988-89, after it had brought some economic stability to the country, the government began to work on the development of plans and projects to address some of the issues identified in the UNESCO Mission Report of 1983 and Education Sector survey of 1989, and to negotiate funding for these.

In 1989, political control shifted back to the PUP. The dialogue with funding agencies continued, and in 1991 the government successfully negotiated funding for a BZE $25 million project through a loan from the World Bank and a grant from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), now known as DFID. The Belize Primary Education Development Project (BPED) was implemented in 1992. The elements of this project and some early evaluation of its impact will be discussed later in this paper.

In an early election call in 1993, only three years after the PUP came into power, control again shifted this time to a UDP/NABR coalition. The UDP/NABR campaigned on a “Free Education” platform. The Free Education Manifesto promise turned to “Free Tuition” within a few months with the government paying the tuition for secondary school students and students in the second year of Sixth Forms and Junior colleges. This “Free Education” policy was a radical reform initiative, but its implementation did not succeed in providing the financial relief parents expected. Many interpreted the free education as free tuition, textbooks, and other financial aid. However, when the policy was implemented, many schools that were hard pressed to finance curriculum innovations and cope with the increase in teacher salaries among other things, took this opportunity to increase other fees. The electorate hardly felt the impact of this free education manifesto promise so the policy did not receive popular support. It was not surprising then that on August 27, 1998 power again shifted to the PUP.

In the seventeen years after independence, the two major political parties have each served two terms in office, However, there have been no significant new directions in their plans and policies. Each seems to have continued the work the other started adding only those elements necessary to fulfill campaign promises. Throughout the two decades a call for reform of the curriculum, for improving the quality of teaching and teacher education and for the provision of affordable and relevant textbooks resounded, especially in preschool, primary, and vocational/technical education. It came as no surprise that the BPED Project, the most significant initiative of the era, included reform in curriculum, teacher education, planning and management of the teaching and learning environment, and making textbooks more affordable. The Free Education Policy can be considered another significant reform initiative of the era. However, its success is limited because of the implementation strategy. If it was carefully thought through, it could have had a more significant impact and would have expanded access to secondary schooling.

The BPED Project 1992-1998

The BPED Project was launched in 1992. It supported the government”s development plan of 1992-97 that aimed to:

improve the quality of instructional inputs in primary schools and increase student educational achievement levels by pursuing the following objectives: (a) introducing a new system for the training for primary school teachers in order to improve the quality and relevance of teacher training; (b) increasing the number of teachers with professional certification; (c) improving the quality, availability, and efficient use of educational facilities and resources for both teaching and learning; and (d) strengthening the planning and management of education to enable the government to develop policies and implement programs to improve the cost effectiveness of the expenditure on education.6

The project is divided into three major components: Teacher Education; Education Development, which includes curriculum development, assessment, and evaluation; and Planning and Management, which also includes school facilities improvement (SFIP).

The Teacher Education Component

Any attempt to reform the education system without reforming teacher education or without the involvement of teachers is bound for failure. This was demonstrated with the REAP project in the 1970s and 1980s. As Torres (1996, 447) pointed out “ teacher education reform is a sine quo non condition for educational reform and vice versa.” The inclusion of reform to teacher education in a project that proposed curriculum reform was therefore a move in the right direction.

The proposal for changes to the primary teacher education system is considered a major initiative since past attempts at increasing the number of trained teachers in the system and improving the quality of teaching have met with limited success. Statistical records show a slow rate of increase of trained teachers in the schools: 14% in 1962, 29% in 1974, 44 % in 1984, and 45% at the start of the project in 1992. There were also growing criticisms of the quality of instruction in the primary schools and the quality of instruction at the training college.

The BPED project proposed a new system which it hoped will (a) increase the number of professionally trained teachers in the system; (b) enhance the relevance and the quality of teacher training; (c) provide adequate salary incentives for teachers who successfully complete training; (d) improve efficiency in the training of teachers; and (e) train principals to provide instructional leadership at the school level.7 This proposal called for major reform in teacher education in Belize that touched not only the training procedure but also the content of the program and methods of teaching at the college. It also called for strengthening the management function of the college through reorganization of the administrative structure and through training, and for expanding the college’s facilities to accommodate a resource center and additional library holdings.

i. Reforming the System of Training

With the implementation of the BPED Project, the 2+1 Certificate program (that was offered since 1954) was phased out and the new “Certificate Program with School Experience” introduced. The major change came with the splitting of the training program into two levels of training (Level 1 and Level 2) that could be pursued through the Full Time or Part Time routes. In the Full Time route, students complete the Level 1 program in one full year (two 15-week semesters and a six-week summer). This is followed by 15 weeks of supervised student teaching in classrooms across the country. After successful completion of the Level 1 program and a minimum of one year of service in the school system, teachers can return for the second level of training ( Level 2) which is another full year of studies on campus. Teachers who complete the Level 2 program are awarded a certificate from the Joint Board of Teacher Education—the accrediting body for the college’s programs.

At least four reasons can be proffered for implementing the period of service between the two levels: students would get a chance to decide whether they want to stay in the profession; managers could use that time to determine the suitability of the individual for teaching; more teachers with at least basic training would be in the classroom; and the increase in the government salaries budget would be gradual.

One of the most significant reform strategies in the teacher education component was the implementation of a part-time training program for initial training of teachers. Instead of pursuing one year of full-time training at the college, teachers could opt to remain in their districts and pursue the Level 1 program through the part-time studies. There are four elements in the program: (a) self study using the distance learning materials developed by the college; (b) monthly supervisory visits; (c) monthly workshops at the regional resource centers; and (d) annual summer sessions. Immediately after completing this program, teachers can proceed to the next level, which is one year of full-time studies at the central campus of the college.

The Part-Time program was launched in August of 1994 with 70 teachers registered from the three districts in the initial phase: Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Four teachers dropped out for various reasons leaving 66 who completed the two and a half-year cycle of the program. Of that, 45 or 68% of them have completed the Level 1 program and have gone on to pursue the Level 2 program. In 1996, the Ministry of Education made a decision to temporarily suspend the Level 1 full-time program and all teachers since that time are required to follow the part- time route. Many teachers were skeptical of the program because of their unfamiliarity with distance learning methodologies. However, as Nielsen and Totto (1991, 3) pointed out, “face to face and distance learning are not opposing categories.” In fact, the most effective form of Distance Education for Teacher Training appears to be that which is ‘not too distant’, combining self instruction with school-based group interaction.”

The continuous supervision of teachers while they pursue their courses is a strength of the program since teachers are able to implement strategies immediately and supervisors are able to determine whether there are observable improvement in classroom teaching and management strategies. The program also provides an alternate route to training for many teachers in remote rural villages who find it difficult to pursue the full-time program in Belize City away from their families. It has also provided financial savings for the government since there is no cost for the replacement of a teacher in training. This program should also help to significantly reduce the imbalance in the percentage of trained teachers in rural and urban areas. The 1991-92 figures showed 62% of teachers trained in the Belize District with a significant fall to 40% in the Cayo and Stann Creek Districts, and 28% in the Toledo District. It should also help to reduce the urban/rural differences noted in the 1991 population census, which quotes 21.6% of the urban population having reached a secondary level of education as against 6.5% of the rural population. Since the implementation of the project in 1992, the teacher education component of the project has met or surpassed several of the targets set. Just under a thousand teachers have been admitted to the Level 1 Full-time or Part-time programs. About one third of these have moved on to pursue the Level 2 program. Currently, 345 are enrolled in the Part-time program (cohorts from admission in 1996, 1997 and 1998). The 1996 cohort of approximately 135 teachers will be completing the cycle of training in December 1998.  The government has kept its promise of providing salary incentives to the teachers by elevating the teachers who complete the program to a new salary scale. Supervision of teachers is a vital component of the part-time program so the government made a significant move when it increased the travel and subsistence allocation by over 300% in the 1996 recurrent budget. This level of input has been maintained since.

Approximately 700 teachers were targeted for training by the end of the project. To date, 970 have been admitted into the Level 1 program, 431 have completed all requirements for the Level 1 certificate, and 345 are currently registered in the Part-time program. However, the official statistics as stated in the Education Statistical Digest 1996-97 shows only 146 teachers in the category “Trained Level 1.” Assuming that some have gone on to Level 2 and are factored into the category of “fully trained,” a significant number of teachers trained to Level 1 are still unaccounted for. The number unaccounted seems to be too much to account for attrition from the teaching force. Further investigation will have to be carried out to determine if the projected target of 80% trained teachers by end of project has been met and the reason/s if it was not.

ii. Providing Training for Principals

One of the other significant issues raised in the reports from which the (BPED) project was formed, was the training for principals in leadership and management. Many principals were mere paper shufflers in their schools. Little if any supervision of teachers was done and many schools became stagnant because no leadership was provided. The college was charged with the responsibility to develop and implement a training program for principals and prospective principals. The program included a self study component in which principals were required to study from seven modules in a series titled “Better Schools: Resource Materials for School Heads,” attendance at monthly workshops, and monthly supervisory visits to their schools. In the early stages of the development of the program it was decided that the focus should be on helping principals to develop practical skills in leadership and management. No final examination was required, but principals had to prepare a school development plan and implement aspects of it over the course of the year. They also had to maintain a portfolio in which they recorded their proposals, plans, reflections, and achievements. Evaluation was based on their progress and success in plans implemented. A final exit interview was held with representation from the Ministry of Education and the coordinator of the program and the supervisor of the teacher.

In an Output to Purpose review of the project contracted by DFID, Paul and Aitkin (1998, 9) noted that “the principals training program has been very successful to date, with principals implementing managerial practices in their schools resulting in improved leadership [and] better staff relationship....” They also noted that “in terms of impact on classrooms and children’s learning, the major effects have been through teacher and principals training.”

Education Development

The primary school curriculum guides that were in use prior to the launch of the BPED Project were developed in the 1970s. Although they were revised several times over the years, it was generally felt that they were not relevant in content and were not up-to-date teaching/learning strategies. Because it was felt that the guides did not adequately cover the subject area discipline, teachers resorted to books instead of the guides for planning and instruction. The use of the guides as part of the teacher-training program was minimal so many teachers left the training college not knowing how to use them. There was also the felt need to expand the curriculum to include agriculture education, environmental studies, health education, information technology and creative arts, and to make the curriculum more socially relevant.

The links that should have existed between the curriculum and assessment practices were weak, resulting in the curriculum often being driven by the results of assessment. Almost all tests developed were summative assessment of student’s performance, with the results used for scholarship awards, certification, and admission to secondary school and for job placement. In addition the system did not have the capacity for diagnostic testing to inform the teaching/learning activity.

The issue of the availability and appropriateness of textbooks was another major concern. Many primary school pupils were without textbooks, and where these were available they were too expensive for parents to purchase. In an effort to deal with the above problems the Education Development Component of BPED project therefore sought to:

  • prepare a curriculum policy for the primary school... guide the preparation of curricula and the training of teachers in their use;
  • update the primary school curricula in the four core areas of mathematics, language arts, social studies, and science and to develop guides or schemes for all grade levels as well as for multi-grade classes;
  • produce and disseminate revised teaching guides and instructional materials as well as socially/culturally relevant TESL readers and other materials not available for purchase;
  • help prepare and conduct pre- and in-service training courses for teachers, principals, and education officers to ensure that the curriculum and learning materials were appropriately used in the school ; and
  • develop a language arts program for teaching English and other subjects to students who learn English as a second language ( SAR Report 9845-Bel, 14-15).

The Curriculum Unit received technical assistance to revise the curriculum guides and to develop materials for teaching the ESL. Assistance was also to be provided in textbook writing, design, and printing for locally produced learning materials. Plans also included a textbook loan scheme to ensure that a textbook is available to primary school pupils in the ratio of one textbook for every two pupils. Assistance to the CDU to develop their printing capacity was also included in the plans.

The Education Development Center was established as an overarching agency that housed the Curriculum Development Unit, the Materials Production unit, and the newly established Assessment and Evaluation unit. This move was intended to forge closer links among curriculum, assessment, and materials production. Under this new arrangement, provision was made to develop the capacity of the Assessment and Evaluation unit to provide diagnostic information for teachers and evaluative information concerning the effectiveness of the school curriculum. One activity under the project was the development of the Belize Junior Achievement Test (BJAT) an interim test that would serve as an indicator of school performance, and the revision of the Belize National Selection Examination ( BNSE) taken at the end of primary school.

Three years into the project, a mid-term review team pointed to the inadequacy of this approach to revising the curriculum guides. It also pointed to the need for the development of a national comprehensive curriculum as well as the need to catch up with other developments in the project—in particular teacher education. Such an undertaking would prove to be costly and labor and time intensive. With the new thrust, the curriculum reform project is in its first stages of development. The framework for the National Curriculum and the draft of the Lower Division syllabus has been developed. Piloting will take place beginning in the 1998-1999 school year. Now that the project is in its final stages, there is no longer time nor funding to do more than begin to develop the first level of the curriculum and to prepare the way for the development of the middle and higher levels. Future funding would have to be sought for the completion of this reform process.

Planning and Management

As a developing country with scarce resources, it is imperative that Belize make rational decisions to bring about sustainable growth and development, to maximize financial and human resources, and to make education more responsive to the development needs of the country. This unit was responsible for collecting and generating statistical information on all important aspects of the educational service and to manage it so that it can be easily accessed and used to inform policy decisions and planning. The main objective under this component of the BPED was to strengthen the unit. The main tasks were:

  • to develop the ministry’s Management Information System
  • to conduct school mapping surveys
  • to conduct special studies to inform MoE Policy and Programs.

The school mapping survey and several studies have been done during the project period. However, there has been no action on the findings of these reports. Plans are now underway to restructure the Ministry to facilitate a management approach to the development of education. It is hoped that with the new structure, the relevant service areas will use the information provided to inform decision making.

A program for renovation, construction or expansion of primary schools has almost been completed under the project. Some schools have been amalgamated with one significant case of amalgamation turning two schools from a denominational management to one that is community managed. In an effort to decentralize the management of education, Regional Education Offices have been established in four districts with plans underway for the establishment of a fifth. District management councils have been established to ensure greater parent and community involvement in the management of schools.

In February 1998, DFID conducted an Output to Purpose review of the areas of the project in which it had input, and the World Bank has conducted several supervision missions to evaluate the progress of the project. All indications are that the project has brought about marked improvement to the areas of education that it addressed. A final evaluation of the impact of the project should provide some interesting results. In the meantime, the reports of the PIC (Project Implementation Committee) meetings could shed some light on some of the successes and problems faced during the implementation process.

One significant strength of the PED Project and a difference in its development from others in the past is the involvement of key persons at the development and implementation levels. The project planners ensured their involvement early in the development stage through their participation on the various task forces that prepared working documents for the project. This is an important factor to be considered since it brings ownership and commitment to the project and determines the level of success at the implementation level. Each head of the various components now sits on (PIC) which meets quarterly to discuss successes, problems, and projections.

During the project period, each component was faced with challenges that resulted from personnel changes, changes in project management, and changes in the implementation schedule which resulted from overzealous planning, low level of coordination between the components, (many activities overlap and at times conflicting plans were developed), slow response to request for support materials (resulting from financial constraints), and lack of clearly established and documented policies in project management. Scarce financial resources were at the core of many of the above problems. The economic conditions over the period of the project also prohibited the level of spending that was anticipated in the planning of the project and activities that should eventually be financed under the recurrent budget and have had to be reduced. The expected rate of return for a project with this magnitude of financial input (25M BZE) is high and many have high expectations for its impact on the system. The success will be measured by observable changes in the system after project funds dry up and by activities that become ongoing programs in the system. This will happen only if greater efforts are made to ensure that activities, which should eventually become a part of recurrent expenditures, are gradually included in the annual budgets.


In the past four decades, Belize has seen many attempts at reform in education, many with the potential to effect significant changes in the system. The most significant attempts at reform and the most successful in implementation came in the 1990s. With a new government in power ready to implement its policies, projects, and strategies to satisfy Manifesto promises and to prepare the citizenship for the new millenium, the country can look to more attempts at education reform. The education sector looks forward to the fulfillment of the promise to “equipping every school and library with a computer.”8

* Cynthia Thompson is currently Principal of the Belize Teachers College in Belize City. She is also the Director of the Teacher Education Component of the Government of Belize/World Bank Primary Education Development Project, which is designed to reform primary education in Belize. In this capacity, and also in her post, she is intimately involved in both the planning and execution of the educational reforms in Belize.



1. Quotation taken from a publication by the MOE Preschool Unit entitled “Our Future Begins with a Child’s Imagination.”

2. World Bank Staff Appraisal Report  9845- Bel pg. iv.

3. World Bank Staff Appraisal Report  9845- Bel pg. 10-11.

4. Analysis of the BNSE (1994)  and CXC exams 1993- Reports from the EDC.

5. 1991-92 Statistics Digest shows that out of a total of 24 secondary schools in the urban areas, 11 were government or community schools. Of the 7 schools in the rural areas, 4 were government run.

6. The 1991-92 Education Statistics Digest reported a figure of 35% graduates with professional training.

7. The New Belize is a government publication. The May 1986 publication carried a cover story on the dismantling of BELCAST.

8. Taken from a report entitled “A Brief Description of Tertiary Level Institutions in Belize, 1994.” An ATLIB/NCE study.



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