Shaking off a personal near-tragedy over the weekend, Minister of Education Patrick Faber sat down with the press at the Belize Institute of Management (BIM) for nearly two hours, addressing several key issues in education.
Topics ranged far and wide but the Minister kept coming back to the importance of teamwork and cooperation. The Ministry is laying down the law with regard to the issue of school fees at both primary and secondary level.
Minister Faber said any fee gouging by schools will not be tolerated and parents feeling the pinch should complain to authorities, regardless of the alleged financial problems schools face.
“In our Ministry, we operate on partnerships. The church managements, especially, are very crucial to the operation of the Education System in this country. Least it be said that I am trying to destroy the church-state relationship, let me be clear.
But , yes, there is a lot to be desired in terms of that relationship. In many instances, it’s not even the church that’s doing this. The schools need the money to operate, and rather than coming up with creative ways of trying to fix their financial, the easiest route is to slap on more on the fees. I’ve seen it happen in all my years in education. that is the easiest route. So, what we’re insisting on is to say to the schools, you cannot do this, you need to find an alternative way of getting the monies that you need, whether that be through fund-raising, or insisting that those who don’t pay their fees on schedule do so.
Again you’ll ask, how will we do that when we can’t send a child home? There are creative ways of doing it, I’m sure.”
The Minister believes that Government’s aid to schools, both state-owned and church-owned, is enough to offset any difficulties schools may have. Turning to the issue of textbooks, the Minister also deplored attempts by one publisher, BRC Printing, to force schools in the Roman Catholic management to buy the new version of its textbook reader.
“I will make clear as well that the Government has not taken off the BRC Reader off the book list. In fact the BRC Reader is very much on the Government’s free text book list. It is that changes were made, or required to be made, of the book, and the publisher has refused to make those changes, in accordance of what is required by the Ministry of Education. As a result, we have refused to purchase the version of the book that BRC wants us to purchase.
In addition to that, I think we had an oversupply of the last version. The current version of the book that we’re using, and we’re insisting we can’t be changing the book every step of the way, of course, because it’s expensive to publish new books.
In the free text book program, it’s not that new books are issued every year. We collect the books back, and we try as best as we can to re-use the books.”
While not commenting on the relationship between BRC and the Roman Catholic management, Faber did say that there are enough of the current version of the books to go around and that those are preferred, because the publisher would not make changes to fit the Ministry’s curriculum. And on the issue of school transportation, the Minister announced plans to expand runs in the North of the country to balance those in the south. This is concurrent with efforts to both map schools to reduce the spread of schools countrywide and plans to upgrade infrastructure at all schools in Belize – a tall order. But the Minister says these efforts are necessary to prevent unscrupulous types from operating schools without a license as has been happening in certain areas.
“We want at this point to signal to people that we cannot continue this business of just putting up a school where you want to put it, and asking for the Government aid. And even if you’re not asking for the Government aid, history will show us [that] nine out of ten times when a school comes to you and says, ‘We want to open a school, and we don’t require the funding from the Government. We will have funding from an outside source, or from our own local sources,’ nine out of ten times that school will come back, and the community will pressure the Ministry to pay, because they cannot any longer afford to shoulder it. Then, of course, it becomes the burden on the tax payers.”