The school systems here in Belize are different than the schools in the US and we have had to adjust to their terminology here. Students start school at around age 5 in what is called Infant 1, the next year they attend Infant 2. Then they start regular school and progress from Standard 1 through Standard 6. At the end of Standard 6, at the age of about 13, they have completed the mandatory schooling required by the government. Schooling at this level is primarily funded by the government but many of the villages have churches that are affiliated with the school as well. For example, in El Progresso, there are two schools, the public and the Catholic School, which is partially funded by the Catholic Church in El Progresso.
In 1997 the first school was built in El Progresso with funding from a nonprofit organization. When the school was started, there were no plans on how the school would be managed and where continued funding would come from. The Catholic Church in El Progresso decided to take on the responsibility for running the school and some funding was also obtained from the Government Of Belize (GOB). In the beginning, the school was operated in this fashion with some teachings from the Catholic faith mixed in with the regular school curriculum.
There are a couple of different churches in El Progresso, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. After three years, in the year 2000, the majority of the community voted to change the school to a public school, not affiliated with any church. The Catholic Church still wished to have their own separate school so that they could teach their religion along with the GOB classes so the Catholics started teaching their school in their church. The following year they built and opened their own school next to the church.
Funding in general for the schools is as follows: for both schools, the teachers are paid by the GOB. For the public school, the grounds, buildings, desks, chairs, and other furniture is supplied by the GOB, the Catholic school does not receive any government funding for these items. Since the beginning of the 2008/2009 school year most text books are provided by GOB for both schools (previously the families had to purchase all text books) but some special texts, workbooks, and all other materials used in the classroom (like chalk, pencils, erasers, scissors, glue, tape, learning tools like toys and globes, etc) are provided by the students or the teachers. A registration fee of $15/year/student helps a little to cover some of the costs for the classroom supplies. And for both schools, uniforms are required for each student, which cost about $30 per set (boys, shirt and pants; girls, blouse and jumper or skirt).
Each student is responsible for wearing their school uniform each day. The blue uniforms are for the public school,
and the salmon and brown are for the Catholic School. Occasionally on Fridays they have “rags day” in which everyone is allowed to wear non school clothes, but there are restrictions on what is considered appropriate for these days. In El Progresso, there is also a small weekly fee for each student so that they can use the flush toilets at the school. There are latrines further out from the school but the government does not fund the cleaning supplies nor a janitor for taking care of any of the facilities.
Each day school starts at 9am, breaks for 15 minutes at 10:30, then gets out at noon for lunch at which time most students walk home to eat with their families (lunch is the big meal of the day here in Belize). At 1pm school resumes, breaks for 15 minutes at 2:30, and classes get out for the day at 3:30pm. No bussing is provided for students so they must walk, ride their bike, or get a ride in a car if school is too far for them to walk. On the last Friday of each month there is no school so that the teachers can receive their pay in San Ignacio.
In the Village of El Progresso they face a stumbling block that is not found in US schools (that we know of) and in only the rural villages without electricity here in Belize, there is no electricity. Here in the Cayo District there are 6 schools without power. Windows and doors are open at all times during classes to get enough light for reading. If it is a dark cloudy day, or the wind is blowing hard and the windows must be shut to keep out the rain, the classrooms are pretty dark. There are no movie projectors, TVs, DVD players, sound systems, electric clocks, etc. Also lacking is the ability to run computers which puts these students at a great disadvantage when they venture out for jobs or further education. There are some functions held by the school that require electronic devices for movies, or a sound system so that everyone can hear the speakers and for these occasions someone in the town lends extension cords, microphones, amps, and speakers. The school does own a small gas generator to run these devices when needed.
This past year there were 107 students in the school. Infant 1 and 2 were taught in one classroom by one teacher. Standard 1 and Standard 2 each had their own teacher. Standard 3 and Standard 4 were combined with one teacher. Standard 5 and 6 were also combined with one teacher. There are a total of 5 classrooms in the government school at this time. Next year some of the students from the Catholic School will be transferring to the government school which will put enrollment at approximately 130 students in 8 grades in 5 classrooms, or an average of just over 25 pupils per room.
Currently there is a library for the school which is a detached building that is about 100 yards from the other 2 school buildings. This building is one open room with some shelving for the random books that have been donated to the school. In July there is an organization slated to come help with some projects for the library which hopefully will help boost the usefulness of this resource.
Everything that is needed to maintain the school must be provided by the community. There is no machinery, like lawn mowers, weed whackers, saws, drills, hammers, paint brushes, plumbing supplies, etc. provided by the GOB. The entire town is called up to do things like mow the lawn, repair the roofs, fix the toilets, remove bats from the attics, paint the interior and exterior, and provide the tools and supplies for all of these necessary things to maintain a school in proper order.
Luckily there are some nonprofit organizations that come to Belize to help with some of the projects to maintain the schools, build new classrooms, erect shelving, donate library books and there are volunteers that occasionally come into the community to help teach as well.