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Published by Ideas Lab Studios Ltd. for: United Nations Children’s Fund, Belize 4638 Coney Drive, Gordon House, 3rd Floor P.O. Box 2672 Belize City, Belize, Central America Photography by: Christine Norton, Anna Hoare, Francisco Cuellar, Trang Ho Prepared by: Trang Ho, UNICEF TACRO Programme Officer for Adolescent Development and Participation Acknowledgments: The author would like to express sincere gratitude to the review team, including Christine Norton, Sherlene Tablada, and Anna Hoare. Special thanks go to Mr. Luis Cucul for his extensive interviews and comments on the text and members of the Aguacate community for their precious time in supporting this project. October 2011 © United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Belize Disclaimers: The statements in this publication are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNICEF. This publication or any part there of may be freely reproduced. Prior permission is not required but credits would be much appreciated. A sample of any publication in which the content or part thereof is reproduced would also be appreciated.


By Denise Robateau, UNICEF Education Officer This Belize Knowledge Lab Series is a set of learning tools designed to discuss promising works in progress. The purpose of the Series is to share experiences with practitioners for dialogue and learning and encourage early documentation of innovative programmes. This document is being created to disseminate Aguacate Roman Catholic Primary School’s model as a promising practice in education for use in communities where student learning can benefit from bilingual education based on IBE concepts. For more than four years, students in Aguacate have continuously improved their educational performance as a result of intercultural bilingual education. UNICEF takes this opportunity to share current experiences and lessons learnt not because the programme has reached full maturity but because it has reached a point where lessons can inform startup programmes. In doing so, we hope to encourage school leaders to reflect and make appropriate changes based on this model, allowing room for improvements and adaptations to suit various settings. The challenges and lessons mentioned in this document can help others gain insights into Aguacate RC’s experience and perhaps consider adapting it to their own contexts.



1. INTRODUCTION Education is a basic human right that is inalienable and universal. UNICEF believes that “education enhances lives … ends generational cycles of poverty and disease and provides a foundation for sustainable development.”1 The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out the aim that “by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”2 For children of Belize, this goal may not be within reach by 2015 since the gross enrolment rate3 as of 2009 is only 95.1% and the net enrolment rate4 is 83.7%.5 Table 1 on the next page demonstrates the 2010 MDG Scorecard for net enrolment ratio in primary education in Belize, illustrating that the country is not on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015. 1 UNICEF. “Basic Education and Gender Equality.” Last updated 2 July 2011. Available at: [accessed 19 July 2011]. 2 United Nations. “Goal 2: Achieve Primary Education.” Available at: http://www. [accessed 19 July 2011]. 3 Number of children enrolled in primary schools institutions as a proportion of the total 5-12 year old population. 4 Proportion of primary school aged children (5-12 years old) who are actually enrolled in the primary school system. 5 2010 UNICEF Situation Analysis.



Table 1: Belize MDG Scorecard 20106

Belize is a very diverse country comprised of people who represent various ethnicities. Guaranteeing the right to a quality education for children of different languages poses a challenge because of the need to build varied educational curricula, offer culturally appropriate content, and promote unity in diversity. In this context, intercultural bilingual education (IBE) is a mechanism that ensures a relevant and quality education to all children of Belize; it becomes a powerful tool to help improve the quality of life of indigenous children, allowing them equal opportunity with the rest of the population. For this reason, IBE is gaining popularity and acceptance in the education sector. A recent UNICEF Belize review of three IBE pilot programmes in October 2009 indicated that IBE increased students’ motivation, pride in language and identity, and better understanding of school concepts, by, (i) investing in teachers, (ii) developing a common school culture, and (iii) incorporating parents and communities.7 Strengthening IBE contributes to achieving the MDGs by improving the quality of education at the elementary level, promoting relevant and adequate teaching in the mother tongue in excluded communities, thereby facilitating student learning. It also aims to strengthen teacher training and develop effective and culturally appropriate teaching methodologies, curriculum and materials.


6 Belize Scorecard and Outlook Report 2010. Millennium Development Goals. UNDP Belize. 7 Penados, F. 2009. UNICEF Report “ Safeguarding the Rights of Indigenous Children in the Process of Development: Intercultural Bilingual Education Component: Project Review.”

1. INTRODUCTION Furthermore, in 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which aims to promote the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. According to Article 148 of this declaration, the educational rights of indigenous children should be respected and promoted. Based on the context of promoting indigenous rights to quality education, Aguacate Roman Catholic Primary School (Aguacate RC) was established as a very modest institution that has been part of the IBE pilot programme resulting from a joint initiative of UNICEF, the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA), the Garifuna Council (NGC) and the Ministry of Education in Belize. In 2008, Aguacate RC began implementing IBE by integrating it into the Social Studies curriculum and through extracurricular activities. Visible differences and encouraging trends have been noted among its teaching staff, parents, and students. Indigenous Maya students at Aguacate RC appear to have benefited from its creative intercultural approach, adding to the school’s recent successes and continuous growth. Although Aguacate RC has already gone through an extensive review of its programme in 2009, it has been selected to be a part of this Belize Knowledge Lab Series in 2011 because the review demonstrated its success at diffusing IBE into the school culture and curriculum9; this documentation serves as a follow-up to the review. In implementing IBE, Aguacate RC has taken the concept of Quality Child Friendly Schools (QCFS)10 and adapted it to make it culturally appropriate to the Aguacate community. The QCFS are schools in which children are provided with a conducive environment for learning where their rights are respected and upheld. These integrated models of schooling take a whole school approach to educational reform that is designed to improve individual development and achievement. One of the gains Belize has made in primary education is by developing a policy to create QCFS. 8 For specific reference to the Declaration, please access: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 13 September 2007. General Assembly Resolution 61/295, available at: [accessed 19 July 2011]. 9 Of the three schools reviewed for the IBE pilot programme from the Toledo District- a Q’eqchi’, a Mopan, and Garifuna School - Aguacate RC demonstrated that it was the most successful. 10 Based on UNICEF’s CFS model, these schools should “operate in the best interests of the child. Educational environments must be safe, healthy and protective, endowed with trained teachers, adequate resources and appropriate physical, emotional and social conditions for learning.” Learn more at schools.html


2. BELIZE IN CONTEXT a. Social-economic Situation in Belize

Belize is situated on the Caribbean coast of Central America, bordered on the north by Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and in the south and west by Guatemala, with a very small direct sea link to Honduras in the south. Off the Caribbean coast of Belize lies the second largest barrier reef in the world, an attraction for diving and watersports tourism. It is a relatively small country, with a diverse landmass of almost 23,000 square kilometres, and a population of 312,698 in 201011. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal and Orange Walk in the north, Cayo in the west, Belize in the east and central, Stann Creek in the southern coastal area, and Toledo in the far south and southernmost coast. A significant proportion of Belize’s population is young –about 48% of the Belizean population is 19 or under12. The Belizean economy faces a number of inherent barriers: it is a small country with little economic power; and its population density is low, limiting the internal market and resulting in a high per capita ratio of infrastructure costs. The percentage of Belizean households that are poor (including vulnerable and generally poor) was 31% in 2009. When measured on an individual level, 41.3% of Belizeans were poor in 2009 with poverty for Maya Belizeans substantially higher.13


11 2010 Belize Census. 12 Ibid. 13 Belize Country Poverty Assessment, 2009.

2. BELIZE IN CONTEXT Toledo, the poorest district in Belize, is disadvantaged by insufficient economic opportunity and weak infrastructure. The social make-up of the District is predominantly rural and traditional Maya14 with Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya making up around 10% of the country’s total population and spreading out across approximately 50 villages. Its rural characteristic generally makes it more remote from the country’s main business and tourist areas. With small villages and small agricultural landholdings, it serves as the country’s major producer of rice, corn and beans under the milpa system, and the centre of an expansion of organic cacao production. The charts below demonstrate the indigence15 and poverty16 rates by districts in Belize, with Toledo notably the district with the highest rates.

Figure 1: District Population Poverty Rates, 2002 and 200917

b. Education System in Belize

The Belizean school system is an aggregate of education sub-systems. The language of instruction is English and largely based on the British-Caribbean educational format, with three levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. There are eight years of primary education comprised of two years of infant classes, followed by six standards. Secondary education is divided into four forms requiring examinations before continuation to the next form. Sixth form is actually the first two years of 14 with some concentrations of Mestizos, Garifuna, Creoles, and East Indians in other parts of Toledo. 15 Indigence is a state of extreme poverty or destitution where one’s level of expenditure is not high enough to enable them to satisfy one’s basic foodrequirements. 16 Poverty is essentially related to the notion of absence, lack or deprivation of factors, which are necessary for an acceptable quality of life, as according to the Belize Country Poverty Assessment, 2009. 17 Belize Country Poverty Assessment, 2009.


2. BELIZE IN CONTEXT post-secondary education. Schools are largely run by various religious denominations (e.g., Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, etc.), with a relatively small percentage directly managed by the Government of Belize. Figure 2 provides a visual illustration of the education system.

Figure 2: Overview of Belize education system18

The education system in Belize faces continued problems, with a downward trend in school enrolment19, increasing repetition over the education lifecycle and poor academic performance, indicating policy and quality problems with the educational system as a whole. The education system is also multicultural, but the nature of teacher training and educational curricula does not appear to adequately reflect this reality. Though English is the language of instruction, there are some 10 different languages spoken in Belize20 -- as a first language, 43% speak Spanish, 37% speak Creole (Kriol), a total of about 7.5% speak either Mopan or Q’eqchi’ Maya, 2% speak Garifuna (Garinagu), and only 6% speak English as a first language.21

Furthermore, quality education in Belize is often exacerbated for indigenous children and adolescents because they are usually the poorest of the poor, have parents who are less educated, have higher mortality rates, and are also victims of racism and discrimination, as shown in Figure 3. For example, an IDB report indicates that “youth from the Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizo ethnic groups face greater obstacles to attending secondary education than the Creole population” since the net enrolment rate of Creole youth is 1.6 times higher than Garifuna and Maya youth.22 In the past decade,


18 MOEYSC_ QADS: Hemispheric Project for the Preparation of Policies and Strategies for the Prevention of School Failure, Belize Report, June 2005. 19 GOB/UNICEF 2010, Midterm Review. 20 From Belize Census data 2010. 21 The percentages include Plautdietsch/Mennonite, Chinese, Hindi, and Yucatec Maya. 22 Martin, D. & O. Manzano. 2010. “Towards a Sustainable and Efficient State: The Development Agenda of Belize.” Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

2. BELIZE IN CONTEXT indigenous people in this region have gone through important changes in terms of their overall lifestyle and their relationship with the rest of society. As such, their relationship with the respective states has evolved in line with the approval of important international instruments regarding their rights. However, there is still a wide gap between legal frameworks and fulfillment of their rights, according to data gathered on these populations.

Figure 3: Poverty by Ethnicity, 2002 and 200923

With the aims of improving the lives of indigenous peoples in Belize, UNICEF Belize has three main strategies to support indigenous children and adolescents: 1. Advocate for having indigenous children’s rights in the agenda of state institutions at national and local levels, while also advocating for having child rights in the agenda of indigenous communities and organisations. 2. Promote inter-generational dialogue with indigenous communities and organisations, so that a better articulation can be found between tradition and modern challenges. 3. Promote intercultural dialogue between the different social and ethnic groups to value diversity and, at the same time, support multiple and inclusive societies.

23 Belize Country Poverty Assessment, 2009.



The Belizean context described above is salient for the understanding of the educational situation of indigenous Maya children and adolescents in Aguacate village in Toledo District. Children of primary school age in Aguacate have been attending Aguacate’s only primary school. The school is located on top of a hill in Aguacate village, with a population of 360 people, consisting of approximately 65 families. It serves a homogenous community of Q’eqchi’ people dedicated to subsistence farming. The school was established by the Roman Catholic Mission and has the status of a grant-aided school, in which the government pays the teachers’ salaries and assists with infrastructural development but the church manages the school. For the 2010-2011 school year, the institution served 99 students, 54 boys and 45 girls. It is a multi-grade school where one teacher is responsible for two to three grades, from Standard 1 to Standard 6. A teaching principal and one female and four male teachers work as staff at the school. All teachers speak Q’eqchi’ and the one female teacher speaks both Q’eqchi’ and Mopan.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME Through UNICEF’s 2007-2012 Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP) with the Government of Belize, the organisation launched an initiative titled “Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Children in the Development Process” with intercultural bilingual education as one of the four main components. Three schools were chosen as pilot schools for this initiative and Aguacate represented the Q’eqchi’ Maya group. In 2007, as part of UNICEF’s CPAP, Mr. Louis Cucul, Aguacate RC’s principal, was invited to attend a Best Practise Schools Conference in Guatemala to learn about that country’s methods of implementing IBE in indigenous schools. Upon returning, the principal wished to apply the knowledge he gained in Guatemala to improve the education of his students in Aguacate. With this vision, he understood that one of the learning goals for his indigenous students was to learn how to navigate the two worlds successfully: the traditional Maya world along with the contemporary world in which outside influences abound. The Maya traditions call for a respect of culture and transmission of knowledge within the education system; IBE would help the children of Aguacate achieve these learning goals. Mr. Cucul and his teachers began to attend IBE and language training workshops to learn new skills and to improve their teaching methods. He held meetings with community members through the Parents Teacher Association (PTA) to explain the IBE approach and the reasons for attempting to incorporate it at the school. In 2008, he garnered community support for the incorporation of IBE as part of the education of Aguacate’s school-age children in order to include a more holistic education in which the Maya customs and traditions of their ancestors were respected and celebrated. This approach, he believed, would be relevant and culturally sensitive for his students so that they could adeptly manage the two worlds in which they lived. Aguacate RC has been implementing the IBE curriculum with support from UNICEF, the Maya Leaders Alliance, and the Ministry of Education for the past four years. It began as a response to disparities in the quality of education affecting indigenous children and also a demand from indigenous organisations for relevant education. The original aim of the initiative was to develop greater understanding of IBE as a framework for improving quality and as a means of informing future education plans and policies.



The objective of the IBE programme at Aguacate RC is to prepare the children of the village for the future. It is achieved by promoting the integration of the student’s first language and indigenous culture into the learning process to help them understand and appreciate their history and traditional practices. The goal is to improve the quality and responsiveness of education offered to them, and, by so doing, facilitate them to be able to function in the context of the “Western” culture.

c. Strategies

When Aguacate RC began as part of the pilot programme, there was an oversight committee to provide overall direction for the project, consisting of representatives from the Maya Leaders Alliance, the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, UNESCO, National Institute of Culture and History, University of Belize, and the National Garifuna Council. A technical team was established to work alongside the Technical Coordinator who was responsible for implementing the IBE component of the project. An independent consultant served as the technical coordinator for the first year, but Tumul K’in Center of Learning, an indigenous organisation offering secondary education to indigenous adolescents in Blue Creek, Toledo District, undertook the coordinating role for Aguacate RC and also began managing its financial resources. The chart below (Figure 4) demonstrates the implementation mechanism:

Figure 4: Aguacate’s implementation mechanism


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME The following is a description of the implementation process of IBE at Aguacate RC Primary School:

1. Physical and socio-cultural environment of the school

a. Adoption of a culturally relevant uniform for students and teachers The first action Mr. Cucul took upon returning to the school from Guatemala was to encourage the students to adopt their indigenous dress as a uniform for the school. The boys would wear embroidered sleeves, collar and button-band and the girls wore po’ot (a traditional Q’eqchi’ blouse) and uk’ (traditional skirt). Since the parents had already purchased the required school uniform, UNICEF purchased and supplied materials for the children’s traditional uniforms and the parents took responsibility for sewing them themselves. The teachers of the school also adopted a culturally relevant uniform similar to that of the students. The change in uniform constituted a small but important modification in the social environment of the school to reflect an IBE approach. Though the change may seem like a simple step, its symbolic power could not be underestimated. It was a visible message that the school engaged in a change process and gave value to local knowledge and culture. Subsequently, the parents requested and purchased the uniforms for higher grades as well, which suggested ownership of the change and the embracing of their culture. b. Creating a safe and healthy environment In 2009, Aguacate RC was working to create a safe and healthy learning environment, similar to the characteristics of a Quality Child Friendly School model. Its plans included ensuring the availability of clean water and indoor toilet facilities; tasking the health worker to visit the school to encourage and promote personal hygiene and to address issues such as lice infestation; ensuring the cleaning of the school compound every month by the community, spearheaded by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the Alcalde and the Chairman; and establishing a feeding programme that used local resources to provide a healthy lunch twice a week. Though not officially labelled a Quality Child Friendly School, Aguacate RC took many of the actions to turn the school into a child friendly space.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME Visits to the school in June 2011 indicated that a pump had been successfully installed and frequently used by both students and the villagers; indoor toilet facilities were also available for students on school grounds. The feeding programme had begun but the parents had to cook the food in their own homes; the school currently plans to expand the feeding programme for the next school year (2011-2012) with the construction24 of a school kitchen so that food can be cooked and served at school. In the past, around 60 to 67 students were able to participate in the programme. Now, the school management would like to feed all 105 students starting September 2011. It is expected that the parents will make a small financial contribution and also take turns preparing the meals. As part of the garden programme, children will grow vegetables at the school for use in the feeding programme.

2. Curriculum

In terms of changing the curriculum to accommodate for the successful inclusion of IBE, Aguacate RC Primary School undertook four main actions described below: a. Introduction of traditional arts as part of the arts and crafts curriculum The curriculum expanded to include teaching students how to make traditional handicrafts such as painting calabash (gourds), making fans out of cohune palms, doing pottery, making jippi-jappa hats and basketry, building bird traps, and learning the sugar making process. These activities were implemented across all the school levels, requiring teachers to learn how to make the products themselves, and involving the parents in obtaining the materials and local knowledge bearers to help in the teaching process. The products resulting from these activities were then exhibited at cultural days and other public events held at the school. b. Introduction of traditional music and dance Aguacate RC introduced music and dance at several levels in the school. The school hired nearby village community members as teachers who would come to teach the children how to play the harp and the marimba. Music was used as intercessions between sessions or at the end of the day. In the Infant I level, for example, the teacher played the instruments at the end of the day when the students would dance. During site visits by UNICEF in 2009, observations indicated that students wanted to go on dancing even after the teacher had signalled it was time to go home - an indication that the activity was enjoyable for them. 16

24 Japanese Rotary International has agreed to give 8,000BZ$ to build the kitchen.

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME c. Introduction of the Q’eqchi’ language in the school Prior to the IBE initiative, Aguacate RC required children to speak English in the classroom. Thus, the children’s first language, Q’eqchi’, was used minimally at the Infant I-II levels and much less at the higher levels despite the fact that all the teachers and students spoke it. With IBE implementation, the introduction of language took various forms: (i) The Q’eqchi’ alphabet and Maya number system were introduced in the classroom. The use of their native language in instruction along with English was also adopted and encouraged in group and class discussions. At the Infant I-II levels, it was used to introduce children to the English language and to explain concepts that they may have had difficulties understanding. At the upper levels, the reading and writing of Q’eqchi’ was introduced through the use of books developed by the Maya Area Cultural Heritage Initiative (MACHI). Personal interviews conducted in June 2011 with students and teachers confirmed that it was helpful for students to receive explanations for difficult concepts in both English and Q’eqchi’. (ii) Signs were put up on the walls in Q’eqchi’ and English. Songs and daily morning prayers were translated into Q’eqchi’ and widely used in the school. (iii) The school hosted and participated in the first Maya spelling competition (Spelling M) for middle and upper level children in 2009. The competition has taken place each year since then and its popularity has soared throughout the district of Toledo. Overall, the principal has proudly remarked that students come to the school not only to learn academic subjects but also arts and music; they are subsequently encouraged to display their talents. They are also involved in other extracurricular activities such as various sports programmes, an environmental club, a cadet-security committee, and a school gardening programme.

3. Pedagogy

The pedagogical transformations that Aguacate undertook included story telling sessions in Q’eqchi’ by elders that occurred in the evenings at the school. Community members were invited into the school to teach children arts and crafts and encouraged transmission of knowledge from one generation to the other. 17

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME 4. Transformation of school and community relationship

Aguacate RC began to introduce the observance of a Cultural Day, an event to celebrate Maya identity in which the school exhibited the arts and crafts produced by children, and the parents and community members sold local dishes. During this event, Maya music and dance were also celebrated. Cultural Days involved the entire community and provided income generation opportunities both for the school and members of Aguacate village. To increase its support from the community, the Congress of Maya Teachers (CMT), made up of teachers from the various communities in Toledo, has also hosted a radio programme every Friday that goes out to the other villages. For example, they have introduced the Maya number system on the radio because some members of the community have never had exposure to it; the school is considering making this widely available in print pending funding availability. The school also introduced a disciplinary council, a process that involved the village Alcalde, the village Chairman, church leaders, teachers and parents. The focus of the council is to promote the personal development of students, and it aims to engage, rather than isolate, students who consistently violate the school community spirit. These students are requested to undertake community work supervised by the Alcalde and village Chairman. The school also established a new school governance structure that involves parents, community leaders, and teachers. This group meets every Monday to reflect on their progress and challenges, to develop the school plan, and to oversee its implementation.

d. Costs and Funding

Primary school education is compulsory and free in Belize. Therefore, each student who attends Aguacate Primary School does not pay a fee, except for supplemental fees of $3.50 per year per student when they take end-of-year examinations. Students often pay in instalment, and according to the principal, it is not a major problem. By examining the school financial reports, it was evident that Aguacate did not have a set budget to implement the IBE components yearly. The reports revealed that the school bought materials as needed, such as soccer balls, seeds, papers/toners, and paid for students’ transport and food on trips. For example, for the semester from September 2010 to December 2010, the school recorded an expense of 459BZ$.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME Since the incorporation of IBE, UNICEF has supported Aguacate RC with technical and financial support, which included technical exchanges with neighbouring Guatemala, training of teachers in IBE, technical visits to support IBE implementation, support for the improvement of water and sanitation (WASH) facilities, procurement of equipment and instruments for Aguacate’s sporting and music programme, and construction of some basic infrastructure. Parents have also contributed resources: they helped build the Infant I-II building that was an addition to the original school infrastructure. The construction of the other buildings benefited from an in-kind contribution. Finally, the Government of Belize pays for the teachers’ salaries according to the standards and scales set nationally.

e. Successes of the Programme

After four years of implementation, some clear successes have been noted among the Aguacate RC community. These were evident through interviews carried out by UNICEF in 2009 and more recently in June of 2011.


One of the most important outputs of Aguacate RC’s experience with promoting IBE has been the recognition by the Government of Belize to renovate and expand the school. The government’s Social Investment Fund is currently considering granting financial resources for an education project in Aguacate Village. “The Aguacate Integrated Project,” totalling 731,000BZ$, is subject for Board approval, and construction of an adequate school facility will commence by December 2011 once funding is officially confirmed. It will entail strengthening the Education, Skills Training, and Water & Sanitation (WASH) sectors in collaboration with the Aguacate RC School’s PTA and the Village Council. The objective of the initiative is to improve the quality of education in Aguacate and recognises the need to integrate the school environment (the building), the learning environment, the teaching techniques, the training and level of teachers’ education, health, nutrition, infrastructure of water tanks, and management of the water system. This approach describes the requirements necessary for a Quality Child Friendly School.



Some of the benefits from this project will be25: • • • • • • • • •

Adequate and comfortable classrooms A better teaching and learning environment for students and teachers Better health and hygiene Use of the school as a hurricane shelter Potential for increased enrolment over time Provision of potable water Reduction in incidences of water borne diseases Management and maintenance training Training for teachers and residents of Aguacate

Aguacate’s success in garnering the support and attention from the government for expansion of the school will facilitate further development of the IBE model. Early and continuous investments have contributed to Aguacate’s success in achieving children’s educational rights in this small indigenous community since 2008. By incorporating IBE, Aguacate RC builds quality and inclusion into the students’ education, adding an additional characteristic to its possible QCFS status. Aguacate’s accession into the network of QCFS will continue to improve educational achievements, infrastructure, and environment facilities.


i) Increased participation Since the incorporation of IBE, the participation and voice of students have increased. They feel they have genuine ownership of their education and are part of the school’s development. Through focus group discussions carried out in 2009 and through personal interviews done in 2011, students reported appreciating their language being used in the school, felt proud about it, and expressed the desire to learn. Students also said that they liked their school and were happy that they were allowed and encouraged to speak their language with their peers and teachers. For example, a 13-year-old student commented that speaking Q’eqchi’ allows the students to “cooperate with each other better.” 25 As stated in the Summary Sub-Project Profile Form submitted by the Aguacate RC School PTA and the Village Council.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME Furthermore, they stated that they would feel upset if they were asked not to speak their language. Some of the students expressed pride in reading and writing their language, and although some admitted that it was harder to read and write in Q’eqchi’, they wanted to learn it. Students who were not currently learning their language would like to learn to read and write; some expressed that they would like to have books written in their own language so that they could learn to spell. ii) Increased learning The children conveyed that they learned more because the teachers took time to explain concepts in their own language. They also felt more comfortable speaking in their language and that they understood better. When they did not understand a concept in English, they were able to translate it back and forth without being shy like before. The students interviewed from the upper division expressed that they would like the Primary School Examination (PSE)26 to be written in both languages so that if they did not understand one, they could read the other. Through interviews with teachers, it became apparent that the children participated and performed better as a result of IBE. Teachers observed that they had seen greater participation from children in class discussions. When English was exclusively used in the classroom, they reported that few children participated and those that did would do so using one-word answers. When their native language was used, they reported richer participation even at the infant levels. Teachers also shared that children demonstrated greater comprehension of concepts. iii) Increased performance on PSE Aguacate RC’s achievements can also be viewed in light of its students’ continually improving PSE scores. In 2011, 100% of students (8 out of 8) who took the PSE passed as compared to 7 out of 9 students in 2010. Prior to these impressive results for a rural school, the scores were 4 out of 9, then 5 out of 9. The teachers attribute the improvements in PSE scores to IBE implementation. Passing the PSE provides the students the opportunity to attend secondary education either at Julian Cho Technical High School, Toledo Community College, or the Tumul K’in Center of Learning in the district. 26 PSE is required for students to transition to secondary school.



Parents have experienced a higher level of participation in the education of their children and a sense of school ownership. Through one-on-one interviews in both 2009 and 2011, parents expressed that they felt they had something to contribute as a result of the introduction of the local knowledge in the curriculum such as the arts and crafts. Their knowledge empowered and motivated them to participate and to show concern and interest for their children’s education. This translated into a feeling of co-responsibility for what was produced by their children and a higher level of motivation to be part of the school life. School has become a part of every aspect of the community life as the teachers and parents share the responsibility for teaching. This success is evident in the parents’ active participation in the disciplinary council, the weekly meetings, the compound’s clean up efforts, the clean water initiatives, the feeding programme, and the construction of the school kitchen. According to school officials, decisions on school activities are discussed at the PTA and then given to the community for approval. This mechanism allows parents to ask questions and make suggestions as appropriate.

Teachers and Principal

i) Increased language skills and capacity to integrate them Teachers commented that their language skills increased since the incorporation of IBE they were now better able to read and write their language. At the very start of the project, they identified language to be one of their main obstacles – while they knew how to speak it, they were only able to use it to explain simple concepts to students. With the initial introductory IBE training supported by UNICEF, they quickly learned to apply new knowledge in the classroom by putting up signs and translating rhymes and songs. With the implementation of the first phase of more formal training, their skills increased even more. Even with very basic training on intercultural education and the opportunity to experiment with the inclusion of cultural and language materials, teachers invented new ways to develop the Arts and Social Studies curriculum.27 According to the Toledo District Education Manager, Mr. Oscar Reyes, “the teachers improved in their planning and teaching skills as they applied varying methodologies.” 27 The use of the Maya number system was also used in the math curriculum.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME ii) Increased pride and confidence and strengthened identity Similar to the reports of students, teachers also reported that they felt proud and confident about celebrating their identity as Mayans. This was reflected by their excitement about the IBE programme, the integration of their culture, and the usage of their language in school. IBE allowed them to question the status quo – rethinking quality education and the role of language. One of the teachers commented through the interviews in 2009 that “IBE broke that barrier and removed fear.” The project offered them a framework for thinking about relevance and quality and in the process liberated their creative energy. It constituted a restructuring of the system that made their education locally and culturally relevant so they could contextualise it for their own understanding. For example, the creative energy fostered by IBE allowed them to organise the first Maya spelling competition (Spelling M) that drew the participation of eight schools in 2009. In 2011, Aguacate RC won 2nd and 3rd place in the contest. Currently, the teachers have organised a poetry competition in Q’eqchi’ and Aguacate R.C. won 1st and 2nd place. The teachers now would like to train students how to do short stories in Q’eqchi’ for the new school year. Once IBE was implemented, the actions of the teachers also moved quickly beyond the school parameters as they came to see themselves as important social actors and advocates for the rights of children and their own rights as indigenous peoples. With the hopes of organising themselves to promote a responsive and relevant quality education, and more specifically, to promote intercultural education, the teachers established the Congress of Maya Teachers (CMT) in 2008. In their first action plan for the CMT, the teachers stated that they aimed to “make IBE their own.” It was clear through interviews that they were seeing themselves as important actors in ensuring quality education. CMT’s plans included advocating for policy changes, establishing partnerships, and lobbying the school management for a more rational approach to transfer teachers taking into account the effects it would have on the implementation of IBE. They also included in their plans to facilitate the relevant and appropriate capacity building for teachers to deliver quality education. iii) Transformed thinking Teachers and principal have expressed a shift in their thinking regarding the use of English in school instruction. Several stated that before IBE was implemented, they used to believe that teaching had to be done in English since there was a rule about speaking English exclusively in the classrooms. 23

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME This requirement was the first pedagogical aspect to be changed. In the case of the principal, one clear shift in his thinking related to his views regarding the parents’ role and his own role as a principal. Before IBE, he used to see himself as the executor of mandates coming from management. However, now he sees himself as being accountable to both the parents and management and hence serving as a mediator and a facilitator of parental and community participation.

f. Factors contributing to success

Considering the successes described above, some factors can be identified as having contributed to these successes at Aguacate RC. These factors can be useful for other schools that may want to replicate its programme model. Below is a list of the most important factors according to programme leaders in 2009 and 2011: i) Importance of study visits and South-South collaboration The experience of Aguacate RC demonstrates the importance and usefulness of study visits and South-South collaboration in implementing good practice models. Aguacate RC’s decision to incorporate IBE at the school resulted from a useful visit to a neighbouring country. By learning from Guatemala’s experience, it was able to integrate and adapt many of the lessons learnt into its own curriculum. Other countries and communities may benefit from learning about Aguacate RC’s model in the future. ii) Importance of strong leadership and conviction Aguacate RC’s experience clearly highlights the key role that leadership plays in the successful implementation of the IBE model. In this case, the principal of the school has exerted the most significant leadership and conviction regarding the importance of IBE. This role becomes particularly evident when looking at the school’s experience with transfers. At the end of the second year, school management decided to transfer all the teachers28 but the principal remained. The principal continues to be committed to nurturing and expanding IBE. The central role that the principal has played is to create a sense of community among students, teachers, and the community members- all working towards a common goal. The teachers feel strongly that the principal’s support and leadership have been pivotal to their success29.


28 The longest serving teacher is someone who has a total of 3 years at the school since he was transferred and now has come back to teach at Aguacate RC again. Each year a school may get 2-3 transfers, which can be very negative for continuity. 29 Aguacate’s principal is from the village, speaks the language and has children who attend the school. He has 18 years of teaching experience including as principal of Aguacate RC. He holds a trained teacher certificate from the Belize Teachers College.

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME In personal interviews with him in 2011, the principal commented that it was rewarding to see the participation of children and parents. The fact that the uniforms are still being used after three years motivates him and having students score high on the PSE serves as a greater incentive. He believes he does not push the teachers but works with them collaboratively by sitting down to plan lessons and eating meals together, for example. He identifies himself as an equal to his staff and he considers himself fortunate to have committed staff working with him. These findings suggest that investing in principals by facilitating strong leadership skills and giving them incentives might produce higher returns. At the same time, developing principals’ ability to facilitate the work of teachers is essential, as is having a team of teachers that is supportive of the change process. iii) Importance of school culture School culture refers to the attitudes, feelings, values, and behaviour that characterise the school as recognised by those who work there. School culture is often challenging to change and frequently a major obstacle to school transformation. On the other hand, it is crucial to sustaining change. Despite the transfers of the teachers, the nurturing school culture at Aguacate seemed to persist. One could argue that this is as a result of the continued involvement of the principal and the parents who became increasingly involved in sustaining that school culture. This finding suggests that it is crucial to develop an IBE culture that is supported by teachers, students, parents and the community. iv) Importance of parental participation The importance of parental participation and support has already been indicated in terms of sustaining the school culture. It is also especially important for the future growth and sustainability of IBE. The case of Aguacate RC shows that the school has been able to accomplish more with the involvement of parents to facilitate learning and the mobilisation of resources. Their commitment to the school facilitates sustainability. For example, in order for students to actively participate in the arts programme, the parents need to obtain the materials from the forest. Mr. Cucul acknowledges that parents need to know the importance of the preservation of culture and how IBE can help them prepare well for the future of their students and community. Parents have indicated that IBE is a long-time dream of the community and that they will continue it. 25

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME v) Importance of targeting easy curricular areas to achieve quick wins The teachers at Aguacate RC started piece-by-piece and targeted the Arts, Music and Social Studies curriculum one at a time. These are content areas that are generally given limited emphasis as compared to English, Math and Science, which are seen as core areas and given emphasis in the national exams. There is a need to provide greater support and training to teachers to engage with the more substantive curricular areas. vi) Need for support from the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders Without a clear and explicit commitment to IBE at a higher governmental level, support at the local level will be minimal. Staff at the school also has suggested that the government should communicate with them frequently and understand what their needs are. The dialogue with government is helpful for long-term sustainability rather than receiving small sums of money which can hamper scale. Interviewees felt that government support, however, may only come as a result of a better understanding of IBE particularly through the documentation and communication of its benefits; a better understanding of the financial implications for the state; and a better understanding of indigenous rights, particularly of children’s rights. UNICEF has also invested in and provided technical and financial support to Aguacate RC’s IBE pilot programme from the beginning. Along with counterparts, the organisation has made numerous site visits to learn about the progress and challenges of implementation. This has created a space for dialogue and reconsideration as the programme has grown. Mr. Reyes noted that “UNICEF’s support has been very significant to the development and implementation of the IBE programme. The school was able to improve in the planning and teaching, using aspects of the indigenous language art... Route visits from UNICEF and periodic trainings and consultations were beneficial to the success experienced at the school.”

g. Challenges and Solutions:

Despite the successes that Aguacate RC has experienced, like many start-up programmes, they have faced various challenges and constraints as well. The 2009 comprehensive review and 2011 inperson interviews by UNICEF documented these challenges and constraints at the various levels. Below, some of the main challenges and their solutions are outlined: 26

3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME (i) Financial Issue: A major constraint for Aguacate RC over the years has been the need to mobilise resources to support the implementation of the teachers’ ideas and the school action plans. The principal of Aguacate reported that since it is a small school, the fundraising has been very difficult. UNICEF has been a consistent funder of the action plans and has provided solid technical advice during monitoring visits over the years. Furthermore, the principal is concerned that additional resources are needed for external trainers to come to teach students new skills in arts, music, and language. Solutions: Some aspects of expansion in programme will be covered by the Social Investment Fund Project, currently pending official confirmation and is planned for execution in the last quarter of 2011. There is also a need to diversify funding sources in order to make the programme sustainable. (ii) Sustainability Issue: A challenge for many programmes is the ability to sustain themselves beyond a change in leadership or other sudden changes. The school principal has also identified sound leadership to be pivotal to the success of Aguacate RC. Through various conversations with him, it is clear that IBE is his passion, and he has worked tirelessly in the last five years to promote and nurture it among stakeholders, teachers, and community members. Solution: The principal recognises that that he needs to work with the PTA even harder in order for them to take on the responsibility to continue IBE and to develop a continuity plan. (iii) Limited monitoring and documentation Issue: While the school’s IBE proposal called for a monitoring and implementation plan from the beginning, this has not been fully developed. Standard indicators for inter-cultural education and criteria for Quality Children Friendly Schools exist but these are not being utilised to inform the establishment of a sound monitoring and evaluation plan. There were no baselines established, no clear indicators were identified, and little data was collected making it difficult to report the progress and impact of the project in a quantitative and empirical manner.


3. THE AGUACATE RC’s INTERCULTURAL BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME Solutions: Leadership at Aguacate RC suggests that more investments be made in this area since it serves as a key resource for critical reflection and strategic planning for the implementation of the initiative. Proper documentation can also support effective orientation of new teachers and better understanding of donors to the history of the initiative and generate more attention among the educational community, which is one of the main objectives of this Belize Knowledge Lab Series. (iv) Limited communication Issue: Another challenging aspect for Aguacate RC has been limited communication and coordination among the local school management, the implementing agency, the government counterparts, and Aguacate RC’s leadership. While the teachers feel that they gained a new space to explore their ideas and experimented with them into the curriculum, there has been minimal technical support offered to them in the process. Solutions: The school leadership feels that technical support is important both within the school and from external partners particularly in the development of the school plans and its implementation. Communication issues can be improved over time once partners can visibly see the successes at Aguacate RC.


4. DISCUSSION FOR FEASIBILITY OF SCALE UP When IBE began as a pilot programme at the three schools in Toledo District in 2008, the implementers were interested in testing the programme model for the possibility of scale up. The results demonstrated that Aguacate RC’s experience was the most positive, for the reasons specified in the “Successes of the Programme” sub-section. Interview with Mr. Reyes indicated his belief that Aguacate RC school “benefited significantly [from IBE] and the model can work in similar communities in the Toledo District as well as other districts in the country.” Currently, Aguacate RC is at a critical point of having the possibility of expansion and integration into the national network of Quality Child Friendly Schools in Southern Belize. It would be important for the school and village leadership to consider some of the lessons learnt and original vision and action plan to determine if any medium-term changes and policies are required to continue improving the success of IBE.


4. DISCUSSION FOR FEASIBILITY OF SCALE UP As mentioned briefly above, there is a strong need for a monitoring and evaluation framework that would allow for baselines and indicators to measure well-being and accomplishments of students in both quantitative and qualitative manners, which would give more credibility to the successes of the model and also highlight potential challenges to be confronted. Some suggestions for monitoring and evaluation on the school level can be based on the Quality Child Friendly Schools framework for Belizean schools established by the Ministry of Education. The Quality Framework identifies six Key Areas of Quality under which educational institutions conduct their assessment: 1. School identity and governance 2. Effective leadership 3. The curriculum and its delivery 4. Safe, healthy, and supportive learning community 5. School and community relationships 6. Quality assurance On a student level, the monitoring and evaluation framework should include changes in intended outcomes (impact) as well as assessment of quality of programme delivery and adherence to core components with a theory of change (implementation). A clear theory of change for Aguacate RC’s IBE programme articulates the programme’s belief of how specific core components lead to specific changes in student outcomes. It also supports programme dissemination and evaluation. These steps would provide necessary data for scaling up and further development of the programme model. Indicators for well-being established by UNICEF in the past few years could be used in establishing measures for student outcomes. Ongoing monitoring systems and feedback loops should be considered carefully.


5. CONCLUSION Aguacate RC Primary School has resolutely built a promising education model adapted to the cultural rights of children in this small southern village. Despite the administrative challenges, the school and the community have found solutions to guarantee the rights of indigenous children to education. Overall, the school has served as an environment that gives every student the opportunities to explore their talents and interests. Currently, there are still many hopes and dreams for the school as it moves forward. Aguacate RC’s aspirations for the future include: • having Internet on-site so that students can do their homework, including access for high school students in the village; • teaching students how to make their own medicines with herbs from Maya traditions and then creating a booklet out of it; • growing the hammock string plant for crafts and crafts workshops; • holding the “Biggest Vegetable” contests to encourage gardening and how to plant correctly according to the Maya calendar; 31


teaching girls how to make the cloth for their indigenous clothing so that they do not have to import it; adding one more aspect into the curriculum about writing a book on traditional stories, sacred knowledge, and Maya beliefs to preserve them; and teaching students how to read and write in Q’eqchi’ well.

Aguacate’s efforts in attempting to add new ideas into its school structure speak highly of its desire to nurture the IBE approach and to prepare its students for the future. Equally important for the Maya community is the desire to share its history and teach its children how to “survive the two worlds.” Over the years, the teaching staff and community members have joined efforts to ensure that the children of their village received a quality and inclusive education. With further investments and support, Aguacate RC will continue to play an active role in ensuring that the rights of their children and young people are respected, protected and fulfilled. Therefore, resources should be allocated to raise awareness about the importance of IBE and education quality, to train teachers, parents, and other members of the educational community, to produce materials, and to follow up at the school and community levels.


6. BIBLIOGRAPHY Aguacate RC School PTA and Village Council. 2010. “Summary Sub-Project Profile Form for “The Aguacate Integrated Project.” Belize Country Poverty Assessment, 2009. Belize Scorecard and Outlook Report 2010. Millennium Development Goals. UNDP Belize. Government of Belize - UNICEF Plan of Cooperation. “Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Belize, 2010: An Ecological Review.” Government of Belize - UNICEF Midterm Review. 2010. Government of Belize. 2010. Belize Census. Martin, D. & O. Manzano. 2010. “Towards a Sustainable and Efficient State: The Development Agenda of Belize.” Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). MOEYSC_ QADS: Hemispheric Project for the Preparation of Policies and Strategies for the Prevention of School Failure, Belize Report, June 2005. Penados, F. 2009. UNICEF Belize Report “ Safeguarding the Rights of Indigenous Children in the Process of Development: Intercultural Bilingual Education Component: Project Review.” UNICEF. “Basic Education and Gender Equality.” Last updated 2 July 2011. Available at: http://www.unicef. org/education/index.php [accessed 19 July 2011]. United Nations. “Goal 2: Achieve Primary Education.” Available at: education.shtml [accessed 19 July 2011]. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 13 September 2007. General Assembly Resolution 61/295. Available at: [accessed 19 July 2011]. 33