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Education and Schools

Belize - Education and Schools


It is compulsory in Belize for young people to receive an education between the ages of six and 14, and parents can be fined if their children do not attend school. In reality, there is a high dropout from education, especially from children living in certain areas and within certain social groups. This is despite the widely available range of schools which are free for children and teenagers in Belize.

More than a third of the population of this country lives in real poverty. Families can struggle to pay for uniform, books and other incidental school costs, meaning that teenagers who work can make a small but significant difference to their household income.

Just over 35 percent of the total population of Belize is aged 14 and under. So despite the small population of the country and the high dropout rate from education, there are more than 90,000 students enrolled with schools and colleges in Belize.

Schools normally enforce a school uniform policy. This is taken from the English tradition, which has been maintained in the 21st century UK education system to equalize the physical appearance of pupils regardless of their family’s wealth or poverty. The uniforms in Belize vary enormously, so you can readily identify the school the pupil attends.

The school year starts at the beginning of September and ends before the middle of June. Children will then be on holiday from mid-June until the end of August. There is also a long Christmas break from mid-December until the end of the first week in January, and a further two weeks for the Easter break.

From Monday to Thursday, many schools start at 8.30am and end at 3pm. Friday is often a shorter day, ending at lunchtime.

The adult literacy rate in Belize is thought to be less than 83 percent. The long holidays and short school hours may be of benefit for pupils whose parents can afford extra-curricular activity to develop other creative and sporting skills. For children growing up in poverty and in households of limited educational attainment, the long holidays may be disruptive to their learning and development.

State schools at both primary and high school level are run either by the government or by mainstream Christian religion. There are not many private schools in the country, but they do exist.

As in many other countries, state schools managed by religious institutions are a popular choice for parents in Belize. The Roman Catholic church has the strongest presence, but Methodists and Anglicans also run state schools.

Some schools still hold traditions taken from the English education system. Children will start the first form in primary school and stay there for eight years. They then attend high school for four years before they work their way through the sixth form.

Other schools reflect traditions from the US and Caribbean educational system. Children will start in Grade one, and move through to Grade 12. The sixth form is called junior college.

All children completing their primary school education will take exams. The results will determine which high schools they may attend. Some high schools follow a strongly academic program, whilst others deliver a curriculum based around vocational training. The prestigious St Catherine’s Academy for girls and St. John’s College for boys have extremely strict criteria which in practice restricts the social catchment of the schools.

There are a number of costs associated with high school, which families in poverty struggle to pay. As a result, at least 10 percent of young people in Belize will not attend high school at all, and more will drop out over the next four years.

Belize City holds the majority of high performing schools, perhaps reflecting the educational attainment and cultural values of the local population. It is also an area which attracts the best qualified teachers, and has sufficient funding to provide decent resources. The story is very different in Toledo, in the far southern area of Belize. There, lack of supplies combined with low levels of degree educated teachers and an impoverished local population means only half of the local children finish primary school.

The government is trying to raise the country’s educational standards with reforms which aim to improve teaching standards. From 2017, all teachers must have completed professional teacher training in order to obtain a teaching certificate. Roughly a third of working teachers had not received this level of training, so the reforms should lead to a dramatic improvement to education in the classroom. Even for teachers with the highest levels of training and experience, the salary is modest.

Corporal punishment was an acceptable practice in schools until 2010. It has now been outlawed, along with harassment and intimidation.

Parental interest and involvement may be an important part of successful education. Parents in Belize are given an opportunity to participate and contribute to some schools, and this is felt to have a significant impact. On the downside, some parents feel that the amount of time volunteering becomes more than they expected.

Private schools are present in Belize, though they are not great in number. To expats they are affordable, and there is some attempt by the government to fund places for the children most in need.

One of the most popular private schools is the Island Academy. Located on Ambergris Caye, this teaches children from grades one to eight. In Belize City, Belize Elementary School and Belize High School have very high reputations. The QSI International School of Belize was opened in Belmopan City in 2011. The QSI schools were originally opened for the children of expats, but are now also accessible to local families who are able to afford the fees.

A number of options exist for post high school education. The prestigious St John’s college in Belize City offers qualifications which allow students to later transfer into commonwealth universities or into the third year of a US bachelor’s degree program.

A number of community colleges are attached to secondary schools, offering a range of studies similar to a UK school sixth form. However, in addition to A-level studies, associate or two year college degrees are also available.

Junior colleges offer evening studies for adults as well as full time education to young adults.

Studies at the University of Belize are delivered through a number of educational institutions. The University of the West Indies also has a campus in Belize, as do some overseas medical schools.

An accredited private University, Galen University, has recently been opened in Cayo.


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