Belize Table of Contents

Belize's strategy for social development in the 1980s focused on increasing investments in formal education. On the surface, the achievements have been impressive; opportunities for all levels of schooling have greatly increased in the last thirty years. The number of schools grew, enrollment rates rose, and a record number of students graduated in 1990.

These statistics, however, provided only a partial picture. As in many other areas of the Caribbean, enrollments have lagged behind population growth since at least the early 1980s. Large numbers of the urban and rural poor continued to lack access to schooling or dropped out before completing their primary education. But even with high rates of attrition at the primary and secondary levels, the number of graduates exceeded the number of jobs, contributing to "credential inflation," underemployment, and emigration.

Most important, despite three decades of efforts to "decolonize" education, foreign influences in the structure and content of Belizean schooling remained significant during the 1980s. As in the colonial period, a joint partnership of church and state managed the school system, although the terms, nature, and balance of power within this partnership shifted significantly toward the national government, beginning in the 1960s. The Belizean state, however, continued to lack total control over all levels and aspects of schooling. Belize relied heavily on foreign institutions for maintenance and expansion of formal education. These institutions provided financing, staffing, curriculum, planning, and higher education.

The growth and transformation of Belizean education took place in a number of phases, each related to important changes within the political and economic history of the country. During the initial phase, between 1816 and 1892, the church-state partnership became institutionalized. Religious initiative and control, extremely limited state intervention, and vigorous competition of religious denominations for the allegiance of the inhabitants characterized this phase.

The intensification of denominational rivalry, the benign neglect of the colonial state, and the growing influence of United States Jesuit missionaries in education characterized the second phase lasted from 1893 to 1934. In 1934 the director of education in Jamaica made a thorough investigation of British Honduras's education system. Various reforms were proposed to increase spending on the school system and improve the standard of education. Implementation of many of these reforms began in the late 1930s.

During the next phase, from the late 1940s and early 1950s, the educational and social activities of the Jesuits influenced the rise of an anti-British, anticolonial nationalist movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jesuits led efforts to redress the elitist, urban-centered biases of postprimary education that perpetuated not only social inequality, but also the historical dominance of Belize City over its primarily rural hinterland. By the late 1950s, the Jesuits had emerged as the dominant influence at almost every level of formal education.

With the advent of a large degree of self-rule in 1964, the government began to assert its control over schooling. Formal control over education policy and planning passed from British-born clerics and colonial administrators to British-trained Belizeans. Actual education practice, however, changed very little; the religious denominations continued to determine the direction and pace of educational expansion. United States influence within Belizean schools intensified, not only through the adoption of certain Jesuit practices for systemwide use, but also through the arrival of Peace Corps and other United States volunteer teachers and agencies such as CARE and the Michigan Partners.

As the demand for education outstripped the capacities of the churches--even the Jesuits--to provide it, interdenominational cooperation grew and the state assumed a more central role. By the 1970s, the Belizean government had assumed the leading role in establishing new schools, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels. The government conceived of education as an essential tool in the peaceful struggle for independence. But the expansion of educational opportunities outstripped the state's resources, leading to an intensified reliance on external aid. Since 1981, the United States has provided the bulk of this aid. This situation caused many Belizeans to fear the rise of a new form of imperialist control over the country.

Nowhere were fears of recolonization more realized than in higher education. In 1979 the ruling People's United Party (PUP) government established the Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology (Belcast) with the intention of breaking Belize's dependence on the outside world for university education. The PUP envisioned Belcast as a government-run institution, with no participation from the church. Funding was secured from the European Economic Community for the construction of a campus in Belmopan.

The campus was never built because the PUP was swept out of office in a landslide victory for the rival United Democratic Party (UDP) in December 1984. The UDP revoked the Belcast ordinance and invited Ferris State College of Big Rapids, Michigan to establish and manage a new institution, the University College of Belize (UCB). Control over the UCB program rested not with Belizeans, but with the administration of Ferris State College. The birth of UCB embodied Belizean nationalists' worst fears: the country lost sovereignty over an institution that symbolized Belize's first major effort to break from the country's colonial past in the education sector. The intense controversy arose again in 1991 when it was discovered that Ferris State College had failed to obtain proper accreditation for the UCB program, thus placing into question the value of the degrees UCB had granted since 1987. Following this controversy, the new PUP government revoked its agreement with Ferris State and assumed full control over the institution.

School System
Patterns of Access and Performance

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress