Belize’s education system has undergone a number of changes throughout the years, largely corresponding to major social and political shifts within the country itself. What follows is a brief overview of the history of formal education in Belize.
For hundreds of years, Belize formed the heartland of the ancient Maya civilization, which reached its peak between 250 and 900 A.D. While the exact nature of the Maya civilization’s education system is largely unknown, they made great advancements in art, mathematics, and astronomy, all of which would have required extensive training and knowledge.
The earliest records of formal education in the country are in missionary efforts, mostly by Catholics, which became institutionalized in an initial period between 1816 and 1892. It was in 1883 that the British government made its first educational grant to the Caribbean colonies, though these funds went to the churches rather than local governments. The number of schools in Belize, then known as British Honduras, increased dramatically during the 1880s.
There was also a strong racial element to the education system at the time, with slave owners viewing the education of enslaved people as a dangerous prospect. Children of mixed white and black ancestry were often sent back to England for schooling or educated privately if they remained in Belize. Former slaves generally wanted their children educated so they would have greater career prospects beyond manual labor in the mahogany industry.
The Period Between 1893 and 1934
The period between 1893 and 1934 saw competing religious denominations with increased interests in Belize spearheading a number of reforms. This was mainly influenced by Jesuit missionaries who came from the United States, though in 1934 the Director of Education in Jamaica visited British Honduras to evaluate its educational system and also began recommending changes. Reforms to improve educational standards and increase funding were proposed and began being implemented in the late 1930s.
The Anti-Colonial Movement
The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the rise of a nationalist, anti-colonial movement in Belize that, among other aspects of Belizean society, would bring great changes to the education system. During this period, the Jesuits began pursuing education reform as a way to combat social inequality, especially between urban and rural areas. They assumed almost all influence over formal education by the end of the 1950s.
1960s Onward: Greater Government Control
The needs of Belize’s educational system eventually became too much for churches to run on their own and the government began to take on a larger role. This period was noteworthy because it also saw the power of education policy decision-making transferred from British administrators and clerics to Belizeans. Belize achieved home rule in 1964 and the local government viewed education as one of the best tools for achieving independence peacefully. By the 1970s, it was the Belizean government – not the British and not religious officials – who were directing educational policy in Belize. Fearing recolonization in the form of foreign influence over education, especially at the university level, the Belizean government has made a significant effort to stop relying on international aid for education.
The Current State Of Education In Belize
Belize’s current education system is divided into three levels and is based on the British education system. Students begin in primary school before moving into secondary education. This is followed by tertiary education, given by colleges and universities. Education is compulsory in Belize between the ages of 6 and 14 years old. Areas the country seeks to improve include access to technology in primary schools and financial issues that prevent the effective education of children from poorer families.
Belize’s education system continues to develop into a service that meets the needs of the nation’s people. It has been through many changes, challenges, and influences over the years to get to where it is today.