On Wednesday, February 15th, 2012, the first ever Belize Rural South Standard Bearers debate was held in San Pedro at the Sunbreeze Hotel Conference Room. Candidates Mike Campbell, Patty Arceo, Bobby Lopez and Manuel Heredia Jr. squared off on topics ranging from crime and corruption to education and tourism. Over the next few days we will be presenting a verbatim transcript of all the questions, answers and rebuttals by each candidate for you to view, read and discuss in detail. We now get to our first topic… Education
Many elementary schools are overcrowded and most communities are without adequate high schools. Do you have any plans for improving educational opportunities in Belize Rural South for all age groups? If so, what are they?
Manuel Heredia Jr.:
“Well first of all let me say that San Pedro has been a fast growing community and the migration from the out districts have really put a pressure in schools and indeed they are overcrowded. We have tried to add classrooms to several schools but it is time that we have a government school and that my friends, as soon as we are back in office, the Minister of Education has promised that once we get the lands, because land is very scarce over here, we know what happen to all of our land over here, we will get that land and get a elementary government school over here. I do believe in education very, very strong. It’s many of the parents over here know that from the time we were elected we have been giving grant to almost all the poorest students in the Belize Rural South and all the country of Belize, in particularly in San Pedro, I realize that there are at least 15 students studying abroad, every single one of the with a grant from this area representative, and many of the sixth form and university students, high school students, up to pre-school, many of the are being assisted. It means to say that we have to put emphasis in education and indeed we have to continue to grow the number of school so that we can foster a populace that is highly educated. A populace that is highly educated will see the result of less crime and will see a nation and a country growing in the better direction. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you very much. The schools are a particular pet issue of mine. I’ve been involved in the formation of the Island academy here and I’ve also upgraded an internet high school trying to take up the slack for my son and some others. We have reached the point where we have about 2000 kids in primary school and a high school of about 700 is completely full and as we all know we have probably 20% of the kids walking about on the streets, not going to school at all. We need a lot more, with all due respect, than another school. We need a primary school and we need a new high school as well. Our high school is inadequate; we need a school that will have vocational education as well as technical education and we can get some of these kids of the streets and plan for our future. Thank you.”
Robert “Bobby” Lopez:
“I have served on every PTA of my children’s education and I mean every single one. As I travel and I visit the schools in this area I must confess that these schools need a lot of help. I admire whet they are doing with the limited resources that they have, but I’m tired of excuses. Since the 1960’s Barbados has been giving its people free education to university level at UWI level. It is unacceptable and I am out to prove this administration and any other administration wrong that we can give our people free education to university level, and that starts with starting to attract universities to this island. Now with the limited resources that we have we need to go to the ‘Shift’ system, but before we go to the shift system we need to make sure that our children are safe when they are walking home from school at night. It’s the only way to go; we must go to the shift system with limited resources and buildings.”
“The situation with classroom both in San Pedro and Caye Caulker is one that needs to be addressed immediately. They are overcrowded. Whether it’s from the primary school, pre-school, and high school. Both San Pedro and Caye Caulker need two new primary schools. San Pedro needs a new high school. The high school in Caye Caulker needs new classrooms. So we need to address this thing because the ratio that we have right now per students, of students and teachers is about 35 students per teacher, and if you go into those classrooms, those classrooms only have a couple of fans. So we need to address this situation. Assistance; we need to give computers with free internet to all the school, we also need to be assisting all the school with their utility bills and also we need to establish and professional studies scholarships for the people of San Pedro and Caye Caulker, and we must incorporate in all the schools tourism education, starting from pre-school.”
Manuel Heredia Jr.:
“Well I must say that first of all you have to work with the resources that you have. There are some candidates that might said that I want to build this, they want to build the impossible. But being in government once you are there you will know what and with what do you have to work, ‘cause, myself, in Caye Caulker for instance, I was the one that lobbied and helps the people that were behind that to have the high school in Caye Caulker, and I have been helping financially also with what I can afford. If we had a mountain of dollars over there we can do everything that we want, I would love to do everything that I thought in my mind for both Caye Caulker and San Pedro, but if the resources are not there then you have to work within the resources.”
“Thank You, Jr. has hit the nail right on the head, it’s a matter of financing on all of these things and we do not get our share of the financing, there’s no way that the government is going to write the town council a huge check until such times as we become our separate district and can demand our fair share from all of these ministers we will not get the money. When we do reach that point where we are a district they will no longer be able to ignore us and they will have no choice but to give us what we are entitled to. I am tired of begging and hearing excuses when we produce maybe 3 billion dollars in the last 20 years into the country and I don’t want to hear that there is no money for schools.”
Robert “Bobby” Lopez:
“I want to say that I don’t agree with the grant system because the grant system fosters more a culture of dependency and then people get used to that handout. I am saying that with the infrastructure that we have right now in place, we can into the shift system that every single one of our neighbors practice. You go into Chetumal, Guatemala, Honduras, the kids are going to school at 6 o’clock in the morning, they come out at midday, they next shift comes in at 1:00, they come out at 6:00. They’ll get the same amount of hours of schooling and you can do that immediately. You don’t have to wait to build buildings and more classrooms. In September we can go to the shift system and reduce the classroom population to half. So that is what we need to do. Thank you very much.”
“Look there are so many things that need into the education system, and yes I do agree with the resources as Mr. Heredia was saying, however, San Pedro and Caye Caulker contribute a vast amount of money to the national government. Let us bring a proportionate return of taxes back into the island and that can be gotten from the GST, and also the BTB and income tax. We don’t need all the money; we just need the percentage to come back to the island because, yes, every year more people are coming to our island and they are bringing their children and these children they need adequate places to go because these are our children and they need their education.”
What is your opinion on the answers given? Do you agree/disagree with what was said? What would you like to see done to improve the educational system in our areas? Give us your opinions and discuss the ideas that would help to make our education system better?
Also we invite everyone to take part in our poll to find out who you think answered each of these questions the best.