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Deputy Chief Education Officer comments on the status of education in Belize

As has been announced by the Ministry of Education, schools are closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This means that teachers will have to seek ways to engage their students while they are at home.  Cecilia Ramirez-Smith the Deputy Chief Education Officer spoke on what has been planned for the various education levels

As has been announced by the Ministry of Education, schools are closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This means that teachers will have to seek ways to engage their students while they are at home.  Cecilia Ramirez-Smith the Deputy Chief Education Officer spoke on what has been planned for the various education levels.  For the pre and primary schools, the Ministry of Education is rolling out several programs to assist on this level.

Cecilia Ramirez-Smith, Deputy Chief Education Officer :“What we are trying to do is we’re going to use online resources, the main platform would be the Ministry of Education’s website and we are going to upload weekly lessons on that platform for students at the preprimary which is as we know it to be preschool as well as primary. The next thing we’re going to do is we’re going to reformat those same lessons in a package that will be compatible for radio broadcast so we are hoping to reach more students if we are able to produce the same set of instructional lessons to those that might be in rural areas for example that might not have easy access to internet or data and so they can listen in on the radio. It’s not going to be anything that will keep them around the computer or listening to the radio all day it’s really going to be short lessons, fifteen to twenty minutes per day per grade level and so all the students will need to do is pay attention to the broadcast schedule and tune in at that time and get the lessons for the day. Then there is one other group that we are going to try and reach the students that don’t have either access to data or to the radio we’re going to try and prepare some print resources. These print resources will be in line with what we are putting online and what we are broadcasting on the radio so the students only need to get access to those print resources and over the period of a week or two weeks they can work through the lessons in the print resources that will become available to them. That one we will have to work very closely with our partners all over the country to make sure that we are able to get those print resources to people who really need the print resources because those that have access to the online instructional guide they wouldn’t perhaps need to also get the print resources. We are not going to print for every single Belizean child, we’re only going to print a percentage of booklets that we think we need and so we’re asking persons to help us make sure that the students who really need the print resources are the ones who actually get the print resources. That will be the case for pre school and primary school.”

Secondary school teachers are not as fortunate as the teachers at the lower levels as they will have to come up with their own material for their students.  Smith explained that it is important that teachers not issue projects to students during this time.

Cecilia Ramirez-Smith, Deputy Chief Education Officer: “In the case of secondary the development work is a little bit more decentralized in that the  schools are actually working on their continuity plan that will help them to continue to engage their students because as you are aware programs at secondary vary from school to school and so each individual school is tasked to put their plans in place and using the same framework. You have some students with high access to technology, you have some with little access to technology and you have some with no access to technology so the school has to also take that into consideration so that they’re able to reach all their students at the secondary level.”

Smith went on to say that the main concern is not to accumulate grades but to keep them engaged through any available means.

Cecilia Ramirez-Smith, Deputy Chief Education Officer: “We do want to keep them engaged but we are not concerned about making sure that they get a particular grade on a particular subject at this time and so what we want teachers to understand, school leaders and teachers to understand at these levels the pre primary and primary level is that what you can do at this time is you can make sure that you are in touch with your students, you can try to through whatever means necessary I know it’s difficult especially for students that are in remote areas and without access to communication and that type of thing but to the extent that you can remain engaged with them encourage them to access the lessons that the ministry has made available to them and if you have any other material that you would like them to focus on that reinforces certain skills that you have already taught that helps them to think a little bit more, that challenges them a little bit more that you would want them to practice and try out then feel free to share that with then. Certainly at those two levels the intention is not to engage them in any kind of structured formal way so that they have to remain in front of a computer or behind some books or papers for an extended period of time. One of the things we don’t want to hear at these two levels is students working on major projects. When classes were called off in March the ministry immediately opened up a hotline that would allow us to engage with the general population to find out how they’re doing and what challenges they’re facing and all with the intention of trying to work through this difficult time and many of the complaints that we received were for students at the primary level they had to engage in some elaborate type of projects, they had to build solar systems and none of that is necessary during this time. What we really want to do is to make sure that students continue to learn but that they can continue to learn in a fun way, an interactive way, a way that will appeal to their senses during this time because it is a difficult time.”

As it relates to the secondary classes, Smith says it is important to take into consideration the resources available to the students.

Cecilia Ramirez-Smith, Deputy Chief Education Officer: At the secondary level it’s going to be slightly different. We are dealing with adolescent learners there, they are a little bit older, a little bit more mature in most instances and so schools are expected to continue to engage them but while they engage them they also need to make sure that they too are flexible, that they too understand the difficult circumstances that students have to work in and so they need to make sure that if they’re going to check for learning, and I’ve very careful to say check for learning as opposed to assessment because assessment carries a more formal connotation where there’s a grade awarded. So while we want to encourage them to check for learning that they need to make sure they do so using flexible means. If I could make reference to the same hotline again one of the complaints that we got several times was that students had to log on and they had to complete certain tests, certain quizzes, certain assignments. We got complaints that they had to actually log on for the entire day, yes there were breaks in between but they were actually doing lessons the entire day that’s not what we are asking for. That’s not  the science behind distance learning and so schools need to be mindful of that. The circumstances now are more difficult than they were a month ago and so while we want to ensure that there is checking for understanding and there is checking for learning we want schools to understand that that should not be done using any kind of formal structured means. It should be done in a flexible way if it means that you give them an entire week to say ‘try to complete this task by next week Tuesday’ you know that type of thing to allow them sufficient time to get into the frame of mind to study and to do what it is you need them to do. So the variation has to happen because the group of learners that we are dealing with are at different levels.”