Frequently Asked Questions 1
Definitions of formula components and their determination
- What is the definition of Special Academic Need, Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Performance Bonus?
- How are they to be determined/measured?
- Why is the Performance Bonus not introduced at the outset?
- Special Academic Needs refers to those students who are identified as in need of academic support. Socio-economic Disadvantage refers to those students who are below the poverty line. The Performance Bonus is a measure yet to be determined and agreed upon to incentivize quality improvements, effectiveness and efficiency.
- Currently the number of Specially Academic Need Students is being determined by the number of students enrolled in the given school whose score was less than 60 on the Primary School Examination. Similarly it was explained that the number of Socio-economically Disadvantaged Students by applying the district poverty rate to the student population in the given school. It was recognized that the district poverty rate is a ‘broad brush’ and therefore there would be need for a more precise measure that would more accurately reflect individual school’s socioeconomic mix of students.
- The Performance Bonus would not be introduced at the outset because it requires agreement on the performance indicators to be used and their conversion into an index which can be used to judge performance and determine any bonus that may be granted a school. Indicators under consideration include efficiency, dropout/repetition rates and performance on external examinations. Currently, all students do not sit external examinations therefore this would present a problem in including this in the performance bonus at this time. Additionally, the performance goals having not being agreed, it would be unreasonable to introduce a performance bonus in the first year since schools did not know what it is they were to be aiming for to qualify for the bonus. Nevertheless, it was the general sentiment that the Performance Bonus Component be included as early as possible during the implementation.
- Why not allow a variable cost per credit depending on the nature of the subject, differing costs by district and by school infrastructure differences.
- Consideration could be given to examining a variable cost per credit perhaps by subject but the more variations in the cost per credit introduced, the more complicated the formula becomes to administer. Additionally, applying a variable cost per subject is likely to compensate for infrastructure differences as the two are linked. That said, it was acknowledged that any adjustments towards a variable cost per credit could be worked out during the phased implementation as we improve upon the formula.
- Would there be a cap on students per class?
- The proposed per student funding model assumes a student teacher ratio of 25 to 1. Other than that assumption there would be no restrictions on class size as the formula has built incentives for efficiency and quality since small class sizes would mean fewer students and more teachers and therefore less funds to cover teaching costs and overcrowded classes would likely lead to poor quality resulting in repetition and dropout and thus less funds. The same consequences would apply if the school attempted to over-enroll students in order to maximize grants.
What does the formula cover? What about fees? Will these remain? Will these go Down or Up?
- Through this reform, is the Ministry of Education and Youth proposing to pay in addition to teaching costs (salaries), social security, pension and other benefits?
- Will the proposed formula cover student support services?
- Would grant-aided schools be able to continue to charge fees and if so what would the conditions be? Will fees go down?
- Will the formula cover capital costs? Furthermore, it was asked whether the Ministry of Education would be providing capital costs to schools separate from the grant allocation to schools.
- The formula was worked out to be able to cover teaching costs and non-teaching costs but not pensions and other benefits. A decision on the payment of 100% of pensions for grant-aided school teachers is a decision for Cabinet and such a decision would have to be based on the additional cost to government.
- The formula allowed for costs to deliver school services as well as a compensation grant that should allow for all students to achieve success. The total grant should allow for school services including such student support services to ensure student success.
- The idea behind the reform would be to reduce to a minimum and possibly eliminate private cost for the delivery of the forty credits of the standard curriculum. In the first year of implementation, most schools will have already charged and received fees and this would have to be allowed for this year. However, there would be a need to review fee structures subsequently with a view to reducing, standardizing and capping.
- The formula does not take account of capital costs. The capital budget of the Ministry of Education is required to serve all schools primary, secondary and tertiary—nearly 400 schools countrywide. Much of this budget goes towards pressing needs for repairs and urgent needs for expansion, particularly at the primary and secondary levels and particularly in rapidly growing parts of the country such as the Banana Belt. Partners in education are expected to do their part in helping to identify capital funds. Additionally the Ministry of Education and Youth has secured a grant from the Caribbean Development Bank to put together an Education Sector Strategy including the conduction of a country wide school mapping exercise to inform where there is need for new schools and for expanding and developing existing ones.
Who will determine the curriculum?
- What would be the proposed curriculum and would BAPSS and BCAPSS be allowed to determine the new curriculum?
- The curriculum reform and development effort would be a collaborative effort lead by the Ministry of Education and Youth in conjunction with secondary education stakeholders. Schools would be involved but the Ministry of Education and Youth must be at the table too. In fact, part of the mandate of the Task Force Secondary Education Finance and Curriculum Reform is to lead this Curriculum Reform Effort.
How will vocational subjects be offered in high schools that currently do not offer these subjects?
- How would vocational subjects be supported especially in those high schools that do not currently cater to vocational subjects? Would the Ministry of Education provide equipment to set up workshops or training areas for each cluster of schools.
- In the first instance, it is anticipated that existing facilities and infrastructure would be utilized to maximize benefits. For example, currently the Institutes for Technical and Vocational Education (ITVETs) represent a significant investment on the part of the Government and people of Belize but these are not being fully utilized. Already, we are exploring this with two high schools in Belize City, Wesley College and Sadie Vernon High School, sending some of their students to the Belize City ITVET to take technical courses.
How will the concept of ‘magnet schools’ work in rural areas where schools are far apart?
- How would the ‘magnet schools’ work? And, would these be feasible in rural areas where schools are far apart?
- A magnet school is a school with specialized courses or curricula. Students from other schools may take their core curriculum at their ‘core school’ but take specialist courses at the magnet school—the way students of Wesley College and Sadie Vernon are taking courses at the Belize City ITVET. It would be easier to establish magnet schools in urban centers where there are more schools and schools are closer together allowing movement of students to pursue electives at other schools. In rural areas, consideration would have to be given on how students could be given access to a standard curriculum including core and relevant options. These are considerations that would have to be addressed in devising the curriculum and considering the situation of rural schools.
What about the need for secondary education certification and articulation between schools?
There is a need to agree and decide on what is considered a secondary education in Belize to meet the needs of students and our country and to allow for a common standard, common certification and for articulation between schools so as to facilitate transfer of students from school to school as may arise from time to time so that they can complete their education successfully. We need to redefine success and facilitate students the kind of flexibility that allows them different pathways to success.
- The curriculum alone and financial support will not address poverty in the home. What role would the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation play in improving retention rates among socioeconomically disadvantaged students?
- The Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation is working on a Conditional Cash Transfer Programme that would provide cash transfers to families in exchange for certain co-responsibilities such as ensuring their children attend school among other things. Rather than a handout and hand-up would be offered.
a. Given the apparent link between enrolment in high school and male juvenile delinquency/crime. Why not build into the formula an adjustment/component that would incentivize the retention of boys in schools given the trend in decreasing male participation and consequent negative social consequences.
a. This is indeed a good idea and something worthy of consideration as we implement over the five years.
- Would the model proposed formula encourage reduction of repetition by schools practicing social promotion in order to retain students so as to receive maximum funding?
- This is a possibility of this and it points to the need for the Performance Bonus to ensure that students are not simply promoted so that repetition rates look good and so as to get more funding.
- How will we increase access to secondary education in rural areas?
- This is as an issue that needs addressing—especially in the rural South. The Ministry of Education has sought to address this concern in the South by granting all Standard Six completers in the $300 Secondary Education Start-Up Subsidy. In addition, the Ministry of Education has opened a high school in rural Toledo (Corazon Creek Technical High School) to provide access to students in the area without the need to travel long hours to and from school. The Ministry of Education is also constructed a new facility for Georgetown Technical High in the Banana Belt and with the help of the European Union that additionally facilities are being added to this High School. That said, it is acknowledged that access in rural areas needs to be addressed. The proposed model of financing will not only encourage increased enrolment but it should provide savings in the budget since the budget will no longer be linked directly to salaries. The cost per student of schooling should not escalate as significantly as it does under the current system. Therefore, any such savings can be re-invested in creating access and improving quality.
The situation of teachers
- Would the reform penalize schools staffed with highly qualified and experienced teachers? Schools with highly qualified and experienced teachers spend a disproportionate share of their funding on salaries at the expense of teaching/learning resources or operational expenses.
- Would the study leave salary come from the Grant Allocation to the School? If so, who/how would the replacement teacher be paid? Alternatively, if the replacement teacher is paid from the Grant Allocation to the School, who/how would the study leave salary be paid?
- The model assumes pay scale 16 for teachers and pupil teacher ratios of 25 to 1. Furthermore, two of the proposed implementation scenarios involve a ‘freeze’ of grants to the above average funded schools at current levels with an annual percentage increase to cover salary increments. Such schools therefore will be able to meet their wage bills. However, all schools, even the below average schools who may now get additional funding, need to put in place plans for efficiency. Enhancing efficiency may involve collaboration between schools in maximizing the use of their resources including teachers. Such collaboration begins with agreement on the standard curriculum (core and options) and how they may be effectively and efficiently delivered. During this process issues of class sizes and maximizing teachers and facilities need to be collaboratively worked out. The proposed implementation scenarios allow for a five year transition period during which such can be worked out. Furthermore, fees may be charged for those courses that would not form part of the standard curriculum to be agreed upon. There is much work ahead as we seek to improve our education system to reduce poverty and crime and develop our human capital and our economy. Martin Luther King reminds us that ‘The time is always ripe to do the right.’ It is also necessary if we are to address the social ills that confront us.
- The current system of financing is linked to teachers salaries for the most part. This means that when a teacher is granted study leave with pay, the replacement teacher is also paid from the public purse. Such salaries for teachers currently on study leave are already embedded in current schools’ funding and since no schools are losing funds then they are already factored and will be paid. However, for teachers going on study leave in subsequent years there will need to be funds allocated separately for that purpose.
- The majority of the teachers at the secondary level are not trained and there is a need to address this situation. The Ministry of Education and Youth is aware of this situation and will be looking at strategies to address this situation. The Education and Training Act provides 5 years for teachers to acquire necessary qualifications for a full license. To complement this, relevant programmes would have to be devised to offer teachers the opportunity to qualify themselves.
Implementing the Reform and Benefits
School Practices and Culture
Observations and comments from stakeholders consulted:
It is recognized that one of the barriers to the reform will be current school practices and cultures. Our high schools tend to have an academic bias and tend to see preparation of students for higher education as one of their main goals. Additionally, a legacy of apparent insufficient space at the secondary level has lead to selectivity in accessing high school. This selectivity also continues to manifests itself throughout high school where dropout and repetition rates are high. This probably reflects insufficient or inadequate mitigating support to at risk students and an attitude and practice of ‘weeding the garden’ of those students deemed not to ‘measure up.’
At the same time, some high schools are characterized by ever expanding curricula with electives increasing especially at the upper levels of high school. The diversification of the curriculum in individual schools, especially at upper secondary levels, combined with high repetition and dropout rates underscores the selectivity (some would say ‘elitism’) of the system. The students who survive to gain access to diverse options do so at the expense of those who repeat or dropout, literally. Fees are increased for everyone to help pay for expensive options that are not viable because of economies of scale. In other words, inefficiency is created that result in rising costs that further reinforces the selectivity of the system. The need for schools to consider and harness economies of scale in deciding on the curriculum and its delivery is emphasized.
To overcome this requires that schools adopt a more inclusive approach and that efforts need to be made to make diverse curricula viable. In the first instance, greater efforts need to be placed on support systems for at risk students. The formula encourages this through its inclusion of the compensation based grant. In the second instance, there is a need for schools to collaborate in the delivery of elective options. This will require less territorialism, less ‘name branding’ and a greater sense of community where students are at the center.
The need for greater monitoring and accountability was emphasized by some stakeholders consulted. Accountability should not only be about finances but also about the performance or quality of education delivered. In this regard there is the need for mandatory restructuring plans to be prepared by schools to support the implementation of the reform.
Comments from stakeholders consulted:
- Stakeholders commented that it is not only finance and academic needs we were addressing through this reform but other social concerns. Once stakeholder posed the question: “Are we ready for this?” This was responded to by another stakeholder who asked: “Can we afford not to be ready?” Yet another stakeholder remarked: “This is long overdue!”
It’s fair, Belize; and it’s time!