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Free Education travels to southern districts

Photo: Hon. Francis Fonseca

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 20, 2023

Since the launch of the Free Education Program that commenced in September 2022, four Southside high schools—Maude Williams, Excelsior, Sadie Vernon, and Gwen Lizarraga—have together seen a significant increase in enrollment of over 200 students in just one year.

After there was initial criticism of this program as being unrealistic in Belize, what is being seen is that it clearly alleviates the situation of numerous impoverished families and children of the Southside community, as the program covers more than just tuition, but also school supplies, uniforms and lunch.

The Minister of Education, Hon. Francis Fonseca, told local reporters how impactful the program has been to numerous students.

“We’re absolutely pleased with the results. Obviously, we want to continue to do more, but we have been able to keep these students in school. It’s critically important, as I always say, it’s a comprehensive program. It’s easy to just talk about free education; it’s much more than that, it’s not just about free tuition. Some people get confused about that. It’s also about a feeding program, it’s about school supplies, it’s about digital devices, it’s about uniforms, it’s about shoes and tennis; so, it’s a comprehensive approach to education,” explained Fonseca.

And as a result of this success, the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño announced during last week’s Sitting of the House of Representatives that an additional $4 million is being allocated under the Government of Belize’s Medium-Term Development Strategy and Plan Belize to expand the pilot program.

This time, it will not only cater to covering the entire Southside of the city, but it will also incorporate high schools of the Toledo and Stann Creek districts. The program will be expanded to 5 schools in the southern districts and is anticipated to cover approximately 1,600 students.

Area representative for Toledo West and Minister of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government, Hon. Oscar Requena, told local media last week how pleased he was that the south will be included in this program.

“I am very happy to say that our Minister of Education, the Honorable Francis Fonseca, together with us as a Cabinet, as a government, we have been working very diligently, and the minister has announced that certain schools on the Southside (Belize City) have been piloting the Free Education … and it is now going to roll to the Toledo District. That is welcomed news, and that is delivering on our commitment under Plan Belize. There is no better opportunity than to provide greater access and opportunity for our children to get a good education, so I am very happy for that,” said Requena.

The Ministry of Education now has the second-largest budget.