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Jan 28, 2004

Education Summit to be held in May

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The process known as education is never a static one. Even before a new Minister of Education was appointed earlier this month, a large-scale review of the nation’s education system was already underway. That stocktaking will come in the form of a special Education Summit later this year. Minister of Education Francis Fonseca says it will bring parents, teachers, students, church, and government officials to the table for a frank and open discussion on where education is and where it needs to go.

Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education

“The summit is aimed at tackling many issues. One of them, a priority issue for us is teacher education, for example teacher training, improving the quality of education. We’ve focused a lot over the last few years on expanding access to education, we now want to have a renewed emphasis on the quality of education, so that our children, when they are sitting in those classrooms, have access to a good, quality education. Teacher training is an important part of that quality education. But we also want to focus on adult and continuing education, which, literacy is an important part.”

“We were having meetings with representatives of all these different institutions. We were meeting with them one on one, and what we recognised was that many of these people were not talking to each other. And so we felt, it was very important to bring them together to share the concerns that each of them had and to try to work out and find some solutions to the challenges we face in education.”

Patrick Jones

“Are you in effect trying to chart a new direction for education in this country?”

Francis Fonseca

“Certainly. We think that reform is an ongoing process, and education reform is critical. And we have been doing a lot of that over the last few years, but we believe that it’s important for us to come together as a group and chart a new focus and chart a new course. But that course has to be one that’s determined by all of us; it can’t be determined by us sitting in Belmopan.”

But while the objective is to essentially revamp the entire education system, Fonseca says any new course must deliver value for money.

Francis Fonseca

“And we really don’t want a talk shop. What we want is an opportunity for us–not to talk about all the problems because we know the problems, but really to try and focus on the solutions, the ideas, concrete proposals for moving forward and then putting in place a mechanism to implement those solutions.”

Patrick Jones

“Your government is spending one hundred and twenty-seven million dollars on education this year, but what about the enabling environment? Children go to school hungry; they come home, they are hungry; they go to sleep, they are hungry. What about working on a solution to that problem?”

Francis Fonseca

“Well, that’s a problem that we’ve worked on for many years and obviously it is an ongoing challenge, like many things in education… But we recognise that there are still problems that exist in the system. And as you pointed out, one of them is the school-feeding program, the school nutrition program, which we’ve been working on and expanding. That was totally non-existent to a large extent before 1998. But it’s not something that we alone can solve at the Ministry of Education. And you do have a lot of people from the community, the business community, who have established alliances with schools to support those schools and we want to encourage more of that. We want to encourage more people in the community to get involved in the work of their schools.”

The education summit takes place in Belize City from May twenty-fourth to twenty-seventh. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Education, there are currently over seventy-seven thousand students in the school system, with sixty-two thousand of that number at the primary school level.

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