Gwen Lizarraga High School in Belize City has hosted an “evening division” for would-be students who are seeking higher education and skills. That program will be boosted by the launch of a technologically based “open school” that takes education beyond the walls of a standard academic institution. The high school teams up with the University of Belize, Ministry of Education and the Commonwealth of Learning, which works with Commonwealth countries to develop education. In this new program, says specialist trainer Frances Ferriera from Canada, who this week led workshops with Belizean stakeholders on the new concept, teachers have a different role than normally developed. She cautions against applying standard thinking to this sort of program.
Frances Ferriera – Specialist Trainer:
Our message to them would be to be conscious of the fact that these students are coming back because they couldn’t fit in the traditional classroom, and that they had to be patient and that should approach them and ask. They’re coming with a lot of information already. They’re not empty vessels. They, themselves, can contribute to the learning experience. That is why the open schooling approach is flexible, and you’ll see the online approach allows for learners to contribute to the content, by picking their own sources that they want to use to study. So my message would be for the tutors, [which is what]we will call them when they teach the open school. We no more refer to them as teachers, because they are not teaching the same way as you teach in a conventional classroom. We’re referring to them as tutors, because now they physically take the process, so that the learner can have a more active role in the process.
The University will establish its own open and distance learning unit and be responsible for promoting the program around the country. Minister of Education Patrick Faber explains why Gwen Lizarraga was chosen to start the first Open School.
Patrick Faber – Minister of Education:
We’re launching it here at the Gwen Lizarraga Evening Division because of the kind of students that we cater for here. What basically will happen is, we will open the boundaries of learning beyond the campus, beyond the walls of this institution. Students, as long as they have access to the internet, as long as they have a laptop computer, or as long as they have computer access and internet access, will be able to get online and to get courses and get instruction and get support materials to enhance their studies, from all over the world. That is really the concept in a nutshell. This concept, of course, is not new. It probably is new to Belize. We’re hoping that many Belizeans, especially those who are out of school, will take advantage. Of course, you have to sign up. You have to get your password and form, but once that is done we’re hoping that Belizeans across this country will take full advantage. Students, for instance, who are taking CXCs can get support lessons from this kind of initiative.
With opportunities for students to get proper education without having to pay high fees and teachers to have access to proper options for classes, the program is expected to initially benefit 125 persons who would not have otherwise had access to schooling. Deputy CEO in the Ministry of Education Carol Babb outlined benefits for teachers in the program at this morning’s launch.
Carol Babb – Deputy CEO, Ministry of Education:
What I was most impressed with is that the students who access this open school will get the best quality content in whatever area they’re doing. As Francis explained, teachers will get an opportunity to post their content, but that content would not necessarily be posted. So when you go online, you’re getting the best. It is also an opportunity for teachers to learn from other teachers. What I understand from Francis is that, teachers can collaborate with teachers from other countries. The teachers at Gwen Liz can talk with a teacher from Jamaica. So you will get the opportunity of sharing best practices.
The program is brought to Belize with the assistance of the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA) of which UB is a member.