In 1986 a series of trade negotiations was initiated, called the Uruguay Round, which lasted for seven and a half years with 125 participating countries, including Belize. It concluded in 1994 with the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the creation of the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS). Since then, services exports have been growing. In 2018, services exports represented a large part of the total export earnings for the six largest exporters of international trade in services. The United States (U.S.) alone exported US$827 billion in services, more than double the value of the second and third largest exporters; the United Kingdom (UK), at US$397 billion and Germany at US$343 billion. The next three largest exporters are France, US$294 billion; the Netherlands, US$248 billion; and Ireland, US$213 billion. Some services, such as education, health or environmental services, account for a negligible share of global trade at present, but are rising rapidly. Despite that, the latest data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis states that in 2018 exports in education services ranked 5th. During the 2017/2018 academic year, the U.S. hosted over one million students and reported US$45.3 billion in education exports. In the UK, revenue from education-related exports and transnational education activity increased to £21.4 billion in 2017, an increase of 7.2% since 2016. In 2002, a total of 42 countries made commitments in education services at the WTO. By 2020, a total of 55 countries have made commitments in education services.
Education services are defined as primary, secondary, higher or tertiary, adult, and other education services. The higher education services sector is further subdivided into advanced, theoretical, professional and practical or occupational categories. Other education services are related activities that support the educational process, such as educational testing and student exchange programs.
Education services are traded on the international market through four modes. The first mode is cross border supply of education services which covers e-learning platforms for distance learning which is supported through the use of new information technologies and the internet. The second mode is the consumption of education services abroad which refers to a student who travels abroad to study. International flows of students in higher education constitute at present, by far, the largest share of the global market for education services. The third mode is commercial presence which refers to the commercial establishment of facilities abroad by education providers either in the form of local branch campuses or partnerships with domestic education institutions. In Belize, there are four approved medical schools that have established local campuses. The fourth mode is the movement of educational personnel which consists of a natural person for example, a professor, researcher or teacher, travelling to another country on a temporary basis to provide an educational service.
Commercial educational strategies that have gained popularity are partnerships with foreign educational institutions to establish local branch campuses and twinning arrangements or joint degree programmes. Twinning arrangements is a collaborative agreement between institutions where a student does part of his or her degree programme at a home institution and the rest at an institution abroad. In other instances, the educational programs are franchised from the foreign institution. This approach is particularly popular for distance-education programs. This is when one institution offers courses that lead to qualifications from another university; one university will accredit the qualification but the actual teaching and delivery of it will be done elsewhere.
The major objectives of the ongoing trade negotiations for GATS is the reduction of protectionism. Many restrictions on the trade in education services take the form of quotas, nationality requirements, restricted visas, and limitations on financial aid eligibility. These restrictions not only affect students from leaving the country to study at foreign institutions but also the number of foreign teachers employed. The lack of local recognition of degrees from foreign institutions is also an important issue for distance-education service providers because students enrolled in distance-education programs from a foreign country must ensure that his or her credentials are approved in the country where he or she intends to work. In order to facilitate the trade in services and monitor compliance, countries are encouraged to publish and make easily available all trade-related laws or regulations.
In addition to the GATS, another significant agreement is the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which was also created during the Uruguay Round. This agreement has major implications for the provision of education services, since programs franchised or sold are copyrighted or contain copyrighted material. This agreement requires governments to have laws in place to protect and enforce intellectual property rights and to assure the WTO that their penalties for violation of IP laws deter potential offenders.
In 2018, the Central Bank of Belize recorded services trade inflows valued at BZ$1,261.3 million against outflows of BZ$467.7 million, resulting in a surplus of BZ$793.6 million. In 2019, from January to September, trade surplus totaled BZ$597.9 million . Currently, Belize does not collect data on trade in education services, and has not made any commitments in this sector at the WTO, but many educational initiatives are in place to support the educational sector and to take advantage of possible opportunities in global educational services trade.
With the proliferation of business possibilities that technology has created for e-learning and entertainment, platforms such as Moodle and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and streaming services, trade in education services can be better facilitated through cross-border trade. The national University in Belize does not offer online courses to foreign students, but it does offer online courses to local students. There are also a number of Belizean students accessing online tertiary courses in other countries from institutions in North America, Europe, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. At the secondary level, Sacred Heart College and Corozal Community College have an Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) infrastructure to support Moodle, which is a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments. The online systems used by these schools help to deliver resources and testing support. However, more training for instructors in the delivery of online courses is needed. Digilearn is also enhancing learning in the classroom using a blended approach that allows schools to offer face-to-face and online lessons utilizing a cloud platform. This all-inclusive solution for secondary schools includes the provision of Dell convertible laptops programmed with Microsoft Office 365 educational tools, powered by Digi’s latest innovative services. DigiLearn was piloted in April 2019 and launched on 1 October 2019 at eight secondary schools countrywide at the 1st and 2nd form levels. Galen University, Belize’s first independent university, offers online courses as well.
Growth in the educational sector can partly be attributed to the immense assistance Belize has received from international partners. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the ProFuturo Foundation signed an agreement in October 2018 to promote digital education in a hundred schools in five Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, and Jamaica. For Belize, the ProFuturo Programme will not only bring technological equipment and digital content to 11 schools in the country, but it will also incorporate this technology into the curriculum.
Another program is the Commonwealth Digital Education Leadership Training in Action (C-DELTA). It is a long-term programme of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) to promote a digital education environment in Commonwealth member countries. With support from COL, the University of Belize has customised the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) Master’s Programme in Educational Leadership to meet the needs of Belizean learners and strengthen lecturers’ skills in online course development and delivery. This programme. which began in 2019, will compliment DigiLearn.
MOEYSC has also received support by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) through a loan titled the “Belize Education Reform Programme II” which is focused on enhancing the learning environment at the secondary level and expanding access to basic education. As a result, through the Quality Assurance Development Service (QADS), the secondary curriculum is being revised and eight new curriculum frameworks will be developed. The MOEYSC is also reviewing the implications of expanding the mandatory age for education and developing school gardening programs at the primary level. In addition, the loan provides for the construction of 35 schools across the country of Belize with its core focus on early childhood education.
The GOB and the IDB designed the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) I to support Belize to improve the quality of primary education and the governance of the Belize education system. This loan came to a close in 2019. The objectives achieved were:
- trained approximately 80% of Teacher Education Institution (TEI) pre-service instructors who teach methods courses and 50% of in-service teachers at the primary school level;
- trained approximately 50% of primary school principals in instructional leadership and administration;
- trained approximately 50% of primary school teachers in visible and tangible math, science and language arts. This is a total of 1,592 teachers; and
- developed and implemented the Belize Education Information Management System (BEMIS).Since it was deployed in 2014, BEMIS has helped the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture (MOEYSC) collect and manage relevant and real time data in order to support planning that is increasingly based on evidence. Launched in 615 schools and covering 106,000 students, BEMIS allows principals across the country to create student and teacher profiles at the secondary and primary level, organize classes, manage staff, record student attendance, and most recently, to complete the Ministry’s annual education survey.
Based on the success of EQIP I, the GOB signed EQIP II loan in January 2020 for the value of USD $10 million. According to MOEYSC, agriculture, archaeology, engineering, anthropology, blue economy, and eco-tourism can be viable subject areas, given Belize’s resources and geographical location. Furthermore, the development of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) school in Belize City can support and foster the development of engineering and automotive electronics in Belize. EQIP II focuses on design and development of a STEAM Laboratory school in Belize City to foster and develop the skills of secondary age students using a project-based approach. This school will be constructed within the next 2 ½ years. The loan will also cover the training of the remaining 50% of primary school teachers in math, science and language arts and will also cover electronic teaching methods given the COVID-19 crisis.
Nevertheless, more work is needed. Graduates from Technical Vocational Education and Training institutes in participating CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Member States can live and work within the region. However, those institutions must be able to issue Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs). Established in 2003, the Caribbean Association of National Training Authority (CANTA) was endorsed by CARICOM as the implementation arm of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism for Technical Vocational Education and Training (RCMTVET). The Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ) framework includes a common skill level for all qualifications: Level 1 – semi skilled worker or directly supervised; Level 2 – skilled or supervised skilled worker; Level 3 – supervisor/technician/instructor or independent skilled worker; Level 4 – entrepreneur or specialized worker; and Level 5 – managerial and/or professional worker. Belize has an Employment Training and Education Services (ETES) area that carries out some of the functions of a National Training Authority (NTA). It is the MOEYSC intention to transform ETES into a full fledge NTA in order to be able to grant CVQs to graduates from the Institute for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ITVETs) and other TVET training providers. Presently, it does not issue Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs).
Belize has been working to improve its ability to monitor the quality of its education system. A school inspectorate has been established to inspect schools at the primary and secondary levels. Tertiary education institutions are currently being supported in their efforts to develop and/or strengthen internal quality assurance systems. Training has been provided using quality assurance professionals from UWI and the University of North Georgia. MOEYSC has worked with participating institutions to draft standards to guide internal and external reviews. This is in preparation for the establishment of an external quality assurance agency which will oversee the registration and accreditation of tertiary education institutions. This agency will be responsible for providing quality assurance (monitoring and assessment) of all government, grant-aided and private educational institutions and programs at all levels of the education system in Belize. A framework for the structure and operation of such an agency has been approved and terms of reference developed for drafting legislation to establish it.
Over the last two years, UB has recruited teachers and administrators from the Caribbean, in particular from Trinidad and Tobago. Established partnerships have allowed Belizeans to access scholarships from the University of the West Indies (UWI) and OAS. In the past, Belize collaborated with the University of Guyana, Anton de Kom Universiteit van Suriname, and University of West Indies, Saint Augustin campus, to offer a Masters degree in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development. Courses for the programme were offered online and students were able to participate in field work of their choice either in Belize or Suriname. In an effort to revive regional partnerships, UB has been working with the Environmental Research Institute to develop and offer a Master’s programme in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development.
The Caribbean, including Belize, has a large number of educators leaving to study, work and live abroad; consequently, the region has problems accessing people in the education sector who have the relevant qualifications. In the MOEYCS’s draft strategic plan, there is a five-year action plan to develop a public awareness campaign to recruit qualified and dedicated educators, especially males. To support these efforts, pay scales need to be restructured to properly compensate teachers, especially those in technical fields who do not have a degree but have a series of certifications in a specific field, known as micro-credential; and to build their capacity in pedagogy and technical skills.
Study abroad programmes, as noted above, generate most of the revenue from education services. Negotiated cooperation agreements allow Belize to offer scholarships through UB’s language centre to persons at embassies in Belize. As an English-speaking country, Belize can better position itself to take advantage of this lucrative sector with technical support in the form of programming and marketing. Furthermore, the Caribbean has an opportunity to collaborate more among each other in terms of knowledge sharing and to strengthen, not only CARICOM-EU linkages to increase the intake of international students into local universities, but also the intake of international students from the Americas.
Continued negotiations globally and nationally are needed in this area to develop common standards and quality assurance measurements for professional and advanced education. More importantly, decision makers must focus on the right metrics that support the national development of the educational sector.
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