BC explores Belize connectionsPublished 8:57am Tuesday, January 24, 2012
By CAROL HEARD
BC Communciations Specialist
A visit by the Belize Minister of Education on Monday and Tuesday opened the door for Bainbridge College President Richard Carvajal to announce several initiatives to expand Bainbridge College’s horizons by offering more opportunities for international education, and student and faculty exchange programs.
During a dinner Monday honoring Belize Minister of Education Patrick Faber that was attended by representatives of the community and college, Carvajal announced the college will soon embark on a more concerted effort to offer its students more educational opportunities abroad, recruit more foreign students to attend Bainbridge College and will soon advertise for a full-time director of international studies.
“Think of the opportunities for our students, faculty and our community by offering a broader horizon for international travel and education,” Carvajal said. He added that southwest Georgia could greatly benefit from international students living and learning here, and local residents will benefit by having this area introduced to international students, instructors and visitors.
By hosting the 33-year-old Faber, Carvajal told Monday evening’s gathering that Faber’s visit is just the beginning of a more concerted effort to BC’s international offerings.
Although BC has been sending students on study-abroad programs to Belize for six years now, Carvajal’s initiative will expand the level of activity between BC and Belize, as well as between BC and other countries, said BC International Education Adviser Dr. Tracy Harrington. Faculty and staff exchanges and collaborative learning programs between Belizean and Bainbridge College students are expected to take place soon.
“It is my hope that my visit here can really chart a way forward so that we can continue the wonderful friendship and wonderful relationship that has been started certainly before my existence as minister of education and even before Richard was president,” Faber said. “I am hoping we can find a way forward so that we can continue to benefit in the mutual manner in which both our entities have benefited thus far.”
Almost a year ago, when Carvajal first arrived at BC, he outlined the college’s 2011-14 strategic plan that included the goal of increasing the global perspectives across the institution by promoting faculty/staff international travel and on-campus educational programs for both Bainbridge and Blakely sites.
On Tuesday, BC students of a U.S. history and a sociology class met together to hear Faber talk about some of the challenges of a country with a population of approximately 330,000 with more than 300 schools, of some of the Belizean history and culture, and to invite the students to travel to Belize as part of study-abroad programs that will soon be available for them.
Crystal Willis, a BC student from Whigham, Ga., was part of a model United Nations team from BC that represented Belize, and she was in the class as Faber talked on Tuesday. After taking a BC-sponsored trip to Scotland last year, Willis said she would recommend that more students participate in study-abroad trips, because her trip was so rewarding.
“I think everyone should travel aboard to get that culture from another country,” Willis said.
Ties between Bainbridge and Belize
Approximately 30 years ago, Harrington was a founding co-chairman of the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation, of which BC is a member. Harrington and Faber have known each other for almost 16 years, when Faber was an 18-year-old undergraduate student at Valdosta State University on a scholarship that Harrington was able to arrange for Faber.
Carvajal met Faber in August while they attended the installation of the new president of the University of Belize, and Carvajal had invited the minister to visit Bainbridge.
In April, representatives from BC and the Corozal Junior College in Corozal, Belize, signed a memorandum of understanding that expanded the two institutions’ cooperative relationship, including the exchange of academic and professional staff and students. Over the past several years, BC students have studied English, education, nursing and science in Belize, including working with children and teachers in Belizean elementary schools.
Even outside the BC circle, members of the Bainbridge community have deep ties to Belize. For example, Dr. Jerry Little, the pastor at Bainbridge’s First Presbyterian Church who gave the invocation Monday evening, lived in Belize from 1972-77. Two of his children were born there, and he was the coach of Belize’s national basketball team for two years.
Faber and his country
Faber is the youngest member of the Belize Parliament (he is an elected member of the House of Representatives) and of the prime minister’s cabinet, where he has served as Minister of Education since 2008. More than a year and a half ago, the prime minister added to Faber’s duties the role of Minister of Youth. Being the Minister of Education, Faber is the minister of the country’s largest cabinet department, where education accounts for almost $200 million, which is 26.3 percent of the national budget.
He said his country invests in education because of the demographics of Belize — more than half of the population is under the age of 18 and three-quarters is under the age of 35. Faber said Belize is one of the top three countries in Latin American and the Caribbean that invests in education out of its national budget.
“But while that is cause of celebration, we are not pleased with the fact that it is not spent very efficiently in most cases,” Faber said.
He said Belize is actually near the bottom in the region in terms of return. While it is important for Belize to deliver education to its young people, it is more important to deliver quality education, he said.
“There’s a greater challenge to get those teachers trained. Our system for many years saw the bulk of teachers being untrained, and while it is bad at the primary school level, it is even worse at secondary and early childhood,” Faber said.
He said Belize has made tremendous inroads in improving teacher training.
“My view is that better teachers will eventually lead to better quality of instruction, so the larger problem for me is to focus on the teachers,” he said.
Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central and South America, and Faber categorized Belize as a “bridge country” between Latin America and the Caribbean.