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May 18, 2017

Will Secondary School Textbooks Go Online?

Belize’s primary schools have, for the most part, standardized textbooks paid for by the Government of Belize. There have been few hiccups in distribution and management but no major complaints. The Ministry of Education has plans to do the same for secondary schools – but with a twist: these books would be on a digitized platform, eliminating the need for heavy paper-bound versions filling the schoolbag. Is it a pipe dream or closer to the future than one may think? Aaron Humes found out more at a forum on the topic in Belize City.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Minister of Education

“While it is for us an idea that we are looking at, we want you to see it first hand and we want you to be part of the decision-making process as we progress. The main reason I asked for this forum today is not because any decision has been made. We have invited you as stakeholders along with the players who have come so that we are able to explore together, because when we make this move, when we make this giant step, I want it to be a move that we make together.”

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Minister refers to the possible introduction of digital textbooks and an associated standardized curriculum for high schools. It was the subject of a forum at the Gateway Youth Center featuring top education practitioners at the secondary level and their Ministry counterparts, along with visiting Minister of Education from Antigua and Barbuda, Michael Browne, and proprietors of the system, Fortuna Pix. Browne outlined his reasons for moving his nation toward digitized textbooks.

 

Michael Browne

Michael Browne, Minister of Education, Antigua and Barbuda

“In us going toward a digital platform, our initial move and the initial purpose was one: every now and again, you see a child with a burden, like slavery days; and their bags are huge and weighing down on their backs and they are coming from far distances – that’s one. Number Two: the textbooks – in Antigua and Barbuda we have two or three warehouses of textbooks – outdated. And it is against my religion to burn books, so I have not given the Ministry permission to burn books because it is just unconscionable to burn books. There are some students that for the life of you – if they had an opportunity to read [from] a book, or to read from a device, they would read from a device. How do I know? I was one of those students.  I have one responsibility as the Minister of Education: to make sure that students who otherwise would have failed – not because sometimes people set out to make them fail, but because persons, adults, you and I, who have unrealized dreams may subconsciously put our unrealized dreams on [young] adults. And don’t feel bad: parents do it too. Mothers and fathers who wanted to, let’s say, be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer – because they did not get the opportunity, their child comes along and they say, ‘You take it easy – you go and work in the bank, it’s the safe job; try and get a nice Government job, it’s comfortable; become a teacher, you’re going to be alright – ‘Not really listening… What does your child want to do? What do your students want to do?”

 

The curriculum problem is one that Minister Faber says he wants to avoid at all costs.

 

Patrick Faber

“Many of our secondary schools operate on the basis of what has worked to help us pass the CSEC exams in the past years – that’s how we operate, right or wrong? So we try to use the CSEC syllabus and we try to plan our lessons according to that. And we use the textbooks that the region produces, or publishers from the region produce, and in fact that causes another problem, a problem that I want to make sure that we don’t have, as we move to institute electronic or digital textbooks in our system. That problem is that some believe that some other book that they are using or that the system would say that we should use. That is what I loved hearing immediately when I spoke to the Fortuna Pix people: they are saying, in order to do this at a reasonable cost and to make sure that it works, we have to do our own work.”

 

The digitized process will also help greater study of Belizean topics and issues from the Caste War to the gang culture on Southside. In the end, says Faber, he believes it will be all worth it.

 

Patrick Faber

“What better way than for us to now get together and decide on our own textbooks? And we want to make the information in those textbooks relevant to the Belizean setting – as much as we are Caribbean and we are from a region, there are some elements that must absolutely be Belizean. And where we can integrate issues – the issues that are facing us directly as Belize, we should try to create that content so that it is uploaded in the digital textbooks, so that our students can learn about what is going on locally, as much as what is going on in the region.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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