Belize’s schools must nurture the foundation values for a healthy nation! by Jerry Enriquez

Jerry Enriquez

Jerry Enriquez

“The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable…His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration — contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance.” Paulo Freiri in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

With the increasing breakdown of Belizean families, there seem little other choice but for our population to depend more and more on schools to nurture such values as character strength, personal initiative and responsibility, care of body, mind, emotions and spirit, respect for others, creativity and civic pride that are vital for the well-being and future functions of our society.

Indeed the  aditional subjects are necessary but these are not enough. More and more it has become evident that our children are simply not being adequately prepared for the realities of Belize’s development. Hence it is critical for schools to forge beyond the ineffective, alienating and failing system of imparting learning as though the students are mere empty receptacles to be filled. When schools fail to nurture essential core values, the consequences to individuals, families, community and the future of a nation are retrogressive and even devastating for each generation.

Several aspects of Belize’s education system have shown a gross disconnect between what our children are taught and the values that are necessary for their well- being as well as for the future needs of society. Schools have tended to disconnect students from their inner strengths, from nature, their culture and that of others, and disembodied them to become mere receptacles for regurgitating information, devoid of critical thinking and balanced emotions for holistic development and effective participation. Even basic but very important foundations such as awareness about healthy diet and lifestyle, creating and maintaining harmonious relationships, spiritual development, and respect for people and nature are vastly missing. We see such lack of those foundations in such behavior as unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and care for the body, inability to resolve conflicts and increase in abuse and violence, and lack of parenting skills. Even many of the most “educated” can be disconnected, tend to live in their heads, lack the awareness about healthy living as well equanimity to peacefully resolve conflicts. They tend to be compliant to the status quo.

In a previous article, I discussed as one example, the persistent failure of high schools to enable their non-Hispanic students to be conversant or literate in Spanish despite the fact that mandatory Spanish classes are taught through each of four years. Such lack of preparation has stifled many students from effective participation in scholarship opportunities offered by our Latin American neighbors and region.

Belize’s education system at all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary – does not seem to be designed to develop and unleash vital human capacities. It is a system thus described by a frustrated elderly Belizean employer: “Dem gat lat a edication, but no learnment.” The practical application of character strength and core values is the “learnment” that he referred to as vastly absent.

Another glaring example is the naïve collusion of school Principals with merchants to establish schools as a captive market for soft drinks to our children. The strategy is that by conditioning their taste to these unhealthy drinks at an early age, a habit pattern will be formed. By the time these children grow older and become parents this habit would become so ingrained that they mindlessly pass it on to their children and future generations. Bingo for the company.

Given the high and increasing incidence of diabetes all over Belize, school administrations ought to be more aware and proactive to prevent such disgraceful alliance with the companies. It reflects that the school administration is either naive or least concerned about effects of high-sugar content drinks on the health of the students and the values they are passing on for the future well-being of our nation.

It is no wonder that Belize was featured in a Guinness Book of Records as the country that stands out as the world’s leading consumer of sugar with its per capita consumption of 62.6 kg (138 lbs.) per annum. Gulping each soft drink is like ingesting the equivalent of 8-12 teaspoons of sugar. Not to mention the other secret ingredients that companies promote to give “happiness”. Happy ignorance! Soft drinks are devoid of healthful nutrients. Too many students (like many adults) are hooked to the pleasure and daily desire for soft drinks with their (usually processed) meals. Many prefer soft drinks to healthy alternatives, including water. Consequently, Belize is increasingly becoming an abdominally obese and diabetic nation.

Numerous scientific studies, such as one conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010, have consistently shown strong evidence that drinking soda on a regular basis can lead to weight gain – especially in the stomach or abdominal area – and increase one’s risk for health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

In a Nurse Health Study that followed over 90,000 women for over two decades, results show that women who consumed one or more servings of soft drink per day were twice as likely as those who consumed less than one serving per month to develop diabetes over the course of the study. Yale University researchers also found that people tend to eat more calories on days when they drink a lot of sugar-sweetened drinks, and that soda drinkers tend to grow heavier than people who don’t drink soft drinks. The evidence has led several countries to ban the sale of soft drinks in schools. In Belize, however, school leaders appear ignorant to these facts and expose our future generation to these risks.

The recent World Health Organization’s ranking of the top 10 leading causes of death shows that globally diabetes ranks as the 9th leading cause of death over the past decade. However, for Belize that report shows diabetes ranks as the 1st leading cause of death: – more than death by violence, which ranks as Belize’s 9th leading cause of death, prostate cancer deaths (rank 10th), or breast cancer (ranking 16th leading cause).

Based on all the evidence, the sale of soft drinks at schools in Belize is just another example of further naïve disconnect between the educational practices and the values that are critically needed for the future health of our nation. Can’t school administrators see that promoting healthy drinks such as coconut water, natural citrus juice, and local fruits could greatly enhance the health of the students, instill proper values and build new opportunities in the domestic economy? Wouldn’t the demand from schools for these healthy alternatives encourage increase production among small farmers?

Belize’s annual observance of World Diabetes Day and activities to promote public awareness has to go much deeper. The root of the problem also has to be addressed not only in an academic way, but through the very practices and values that schools impart. School administrators each have to be more strategic, more visionary and deliberate towards merging principles and practice for a better society. There should be no excuses to place the corporate interests over the well-being of our children. Belize depends on our schools not to be static and detached from reality, but rather dynamic and engaged to critically examine our current realities, to envision the future we wish to create, and to instill proper values and examples of healthy living and other vital foundations for the benefit of our nation’s future.

5 thoughts on “Belize’s schools must nurture the foundation values for a healthy nation! by Jerry Enriquez

  1. Very powerful…do you get to go into schools to talk the children about this? We have a healthy school policy where the sale of fizzy drinks on campus is prohibited by law. We also run a one hour a week PSHE Personal Social and Health Education programme where everything from Healthy eating to Sex education is covered.

    This forms part of our moral obligations to our pupils. We cover relationships between peers, families, other adults and run an open discussion with the pupils so that they are feel free to talk about the issues that affect them. We call these Citizenship lessons; they run alongside the normal curriculum in our schools.This is something that was imposed on the schools by the government; even the sale of fried foods like chips is only allowed once a week. At first, it caused ‘outrage’ but now the pupils know that at least, when they are on the school site, they are getting a better choice of meals.

    I do hope that very soon, our people’s eyes will be opened so that we can allow our children to live a long and healthy life, without the complications of diabetis, heart disease and obesity, all of which are preventable illnesses.

  2. I agree that school has to play an instrumental role in educating kids in becoming more healthy conscious but it is important to note that sometimes the teachers have no clue about living healthy.

  3. All this said, health is of course necessary for the fruitful blossoming of our society. Whether mental health. physical health or emotional health. The above article exposed me a bit about being healthy physically. Perhaps it will do the same for some school children. My children take PE and HFLE at school and my daughter can tell me what is a healthy snack and an unhealthy snack. Still, maybe we need to inform them of the eventual consequences of these toxic snacks they consume.

    Being healthy needs to be a lifestyle. we should initiate it at its earliest time.

  4. Thanks Jerry for a well written synopsis of your perspective on education and its development and demands in Belize. I wish to add that although the responsibilities of education has grown, the students have become less interested in the contents of academia. Ambition is rare in young adults in high school. In my day everyone competed to top the class. This generation seem to be satisfied with mediocrity. While i generalize hastily, I wish to upset some members of the high school aged kids enough to challenge me on this fallacious assumption.

    One must also consider the curriculum and how it has evolved. Primary school students don’t do Learning Potential anymore and even Phonics seems to be phasing out. At high school, History is an elective for the Arts student. How might these young scholars know where they are going if they don’t know where their ancestors have been? History was a valuable lesson and a vital part of my foundation. Its no wonder this generation appear confused

    The family offers less stability for an already struggling adolescent in this era. It is important that there is guidance for youths. The pressures of defining oneself emulates smack in the middle of all the additional chaos. Teachers are no longer solely responsible for academia. We are counselors, babysitters, nurses, and the list is infinite. What compensation do we offer to these dedicated and underpaid individuals who we have demanded more of? We have taken more of their time and demanded more but have we met these demands with appropriate rewards?

    The education system is certainly interesting. I applaud institutions like ITVET which offers more practical training for the job market, especially our service industries. We need to focus more on the needs of Belize and train the young people to satisfy those needs, don’t you think?

    Education is invaluable. The future of its path ought to be an interesting development. While we teach and train, we the educators must remember that we are attempting to make our graduates professionals in whatever setting they might find themselves in.

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