Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brains IN Supply; Opportunities Not

I recently completed a research paper that compares the educational reform policies proposed by John McCain and Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election and came to the conclusion that the educational system in America is in disarray and in need of "systemic changes." Now, as a student studying abroad in America, my conclusion obviously nestled comfortably on a bed of irony. Judging from the rhetoric of both candidates, it would appear as if the educational system here is wholly deficient. Yet, it is these same American universities that continue to attract the brightest minds from around the world (including Belize). 

A recent blog on this website, entitled "Brains in Short Supply," did an excellent job of mirroring the negative rhetoric of McCain and Obama, describing our own system as defunct and one that produces "a bunch of idiots, basically." My opinion on this issue is the same as the above: that such criticism is unnecessary and explicitly unjustified. It is an unequivocal truth that the educational system in Belize is grossly underfunded, suffering from a dearth of resources. For example, many primary schools operate without computer labs, an injustice to our children who find themselves growing up in a technologically dependent world. Similarly, some of our teachers, at all educational levels, are unqualified. But it is important to address this misunderstood notion of "unqualified." A teacher who graduates from Teacher's College, or has a Bachelor's Degree or a Master's Degree does not automatically make him/her 'qualified'; the ability to impart knowledge is not measured in an academic degree. I believe that many of our unqualified teachers are those that see teaching as a profession, an occupation and a means to a monthly paycheck. This translates into a unmotivated classroom environment where teachers fail to invoke the maximum capabilities of their students. With this clarification in mind, I progress. 

The most salient problems of our educational system is not a systemic one, but rather and unsurprisingly, an economic one.  It is undeniable that Belize produces its fair share of intelligence, evidenced by the annual CXC distinctions that are bestowed unto our students and the unrelenting success of those who are fortunate to study abroad in Central America, the Caribbean and the United States. Such students flock to these foreign countries and achieve both academic and extracurricular success far beyond the limits of anemic Belizean resources. How unqualified can our teachers possibly be in light of such success? The problem, unsurprisingly, is an economic one. With more resources, the government would be able to build schools with adequate facilities that can maximize the potential of any child; they would be able to increase the salary for teachers, making an educator's role more attractive to those who might want to teach, but find the meager salary inconducive to supporting a family or a comfortable life; they would be able to offer more scholarships for both low-income and meritorious students the opportunity to study abroad. 

Ask any student who has graduated from high school and I can almost guarantee that, in hindsight, there were one or two teachers who had an enormous impact on their lives for the better. Likewise, ask any teacher and they will tell you that they saw many engineers, doctors, lawyers, and the foundation of Belize's future sitting before them in their classrooms. Hence it would be irresponsible to deduce that most of our teachers lack the insight and ability to instruct and impart knowledge. And it is perhaps even more intolerable to imply that Belizean students are somehow inferior based on a negligent and myopic examination of the root causes of why some children slip through the cracks. Moreover, it undermines the success of the those students who have blossomed in their respective fields and those who would succeed if only given an opportunity to do so; a chance is all they need. 

Our educational system, like many other systems in the world, is in need of dire changes and improvements. Irresponsible criticism, however, makes no progress toward these goals.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Idle minds and the devils workshop

The P.G.I. Airport seems to have a problem. No, not passengers numbers declining, which it has. No, not vendors revolting about the signage nazis, which they have. Instead, it is their night security guards.

These guys seems to run rampant at night. It becomes their own fiefdom. A land in which they can do all. A land brought forth from the combination of low pay, idle minds, and the arrogant belief that no matter what they do, no one in authority will do anything or care about it. The worse part is that it is happening not just in the unsecured areas outside, but in the supposedly secure areas inside the arrival and departure halls. This is supposed to be some of the most secure areas in the country. So much for that. Guess we better hope that the Uncle Sam's TSA is not monitoring this blog or we might not be able to go shopping in Miami!

So, anyway, the rent-a-cops steal money from the charity donation boxes by fishing the money out with a clothes hanger and gum or by just breaking the locks. When security cameras are positioned to monitor the boxes, the camera positions are moved by tinkerbell magic at night.

The "guards" run up phone bills on tennant's phones. One poor clerk almost lost her job when her boss accused her of running up a $3000 phone bill. It was later established that the calls to such far away places as Chicago, St. Kitts and Lagos, were made at 1 and 2 in the morning. Hardly the time of greatest legitimate activity in the arrivals lounge.

The "guards" steal modems, surf for porn on the internet, sleep on desks, drink from water coolers that are not theirs, deface bathrooms, even leave their eaten $5 greasy chicken bags for the rats to nibble on. We won't even get into the traveller's bags from secure areas that go missing. 

Why won't the B.A.A. do anything about the problem even with many, many verifiable complaints from vendors and users? Laziness and apathy, indifference and just plain ole striving for lower standards.

Some time ago I wrote about the Guiliani way of eradicating crime. This is clearly an example of one of the starting point possibilities he spoke of. If an area behind metal detectors, security cameras, armed guards and dogs, and with international standards to be held up to for the sake of the national economy cannot be made crime free, then where else can be? 

Is the same problem in the rest of the country. We just don't care and allow it to happen. Get me Sgt. Tablada!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Everyone's Leaving

I have never heard so many people say they are finally ready to leave Belize. And leaving they are. In droves. Legally and via the swim of the Rio Grande. The big question is what is the straw that has finally broken the camel's back. Is it crime? The economy? The lack of hope? Or like me, do they just feel that the country they love doesn't love them back anymore?

No one wanted to make Belize work more than me. I gave up lucrative offers coming out of school in the US to come home, because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to change Belize. And come hell or high water I was going to make a difference. 11 Years later, I am forced to admit that I might be wrong.

And while, I would not have met my wife or had my lovely kids had I not come home, it goes without saying that I believe there is no hope left for any of us here. 

We feel we can't go anywhere without fear of being robbed. We are penned in our homes behind 8 foot barbed wire fences, motion detectors, camera, dogs, deadlocks galore and police who don't care. We work hard to earn an honest living (how do the poor do it?), but find that our money goes nowhere. We drive on dirty potholed streets with beggars all around. We sit and endure blackouts because the power company has run out of excuses. Our businesses don't get any patronizing if we are blue or red or unless we can offer a kickback of some kind. But most of all we live in country where everything seems to be a hustle, where honest citizens are being outflanked and outplayed by criminals of every kind. Criminals from Albert Street to the ones calling the National Assembly home.

Unfortunately more and more of the true Belizean Patriots are cutting their losses and throwing in the towel. I for one am now deciding what towel that should be.

As we sit and watch our home get robbed on a Sunday afternoon while the police take 6 hours to respond, we are left to it all worth it? Is the safety of our children worth the pride you may have had in sticking it out?

Some may say, stand up, run for office and do something about it. This is an unrealistic ideal. You cannot make a rotten apple good again. You cannot change a system that does not want to be changed by the politicians, the hustling high society and the commoners who enjoy their "free education" and turkeys at Christmas time. A bukut stinks now and will stink in 10 years.

Belize does not want to be changed. EVERYONE knows that, and those who pretend that it does are fooling themselves. Voters will never vote for someone who stands up and says "I pledge no more handouts". They will never vote for politicians whose line of thinking is "lets pay our leaders well enough to a) attract qualified people and b) as way of discouraging dishonestly" (that is another blog entirely!). Business people will never back politicians who truly want to clean up the hustling, because the these businesses depend on hustling to get goods through customs! The foxes are watching the chicken coup and the hens aren't coming in OR out.

Belize is in an ever tightening circle of Mutually Assured Destruction. The only questions that remain are when do you abandon ship and  where do you go....the USA is not for me!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Making Use of Ross Kemp

Considering the argument that I am about to pursue, I find it necessary to begin with a minor disclaimer: all the uproar and widespread displeasure over Ross Kemp's overblown assessment of gang warfare in Belize was completely justified and within proper context.  Belize is not a little Baghdad, where grenades are hurled on a daily basis, nor is it a place where gangs reside on every street.  Of course, if one were to journey along select areas of the south side of Belize City, which is what Ross Kemp did, it would certainly appear to be the case.  But what Mr. Kemp did was to travel to the most afflicted areas and make a generalization about the entire country.  If one didn't know any better, one would think that the gang problem in Belize extends to Corozal, Orange Walk, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda.  From my 'layman's perspective,' I don't believe this is the case, nor does it come close to an accurate portrayal of crime in Belize.    

On the other hand, above the cloud of animosity, I believe there exists immense value in Ross Kemp's affinity for sensationalism.  First, while gang warfare does not afflict every neighborhood in the country, we cannot deny that it is a major issue in some areas of the country, primarily the south side of Belize City.  But we knew this right?  We surely didn't need some outsider who probably spent less than a month in the country to tell us this.  So how does his documentary benefit us? It shows us what will happen if we don't implement effective measures to mitigate the crime problem.  I could easily envision that if we continue to take baby steps in efforts to combat crime, Belize could indeed end up exactly how it was portrayed by Kemp. However, we are not at that point just yet.  There is still time to make progress before the situation spins out of control.  I believe that our police force is making some progress, and I can only hope that they continue to do so.  While I can offer no legitimate solutions, I believe that continued dialogue amongst all sectors of our society can, and will, produce tangible progress.  

So, Mr. Kemp, while we Belizeans don't appreciate your unfair assessment, we will work to prove you wrong.    Happy Independence Day :)