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Aug 9, 2021

High School Dropout Rate Rises Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

At least four government high schools in Belize City have seen sharp declines in the number of students enrolled at those secondary institutions.  Absenteeism has increased in schools such as Gwen Liz where the student population has dwindled over the past two years.  The Ministry of Education is aware of the situation and has put together a pilot project to address what Minister Francis Fonseca describes as an absolute crisis.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A new school year is set to commence later this month.  While some students are anxiously looking forward to returning to their classrooms, a number of young men will not be enrolling in the upcoming semester.  That’s because the dropout rate for male students, particularly those attending high school, has increased during the pandemic.  The issue is most pronounced on the south side of Belize City.


Francis Fonseca

Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education & Culture

“One of the most shocking and alarming things that we found when we came to the Ministry of Education was the state of education on the south side of Belize City.  It’s absolutely in crisis, absolute crisis.  I mean schools like Gwen Lizarraga High School which as on the rise, the enrolment had fallen from over five hundred students to now it’s bordering around two hundred students at Gwen Lizarraga High School.  That was a school on the rise.  Sadie Vernon High School, I mean, has around a hundred students.  Excelsior High School has forty students, forty students.  Maud Williams High School is facing similar challenges.”


The fact that many of these students do not have access to basic resources to satisfy the demands of academic life only exacerbates the dropout rate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  In rural communities, some children have opted for domestic or agricultural work.


Francis Fonseca

“They may not have access to digital devices so they are totally disengaged from education for the last year and a half, so they begin helping their family on the farm or helping in some other respect.  [They] get a little job to supplement the family income, maybe again, a family member has lost their job in tourism so the kids now supplement that income by selling and that’s the challenge.  Will those children return to the classroom.”


The percentage of students who do not graduate is alarming.  The Ministry of Education, in acknowledging the critical state of education on the south side of Belize, is committed to turning the situation around.


Francis Fonseca

“We have made this a priority.  We have put together a pilot project to tackle the challenges facing our students on the south side of Belize City, particularly at those four government high schools.”


Dian Maheia

Dian Maheia, C.E.O., Ministry of Education & Culture

“This is really where we need to depend on all the partners in this.  This is why we need to focus energy on the teachers so that we help the teachers to be able to help the students.  This is why we want to be able to make sure that even if it is in some limited capacity that students can return to face-to-face instruction because we know that if the support is not available at home, at least we can have support for them available at school.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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