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Education in the Toledo Region

Improving and increasing education is a major key to improving the quality of life in Belize. In the developing world in general, those countries committed to investing in education and universal literacy have experienced the highest reduction in the number of families below the poverty line and the highest sustained economic growth rates. Each additional year of education that a person gains is linked to a substantial increase in personal wages or farm output, and increased education for girls is a major factor in decreasing infant mortality and the number of children per family.

In Belize, half of households in which the head did not complete primary school were poor compared with under 15 percent of those with some secondary or tertiary schooling, i.e., the risk of poverty in a household was more than halved in households where the head had post-primary schooling.(6) Over one-third of the population of Belize is under the age of 15.(7) As this large group moves into adulthood, the education levels of its members will significantly affect their abilities to provide for their families and to assure a positive direction for Belize's development.

Improving access to and quality of education is imperative in the remote Toledo region since poverty and dependency have the strongest grip there. The quality of education in Toledo is below that in other parts of the country. While 56 percent of all primary teachers in Belize are fully trained, only 43 percent of Toledo’s 315 primary teachers are trained. (1) Also striking is the fact that 23 percent of Toledo’s teachers have no formal schooling beyond high school.(8)

Overall, Toledo’s teachers face onerous conditions, including multi-grade classrooms (several grade levels in one room) and few supplies. In all of our "supply needs" survey over the years, teachers have listed books—especially children’s fiction and nonfiction books—as the number one item they need.

Only 13 percent of Toledo’s youngsters are in preschool compared to 32 percent nationally. Also striking is the fact that only seven percent of Toledo’s children have access to ten or more children’s books in their homes.(10) Lack of access to preschool and even books means that children are unprepared to enter primary school and plays a role in repetition of grades in the early primary years.

Though 92 percent of young Belizean children (ages 5-12) are in primary school (equivalent to grades K-8), only 61 percent of Belizean teenagers (ages 13-16) are in secondary school (equivalent to grades 9-12). (8)(9) The disparity is more glaring in Toledo only 44 percent of adolescents are in secondary school. (9)

Studies by the Government of Belize indicate that Mayan and other populations in Toledo (including Garifuna, Mestizo, Creole, East Indian, and others) do place a high value on education for children, although Mayans are more likely to pull their girls out of school when they reach puberty.(3)(4) Some families must make the difficult decision to remove their children from school because of poverty. Children may drop out because they lack money for books and fees (especially for high school) and/or because their parents need extra hands around the house or farm. Toledo accounts for 45 percent of all recorded child labor occurrences in the country, largely because of the high number of Mayan children participating in small-scale agriculture.(2) Nearly a quarter of all Mayan children between the ages of 5 and 11 years are in the labor force (versus 12 percent nationally).(10)

Children who do not go to high school have little chance of escaping poverty. Many are sent to work in the towns or tourist centers to supplement family incomes. Many young women sent to these areas are soon pregnant, with little hope for a stable relationship. Nearly 30 percent of Toledo’s young women gave birth before age 18, compared to just over 15 percent nationally.(10) Toledo’s urban-bound youth are increasingly at risk for illegal drug involvement and HIV/AIDS. Belize’s location makes it a convenient stopover for drug smugglers traveling between South America and the United States, and the local population is inevitably affected by this dangerous trade. Even worse, Belize has an extremely high percentage of its population between the ages of 15 and 49 who are living with HIV/AIDS (1.5% in 2013). This prevalence rate is the fifth highest in the Western Hemisphere and the fifth highest outside of Africa.(5) And studies show that knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention is significantly lower among women in Toledo than in other parts of the country.(10)

1) Belize Ministry of Education, Education Statistics at a Glance; 2012-2013

2) Government of Belize, Written Replies Concerning the List of Issues Received by the Committee on the Rights of the Child Relating to the Consideration of the Second Periodic Report of Belize (CRC/C/RESP/76); 12/2004

3) National Human Development Advisory Committee, Belize 2002 Poverty Assessment Report; 2004

4) United Nations Children’s Fund, Belize; A World Fit for Children; 2004

5) Central Intelligence Agency, The World FactBook, Country Comparison: HIV/AIDS Adult Prevalence Rate (website)

6) Ministry of Economic Development, 2009 Country Poverty Assessment; August 2010

7) Statistical Institute of Belize, Main Results of the 2010 Population and Housing Census; May 2011

8) Belize Ministry of Education, Abstract of Education Statistics; 2012-13

9) Personal email correspondence in December 2014 with Belizean Ministry of Education Statistical Office (statistics are from 2013)

10) Statistical Institute of Belize and UNICEF, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey; 2011

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