Thursday, August 22, 2013

Educating Ashani

It’s that time of year when endless television commercials hawk all the back-to-school specials and savings. You know the ones I’m talking about – where you see parents gleefully filling shopping carts with school supplies, while the kids trail behind them looking morose at the thought of having to endure another nine or ten months of learning.

I watch these commercials with a different perspective these days. You see, here in Corozal – and I would guess many other areas of Belize – there are loads of kids who wish their families could afford to send them to school. Kids who really, really want to learn. Kids who will go to lengths, many of us can’t imagine, to make their educational dreams come true.

Kids like 14-year-old Ashani.

Photo courtesy of Cathie Grondin Kelly

In Belize the education system is based on the English way of doing things. There are three learning levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. 

Primary education lasts for eight years and includes two years of infant classes and an additional six standards or levels. The majority of schools in Belize are affiliated with various churches, but the government also supports the schools. 

At the primary level, education is mandatory and considered “free,” meaning that unless a child is enrolled in a private school, the only costs a family has to cover are for uniforms and school supplies.

But here’s the rub: when you consider that the minimum wage in Belize is $3.30 / $1.65 USD per hour for agricultural and manual laborers, as well as domestic workers, it’s easy to understand why families struggle to find the money to buy those uniforms and school supplies.

Ashani was lucky in that regard. Her dad, Andreas, worked multiple jobs to ensure Ashani had what she needed for primary school, while mom, Betty, tended to Ashani’s two younger siblings and her elderly mother-in-law.

But last year, when it came time for Ashani to start her secondary education – two years at IT-VET, the local Vo-Tech school – the money just couldn’t be found.     

Just what kind of costs are we talking about? According to the IT-VET website, here’s what’s involved (all costs in BZD):

Identification Card                                       $10.00
Registration                                                $40.00
Workshop/Laboratory Fee per level                 $100.00    
Trainee Insurance                                        $13.00
Testing & Certification Fee                            $100.00
Support Subjects booklets (5) @$20.00ea.      $100.00
Tuition/monthly                                           $300.00
($30.00 x10 months)

Total = $663 BZD or $331.50 USD

On top of these expenses, there are the costs of uniforms, books, and other school supplies. 

Now I’m no math whiz, but if the family breadwinner is only bringing home $528 BZD a month (presuming he/she is being paid $3.30/hour and working 40 hours a week), it’s not difficult to understand why it’s so hard to find the funds to cover the education costs for a single child. Factor in that the average family has 3.6 children and, well, it’s just prohibitive. As a result, it came as no big surprise when reading a recent UNICEF report to find out that 40% of heads of households in Belize hold no formal education.

Ashani spent most of last year in tears watching her dreams slip away. But this year, this year, she and her family determined things would be different. Somehow, someway they would find the money to make going to school a reality.  

Coming Up: Turning Dreams into Reality

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! Can't wait to see the next installment.