Senate Discusses Amendments to Educational Bill
In yesterday’s Senate sitting, the amendments to the Educational and Training Bill was ventilated with almost all Senators loaned contributions to the changes. Senator for the private sector, Kevin Herrera, commended the amendment to increase the age of mandatory school enrolment. He did, however, cite the issue of having the necessary resources.
Kevin Herrera, Senator, Business Community: “I think this bill is an important step in the right direction. I completely believe that we should push to more and higher education. Our problem continues to be that people are dropping out of the education system much too early and certainly I believe that when that when we see that type of thing happening I think the state has a responsibility to act. Madam President I think while I think that it is a step in the right direction I still don’t think that we’re going far enough with respect to this very important issue of higher education and getting our students to stay in school longer. I think that we need to set targets. While we want to keep persons in school a little longer I’m still hoping to see targets such as at for example at year thirty that perhaps we could raise that statistics from 7.9% of college graduates in the population to perhaps 10% or 12% or whatever it is. Similarly for Highschool raising those rates. I think that if we set those targets then I think we can set up a whole program and identify the resources necessary to achieve those targets. I think that the longer we leave it hanging out there without specifically going after specifics in education I think that we will continue to lag behind our neighbors.”
Senator for the unions, Elena Smith, who is a former teacher, also weighed in on the amendments. Her contributions surrounds the matter of forcing students to remain in the traditional school system when they may have interest in vocational studies.
Elena Smith, Senator National Trade Union Congress: “These things do come with setbacks. As a teacher of 38 years, I understand and I have seen where we have students who remain in our primary school system, for example, for longer than they should. So if we have that the primary school age would be 14, at 14 the child, you know, we don’t have to keep the child in school anymore. We do have a few students who are older than 14 in the primary school system. These students are mostly students who are not particularly academically inclined. You know, they prefer to do other things. So they may be bright in other areas, but those areas we don’t cater for. And so while we focus more academics, these students remain in school and they get old in a class because they are not able to do the work, or some of them just don’t have interest they prefer to do other things and so they don’t put interest in the work and they remain in the school system for longer than the age that is given. With this bill, Madam President, we have to pay attention to what we are going to be putting in place for these students, for these children. And Senator Swazo raised these concerns because it has to do with resources. So if I want my students to remain in school up to the age of 16, I want them to have certain skills, or at least certain level of skills that they can function but I have these children who are not inclined to do math and language and these other subject areas where they prefer skills, they prefer trade where do we put them? Are we prepared, do we have the space, for example, at the ITVETs ? Do we have additional areas where these students can go into? Because it’s not just about having them in school to a certain age but it’s ensuring that they are not only performing in school but that what they are doing will be beneficial for them and we are providing that to them.”
Senator for the NGOs, Janelle Chanona shared her views on the Bill, citing the cost of education in the country, and what some students have resorted to do in order to afford tuition.
Janelle Chanona, Senator for NGO: “Resources are never enough and I think it’s been tradition that the education efforts in this country has always benefited from the greatest allocation from the national budget every year. But I will say that whatever resources we can allocate to education, to meaningful education directed to productivity, is money well spent. And I think that has been supported throughout. And I do want to acknowledge publicly the government’s call out to the international communities, to the IFI, that education is a priority for Belize and I know through the Millennium Challenge Corporation work and partnership that education will be a key priority that will get much needed comprehensive review and benefit. And I think that is to be credited. It should be. That is the priority and I know that every effort will be made there to make sure that those monies, that injection of capital will, as Senator Elena has put it, produce the dividends that the investment will allocate. But Madam President, I do want to share recently we’ve been involved in some parliamentary training sessions and it was called out to us that there are more than one, but one is enough, incidents that the authorities are aware of where particularly female students are being forced into situations in order to meet the price of their education. And when I say situations, these are high school students for various reasons being forced by family members to engage in sexual activity with grown men, adult men, in order to go to school, to meet the costs of school. And that is a steep price for education. It shows that the students want to go to school and are willing to pay those kinds of prices to go to school. And I think that is a sobering reality that over and beyond, as I said, every effort to make education as free as possible, there are still costs related to going to school that families are saying whether totally true or not, but that families are telling their children, I can’t afford to send all out to school, I can’t afford to send you to school, and in order to go to school, you have to go with Mr. So-and-so, and otherwise. So I do, we do want to call out that there are some realities around this, but again, I think it’s good conversation, it’s conversation that needs to be had, so that when we’re talking about education it is being in school, yes, but being in school in a way that you can associate positively.”
Again, the discussion on the Education and Training Bill was had yesterday in the Senate sitting.