Girls' Education in Belize
In Belize, the gender gap between men and women has been prevalent and consistent. However, in 1990, a bill was signed into law prohibiting discrimination against women based on their gender. Since then, the country has promoted women’s rights and has specifically focused on girls’ education. There are three major ways the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee has promoted a better life and has improved girls’ education in Belize.

Increased Literacy a Result of Girls’ Education in Belize

More young women are literate than ever before, leading to a more balanced workforce. Literacy, a strong indicator of equality, has increased in younger women. When literacy increases, nationwide productivity is enhanced and the reduced gender imbalance allows for a more equitable work environment between the sexes. As such, women are being given a chance to obtain degrees and higher positions in the workforce.

Not only is it statistically proven that a nation’s economy benefits from girls’ education, the social impact of girls’ education in Belize allows for cohesive collaboration for well-being in Belize. A country such as Belize that is working towards progressive goals can only benefit from closing the gender gap between those in the workforce.

While the gender gap is not wholly solved by the presence of more young girls in school, there is a significant increase in women both in post-secondary education and in the workforce. There are discrepancies in pay, but the step of promoting literacy to young girls is an important step in building a stronger Belize.

Women Gaining Access to More Diverse Career Options

The more women there are attending schools, the more the gender-career divide disappears. Without initial education, there would not be a basis upon which to form the beginnings of a woman’s career. Historically, the church-state setup of the Belizean government has promoted that women, specifically women who do not conform to the ideal standards set by the church, should remain at home and fulfill tasks for the family rather than for the economy.

While there is no shame in a woman being at home for her family, the promotion of girls’ education in Belize is making that scenario just one option of many for women. In addition to the classic educational materials, women are now being given the option to study for previously male-dominated careers via hands-on skills in carpentry, mechanics and other areas. By addressing the traditions of separating men and women into categories of whom should perform what action in society, Belize is well on the way to developing a strong nation with a multifaceted and talented workforce.

Emphasis on Women’s Equality Reduces Domestic Violence

A focus on education promotes health and independence, which are important for a developing country. Historically, there has been a connection between women with lower education levels and higher levels of domestic violence experienced by those women. In promoting gender equality in schools for girls between ages three and five, a sense of pride, autonomy and strength develops.

In providing an alternative to learning domestic tasks, the Belizean government may begin to reduce the pressing issue of domestic violence. The efforts being made in Belize show that there will likely be more progress in a country that needs both men and women to contribute to its economic growth.

– Kayleigh Mattoon
Photo: Flickr

education in belizeIn developing countries, education is the most important sector for governments to direct resources to. In Belize, a Central American country south of Mexico, the education system has major ties to the British system. Belizeans lived under British rule until 1981, and as a result, the country often uses Britain as a model. Quality education in Belize is particularly important considering that almost two-thirds of Belizeans are under the age of 20, so the future of Belize rests on the shoulders of the young.

The education system in Belize can be divided into three parts: primary education, secondary education and tertiary education. Primary education is mandatory for children until they turn 14, and is free if the school is public. Parents face the possibility of fines if they do not send their child to primary school, but these fines are comparable to the fees associated with the “free” education. Some public schools are in bad neighborhoods and many parents cannot afford to buy their children uniforms or books, so a number of children still leave school to work before the age of 14. Secondary school takes about four years to complete on average and is similar to an American high school education. Universities comprise tertiary school.

While most young children are enrolled in primary school, many question the quality of education in Belize. Teachers are paid very little, and many of them are inadequately trained. In Belize, there is no official separation of church and state, so Christian churches have the largest influence on education in Belize. This results in uneven quality among educational facilities, as more money is poured into schools run by the Roman Catholic Church.

While the lack of a divide between church and state widens the gap between good schools and poor schools, the church has contributed a lot to improve education in Belize. A prime example of this trend can be observed at Unity Presbyterian School in Belize City.

This author had the opportunity to visit Belize City and converse with Pastor Ernest Betson, an ordained Creole minister. Betson founded a church in one of the poorest areas in Belize City in 2006, along with his wife Carolyn. They saw the lack of educational opportunities for children in the area and decided to build a school alongside the church in 2007.  At first, the school only offered preschool programs, but today it accommodates children through grade six.

With the help of the organizations Help Another National Develop Schools and Mission to the World, the school has improved immensely, and each year it educates hundreds of children who would otherwise not be in school. Unity Presbyterian School has a large playground, a computer lab and music programs, as well as classes for basic subjects. In an area affected by human trafficking and gang violence, the school has brought a lot of hope to the young people in the area. Unity Presbyterian School is particularly inspiring in that it serves as an excellent example of Belizeans helping improve the lives of other Belizeans with the help of foreign aid but not dependent on foreign intervention.

While there are still many obstacles for impoverished children seeking education in Belize, there are many organizations, religious and non-religious, seeking to bridge the gap. With people like Pastor Betson spearheading the campaign for better education in Belize, the country can expect to see more improvements in future years.

– Julia McCartney

Rise Up Belize! Advances Education in Belize
Rise Up Belize! is a nonprofit organization that promotes the educational development of Belizean children. Education in Belize is unique because all schools are tuition-based. Many children cannot afford to continue their education beyond the primary school level. Nearly 40 percent of the Central American country’s residents are under the age of 18. This places great importance on the education of its youngest citizens.

In 2014, 96.29 percent children of primary school age were enrolled in school. That same year, only 69.33 percent of students of secondary school age were enrolled. This drop of nearly 27 percent can be directly attributed to the fact that secondary school is not affordable for a significant number of families.

Joey Garcia is a writer who lives in Sacramento, California. She created Rise Up Belize! in 2004, after traveling to Belize City for a family funeral. Garcia was born in Belize and feels that the organization allows her to maintain a close relationship with her original homeland.

Each year, Rise Up Belize! selects ten high school girls from Sacramento to take part in an intensive leadership program. Over three to six months the students learn how to develop curricula, manage classrooms, raise funds and run a nonprofit organization. They also study cultural sensitivity and presentation skills.

After completing the leadership program, the girls travel to Belize where they run a week-long academic camp for fourth to sixth graders. The camp is free to attend and at the end of the week, each child leaves with a backpack filled with school supplies. Approximately 150 children attend Rise Up Belize! summer camps each year.

Rise Up Belize! also offers free professional development workshops for teachers. The three-day training program is run by Sacramento area teachers and psychotherapists who volunteer their time and expertise to help teachers in Belize hone their skills. More than 200 teachers in Belize have participated thus far.

Native Belizean students aged 13 to 16 who have completed primary school with a 2.5 GPA may apply for the Rise Up Belize! scholarship program.

Prospective recipients must have either attended a Rise Up Belize! summer camp or be recommended by a Rise Up Belize! staff member. The application process also requires students to write an essay that describes their dreams for themselves and for Belize. With so many young citizens, the future of the country certainly depends on the dreams of its students. Rise Up Belize! helps realize these ambitions by making secondary education in Belize accessible to more children.

Kate Tilton

Photo: Flickr