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Oct 27, 2004

Experts: less Bzeans can read and write

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It’s one of those things that most of us might take for granted, our ability to read and write. Traditionally, Belize’s literacy rate has been high but now education experts say those numbers are falling. Determined to get back into good books, the Ministry of Education is launching a series of learning programmes in schools across the country. News 5′s Patrick Jones has more.

Patrick Jones

It?s called ?read to learn while learning to read.? This new approach to education is being piloted in the first three grades of the primary schools. Vice Principal of All Saints Primary Juanita Batun says it puts the children at the centre of their education.

Juanita Batun, Vice Principal, All Saints

?Zit?s the literacy programme, which involves the four main areas in Language Arts, namely the listening and viewing, speaking, reading and writing. And the literacy programme here at All Saints we try to connect. It is a whole language approach that we try to involve the children to be involved in all levels in the Language Arts.?

The programme is part of the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training and is currently being tested in six schools in the Belize district. And even with limited use, education managers are already impressed by what they are seeing.

Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education

?And even in the short time that this pilot project has been running I can see a tremendous improvement in their understanding and comprehension. So I believe it?s a very good project. We?ll assess the weaknesses and the strengths of the programme and at the end of the day I believe it will be a pilot project that we can carry out throughout the country and that?s the whole objective of it.?

Juanita Batun

?We have seen a lot of successes. One, the children are motivated to read. They come early to read, they have their shelves, they do the read aloud, they do the independent reading, they come early at school and they are eager, they are willing and they go all out for the time for that Language Arts.?

According to Minister of Education Francis Fonseca, while Belizean children are better off than their peers in the region, the rate of literacy in the country has fallen to an uncomfortable level.

Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education

?I would say today our literacy rate is definitely better than our neighbours but no where satisfactory. Its around, I would say around seventy, seventy-five percent our literacy rate. Which is still good comparable to our other neighbours. But we have a tremendous amount of work to do in that area. Because that, certainly literacy is the key to all other forms of learning. So we are very committed to doing that. That is one of the priorities of our ministry, focusing on reading, focusing on literacy, expanding that programme nationally.?

Fonseca says while such efforts will centre on the children, their teachers will also stay in the classroom.

Francis Fonseca

?But the key to improving the literacy rate is the teacher training. Really, at the end of the day that is the really the solution. Training our teachers, better preparing them, better equipping them with the tools, the knowledge, the information they need to be better teachers. Once we are able to do that, then we will see a significant improvement in our literacy rate. But we also have to tackle the literacy problem at the adult stage of life. And so we are aggressively pursuing an adult education programme.?

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

The CCETT Project is funded by USAID and will continue in Belize through 2006. Six pilot schools were chosen to take part, four in the city and two in rural areas.

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