The education system in Belize is has its roots in the English system but has been greatly influenced by the U.S. education system primarily through the influence of the Jesuits – as a result, it is regarded that some of best schools in Belize are Catholic or are private Christian schools. Students move through forms, from first form in primary school to sixth form (junior college), although some schools, following U.S. and Caribbean Community practices, use the grade system grades 1-12. Sadly, for most Belizeans school is finished in the 7th grade. To go to high school or to college requires personal finance or a scholarship. For example the Rotary Club of San Ignacio sponsors several students each year to go to the Junior College.
The Catholic Church, and to a lesser extent the Methodists and Anglicans, through agreements with the government, operate many of Belize’s public schools under Church-State partnership that has its beginnings in Belize’s history as a British colony. Nearly two-thirds of Belize’s population are teenagers or younger, so in every part of Belize you’ll see school kids in their uniforms that vary from khaki, to blue to red pinstripes, and yellow depending on which school they attend. In Belize City and elsewhere, there are both church and government-run primary and high schools.
A few private or parochial schools run by Protestant and Evangelical denominations also exist. The best schools are in Belize City and in larger towns, and many of the less funded schools, with untrained teachers and few books or equipment are in the far south. One study found that lack of supplies was a major problem for schools in Toledo, and that about one-half of the teachers in the district had no educational training beyond high school. Sadly, only one in two Toledo children even finish primary school.
In 2010, more than 90,000 students were enrolled in Belize schools and colleges at all levels, including almost 4,000 in preschools, 63,000 in primary schools, and more than 15,000 in high schools. Close to 6,000 students were in post-secondary studies.
Primary education is free and compulsory through age 14. However, a sizable minority of Belizean children does not complete primary school. Only about 70% of teachers are professionally trained, but that number is growing with recent amendments to the Education Act 2010 that aims at 100% of all teachers being professionally trained as a requirement to obtain a teacher’s license.
As of 2010, corporal punishment was prohibited in the Education Act:
In accordance with subsection (2) of this section, nothing in the statement of general principles and measures or measures for regulating the conduct of students shall authorise anything to be done in relation to a student which constitutes harassment, intimidation, the administering of corporal punishment or any other actions harmful to a student.”
Even teachers with four-year college degrees earn only about US$1,000 a month. Secondary education, consisting of a four-year high school, is competitive, requiring passage of a comprehensive exam. The student’s percentile ranking on the admissions test in part determines which school the student can attend. Charges for books and fees at secondary schools are beyond the reach of many Belizean families.