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May 26, 2004

Who will pay for education?

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It was day two of the education summit and the focus shifted from guaranteeing access to financing investment. The keynote speaker, a former president of BELCAST and P.S. in the Ministry of Education, returned from his post in Washington for the occasion.

Dr. Santos Mahung, Dir. of Scholarships & Training, O.A.S.

“More schooling generally results in more learning. And in my mind, more learning is better than less learning.”

Patrick Jones, Reporting

His pointed and witty presentation opened the debate on investment in education. Director of Scholarships and Training at the Organization of American States, Dr. Santos Mahung, used his decades of experience in Belize’s education system to suggest that changes in education will come only if every man, woman, boy, and girl is willing to invest the necessary time and resources.

Dr. Santos Mahung

“There are no free lunches, and there are no quick fixes in education… Those engaged in the process of identifying external sources of funding in the magnitude required to achieve our stated and embraced objectives will tell you that the availability of grant funding or of loans at concessionary rates have dried up. And I am glad that they are shaking their heads, because I am now in very good company.”

So where will investments in education come from? Mahung says that while traditional funding sources, such as the United States and Europe, have more pressing international commitments, countries like Belize must become innovative in addressing change. While suggesting that we must look internally, Mahung cautioned that added taxation to fund education is not the way to go. And he is not alone in that line of thinking.

Professor Errol Miller, Jamaica

“But I would caution you that if you were to go into any taxation measures, two things would have to be required. And I?m just saying because I am here, I have said it against the governments in Jamaica, not one, because parties change governments and they still revel in the same thing even though as opposition they may oppose something. You would have to do two things: one, you have to put the discipline on the government that the law would have to be passed to index the amount being put now, and freeze it; that’s number one. And number two, that monies wouldn?t go into the consolidated fund. It would go into a special fund that would provide something extra to the system.”

With twenty-two percent of the national budget already committed to education, Mahung says that it is unreasonable to expect G.O.B. to reach further into the treasury; but that plugging gaps in the system will free up much needed resources.

Dr. Santos Mahung

“It stands to reason then that we must look within the system to generating efficiencies through better application and distribution of resources, and to use those efficiencies to finance the dramatic expansion of the system and the improvement of the quality which we have set as our objectives.”

Vidalia Cadogan, Principal of Holy Angel School in Pomona in the Stann Creek District, agrees that performance will improve, both for students and teachers, if the right resources are available. But more than that, attitudes need adjustment too.

Vidalia Cardona, Principal, Holy Angel Primary

“Teachers have a tendency to stick to one particular area of learning. For instance, in one particular class they don?t want to shift. The minute you try to put them in another classroom, let?s say move them from a lower division to a higher division, they themselves have deficiencies. They don’t want to move, they want to be able to stay in that particular area. And I think that teachers should be efficient, teachers realistically should be able to move from any division in the classroom, from middle, upper, lower, no matter where you put them. The effectiveness of their teaching will demonstrate that over a period of time.”

General Manager of Anglican Schools, Carol Babb, says the idea of decentralisation is a critical one if the system is to provide flexible solutions.

Carol Babb, General Manager, Anglican Schools

“We give our principals a lot of leverage to do as they see fit. We see our principals as leaders and not as mangers, so a lot depend on how proactive they are. Finding the problems and trying to find the best solutions to those problems, and whenever they are doing that we support them. We don?t do a lot of prescription as you said, and I don?t really micro-manage the schools. I go into the schools maybe three times a year, so a lot depends on the initiative of the principal, the kind of leader that principal is.”

Dr. Santos Mahung

“Would it not be more efficient, effective, and humane to maintain primary schools of six years in each village where feasible and then bus older children, and less fragile children to more central locations for middle or junior high schools, whatever you want to call them. Would this not allow for more sensitivity to maternal language and culture in the early years of education? Would this not allow us to better address the inefficiencies caused by attrition in the latter years of primary schooling? Would this not automatically extend, if we did a six plus three, the years of education for all?”

Carol Babb

“I think it needs collaboration. It needs all of us as educators to come together and not to think selfishly and to say I am for this school, but we need to think that we are here for the children of Belize regardless of their colour, race, or denomination.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

Tomorrow, the summit’s final day, author Zee Edgell will present the keynote address on the topic of quality and relevance in education.

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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