Belize spends not a small amount of money (6.6% of its GDP, same rate as, for example, Belgium), to improve the education, but still the results are weak. More and more children are outside of schools or forced to work. Even those who go to school sometimes drop out as a result of low attendance to class and so impossibility to follow the program. Not ot mention the economical issues related to the school fees, because the basic education (primary & secondary) is not completely free.
After the six months I passed in Blue Creek village in Toledo District (Belize), in direct contact with children, parents, teachers and villagers, it was clear that there was an obvious link between the lack of education and the poverty they were submitted to.
The problem of child labor is still not solved. Statistics reveal that 40% of the children between 5 and 14 years old are working, instead of going to school.
One of the answers I heard during the different investigations in the community was that people on purpose make big families with many kids in order to get helped in the future, as a workforce. Then, because some parents have the feeling that sending kids to school is only a waste of time, they see no job opportunities for their kids even though education is essential to generate development.
Another basic reason is that, as the children, the parents did it too in the past, and for them it is normal that the children work.
It is true that those kids are not employed at a 100%, they still attend school, which is why it is really hard to monitor such activity. They are “offered” seasonal jobs or they work for the household but still are not going to class regularly enough to graduate.
The lack of attendance is one of the main causes of dropping out of school. As soon as the children turn 14 years old, school is no more mandatory so their parents don’t feel the need to continue to “spend” money on their children for their “brighter future”. Another important fact is that children in rural areas have particularly limited access to secondary education. In 2009, five in ten students living in urban areas were enrolled in secondary schools, while only three in ten residing in rural areas were attending school. The inequalities observed in the education outcomes in terms of lower attendance rates, completion rates and performance in rural areas are due, in part, to inequities and inefficiencies in the sector.
The cost of education is one of the main reasons linking poverty to the lack of education. As I mentioned before, primary and secondary schools are not completely free. There are important costs related to the fact the children must go to school (around BZ$ 20/ year for primary and BZ$ 200/year for secondary).
For example, the transport to go to school: expenses to travel to the institution, many kids go by foot. In addition annual fees are to pay to the schools in agreement with the Ministry of Education. Then different school fees such as the books, the materials to write on, the uniforms (obligatory) and the food. Some studies show that Toledo is one of the districts with the lowest level of household education expenditures: spending 7.5 % of their total spending to education (compare to 16,2% for Cayo district in the north). This is one of the main reasons why children stop before the end of the secondary school.
So you will understand the disaster they are facing when it comes to speak about expenses for the tertiary school. In average, by year, the amount of expenditure can reach BZ$ 4,600 (US$ 2,300) for a student between 18 and 23 years old.
Something that really impressed me is the fact that most of the girls attending secondary school had better grades than boys, but were not really looking forward to leave the village to get a job in town as many boys, but not only, did. While the boys are “out” trying to integrate the work market, girls stay at home, taking care of the family and the household, waiting to get a husband to perpetrate the same life as her mother. So I wonder, where is the change? Where is the emancipation due to the higher education?
So what is still to improve?
A bigger effort is to invest in the education system. In the countries surrounding Belize many programs are developed to improve the disadvantaged people’s conditions of life, most of all concerning the school education. For example the “Bolsa Familia” program in Brazil, which give a monthly aid, under certain conditions related to the children school attendance. They provide help even in health care for the children. This program has demonstrated good results on short and long term to fight poverty and improve people’s lives.
But in my opinion we must look in other directions too, if we want to improve the quality of the people’s lives. Poverty is not only an economical condition but also a state of mind. Programs at 360° are needed to provide them with skills in life, such as growing their own food and not being 100% dependent on the market; nutrition classes and health sessions to teach how to prevent simple diseases which can be deadly otherwise; provide knowledge about how to run small business for example; how to organize themselves into associations or cooperatives and get help from the government…
Many things are still to improve if we want to fight poverty and its consequences… What are we waiting for?