MoE concerned about online satellite school being proposed for San Pedro

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The Ministry of Education (MoE) in Belize has officially written to a group of individuals on Ambergris Caye who recently announced their intention to open an online satellite classroom in San Pedro Town. The group, comprising of Cheryl Bowen, Tina Hayden, Mary Mooney and Tammy Peterson announced via a press release on April 3rd that they planned to open a non-profit online satellite school on Ambergris Caye on behalf of the Texas Tech University Independent School District (TTUISD) in Lubbock, Texas, USA. According to the MoE, their correspondence to the group comes after they failed to follow through with multiple requests made by the government ministry to apply for a Teaching Operator’s License, as required by Belizean law.

According to the MoE, for any learning institution to legally operate in Belize, they must follow certain guidelines stipulated in the Education Act. One such requirement is for the educational institution to apply for a license to operate a school or educational institution in accordance with the Education Rules 11 and 13 of the Education Act. The license is free but mandatory and consists of five procedures which apply across the board for any applicant.

In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Information Officer at the Ministry of Education Arlette Gomez said that they are aware of the press release and the intention of the group to start operating in August of 2013. “We have checked our records and we have not received any application from that entity. The Education Act and rules clearly state that anybody wishing to operate any educational institution needs to obtain a license from the Ministry of Education. It is certainly something of a concern to us. We don’t know anything about them; we don’t know what their curriculum looks like. There are criteria that need to be followed and that need to be fulfilled before a license is granted. They needed to have applied for that license at least one year before intending to open for classes. We need to be of the assurance that they will be able to sustain the institution. Even private institutions need to abide by these rules,” said Gomez.

Online SchoolThe press release issued by the four individuals spearheading the educational venture states that students will have online access to the entire curriculum and will be assigned online teachers in the United States that grade all assignments. It also states that the teachers are also available through the “course portal” to assist students with any questions related to the coursework. A full-time administrator will be present in the classroom every day to assist students and keep communication open with parents. In a meeting earlier this year, the group indicated that a location for the satellite classroom was secured on Laguna Drive. In addition a proposed uniform was also disclosed to the public. The release indicates that that they are moving ahead to start classes as early as August 23, 2013.

According to the MoE in a meeting earlier this year when the concept of the school was first introduced to members of the public, a representative of the MoE, informed the group of the requirements to operate a learning institution in Belize whether private or public and whether accredited in Belize or not. “The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is tasked with ensuring that our children receive a quality and relevant education. We have to ensure, as that body (MoE), that our children are taught relevant materials and that it is something that confirms to the Education Act and rules in Belize. We are hoping this entity would do so,” Gomez further explained.

The group has remained steadfast that because the satellite school has nothing relevant to the Belize education system, there is no need to apply for a license as being outlined by the MoE. Also standing their grounds is the MoE, which indicated that regardless of the school’s intention, it MUST apply for a license. “Any institution where teaching is being done that we are informed and apprised of the level of education that these children are getting. We want to ensure that all the children get a quality and relevant education. We are not adverse to the students getting an education, all we are saying is that we want everybody to please follow the guidelines set forward within our policies,” indicated Gomez.

During an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Bowen explained that the children will receive their education through a home-school program. “When we got together and came up with the idea, it was not with the idea to open a functioning school. What we are doing is actually a home-school program that students do independently. There is no physical teacher here; the teachers are accessed online. What we are looking to do is to bring a small group of students together in one location, but more likely a home-school. What happened is that the parents don’t have the background to do this program [on their own], but have decided to come together and get one person to assist in doing it,” clarified Bowen. When questioned about not taking the MoE invitation from the onset to go through the right process before announcing the opening of the school, Bowen stated, “I was not the decision making person at the time. Now I am following up with the process.”

Because of the concerns expressed by MoE, Bowen said that currently she is reviewing the application form for Teaching Operator’s License and the Education Act and will be meeting with the MoE to go through the required process.

According to the MoE, an application form for a Teaching Operator’s License must be submitted no less than 12 months before the institution intends to offer its service. Bowen said that so far. a dozen students have signed up for the program.


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