SPJC hosts two-day COBEC Conference

Monday, February 11th, 2013

COBEC-Conference-2The San Pedro Junior College (SPJC) hosted the annual conference of Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation (COBEC). The two-day event saw over 100 participants representing all 13 tertiary level institutions in Belize and over 25 universities from the United States of America (USA). Every year the COBEC members meet once each in Belize and in the US at alternating locations. This year’s event is considered to be the largest conference so far hosted in Belize.

COBEC has been in existence for over 25 years and seeks ways in which Belizean tertiary level institutions can collaborate with US institutions in improving the education system in Belize and US COBEC members. A number of issues were discussed and a number of presentations were done during the conference, all in the area of COBEC-Conference-1education. “We look at ways that the US institutions are able to collaborate in furthering education for Belizean students to work, while helping faculties look for better opportunities for the students. We look at the ways US students can come to Belize to do study-abroad programs, and also have students from Belize go to the US for brief periods to study– more of a world enriching type experience. We live in a global economy so it is important that we understand the lives and customs of other people and the educational process in a different country,” said Dr. John Kemppainen from the University of North Florida and the US Co-chair of COBEC. “Our emphasis has been in all areas. We look at the ecological system you have down here, the environment, teacher education, research; so these were issues that were brought up. The institution within the Ministry of Education shared with our COBEC partners those areas where they would like to see collaboration in the system. The US institution offered their support in many areas so it’s really a win-win situation for everybody,” elaborated Kemppainen.

COBEC-Conference-Lions-DenThe participants were graciously hosted on Ambergris Caye by the only junior college on the island who partnered with the San Pedro Town Council and the Area Representative to sponsor the event. In addition, the Ministry of Education was also involved in several of the presentations conducted at the conference. According to the US Co-Chair of COBEC, the presentations made were outstanding, especially those presented by the University of Belize in regards to the new measures the university will be adopting to better present their curriculum and courses as well as the work being done in the Calabash Caye Area. “It generated a lot of interest amongst the US COBEC members who all have science and biology departments – whatever we can do to inform our students we will do. It also opens opportunities for Belizean students and Belizean faculties to collaborate with our institutions,” he added. Kemppainen said the main purpose of the COBEC conference is that “it brings a mindset of sharing and collaboration. One and one can achieve a great amount but when you collaborate; when you have three and four or more working all working together on the same thing you have much more brain power and much more physical man power and you have more people able to contribute. It is important that we get together because we review what we have committed ourselves to do and see how we are progressing along that line.” Dr. Kemppainen said that the challenges encountered in the universities in the US and those in Belize are similar especially in the area of teacher education. “The issues of skills and mathematics, the skills in literacy and science – these are issues we face in US and I think these are some of the same issues being faced here in Belize. Maybe in some areas, the challenges are to a greater degree because of the need of good qualified teachers. Each state has set up a certain standards at a high level for teachers – Belize is moving in that direction where they are going to require teachers to have a certain standard and be effective teachers and be able to teach the children,” he explained.

“We view these universities as partners in education, they collaborate with institution in Belize and outside of the institutions because this has been going on for a long time… it’s important that as a group we get together twice a year to see what exactly has been materializing… so it is important and its gives new US universities opportunities to come onboard… Belize needs as much help, as a developing nation, as we can get with human capital development particularly at the tertiary level,” explained Jane Bennett – the Head of the University of the West Indies Belize Open Campus and Belize’s Co-Chair of COBEC. Bennett also mentioned that the things highlighted by the universities and the COBEC members are very much relevant to Belize. She explained that some of the US COBEC members are directly involved in the educational and non-educational activities in some of the communities. “You know there is the San Mateo Area in San Pedro Town. A couple of the COBEC partners are heavily involved in the area. One is the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the other Gainesville College now the University of North Georgia and so there is relevance even in your own back yard (San Pedro Town),” highlighted Bennett. She said that there are far more other areas of collaboration and benefits for Belize as part of COBEC. She also explained that there is much relevance between COBEC members in Belize and US in the area of marine research such as those in Calabash Caye, spearheaded by the University of Belize. She also pointed out that a new US COBEC member wants to strengthen and partner with institution in the areas of technical vocation such as those carried out by the Institutes for Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Belize.

COBEC-Conference-Group-ShotAs part of the delegation’s working visit to Ambergris Caye, the participants also got to enjoy the island. Dean of the San Pedro Junior College (SPJC) Gustavo Ellis explained that as the host, the institution organized several experiences for the attendees. “It was also an opportunity for the hosting institution to showcase our island and town. We ensure that they also had a cultural experience, the food and even our main attraction – the reef,” said Ellis who ensured that the educators visited Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where they snorkeled, while others enjoyed a sunset cruise at the culmination of the conference. “It certainly takes a lot of planning and effort to host these events and for that reason I want to thank the Area Representative Manuel Heredia for sponsoring the event. The Mayor and the San Pedro Town Council for the Mayor’s Banquet and the San Pedro Lions Club for helping with the facility. Mrs. Martha Guerrero and Dulce Gonzalez also need to be commended for their support as well,” said Ellis.

This is the second time that SPJC has hosted such event; the first time was in 2003. The conference, which was the largest ever hosted by COBEC members in Belize, moves to the Stann Creek District in 2014 and will be hosted by Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College. The two-day event ended on Friday, February 8th.

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