Bordering Mexico and Guatemala in Central America, Belize has a population of around 380,000. While the official language is English, the different ethnic groups preserve their native languages, which include Spanish, Garifuna and Maya. Belmopan, the country’s capital city since 1962, has a relatively small population, estimated at 20,621 in mid-2016. Belize gained independence in September 1981 and became a UNESCO Member State in May 1982.
The economy of Belize is based mainly on agriculture exports (such as sugar, bananas and citrus), though tourism and light manufacturing are also significant. To enhance and sustain the country’s economic growth and competitiveness, economic diversification is considered vital. To this end, it is important to strengthen the capacities and skills of the labour force, so as to improve the use of natural resources, especially in eco-tourism, agriculture and fisheries. Education is key to this.
Rising unemployment (11.1 per cent in September 2016) is a major constraint on economic and social development in the country. To tackle it, the Government of Belize stipulated that ‘Education for development – Education for life’ would be one of the main priorities of its national development framework for the period from 2010 to 2030 (known as Horizon 2030). One of the main goals of Horizon 2030 is to create an inclusive education system, reflecting the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual character of Belize society.
Adult learning and education (ALE), or adult and continuing education (ACE) as is termed in Belize, has been increasingly recognized by the government as an important element in creating and sustaining this inclusive education system. Its response to the Third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III) survey highlighted literacy and basic skills as a top priority for ALE programmes, and noted that the overall ALE participation rate reached 60 per cent in 2014. This strong focus is reflected in an adult literacy rate of 82.75 per cent, as of 2015, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The literacy council of Belize, set up in 1992 under the Ministry of Education, shares, with the ACE section of the ministry, responsibility for programmes aimed at eradicating illiteracy. Some secondary schools also offer evening school programmes for those who wish to learn new skills or improve existing ones. In addition to the government’s efforts to enhance literacy among the adult population, non-formal education opportunities for adults, especially for young women who dropped out, are also offered by a growing number of small organizations, including the Youth Enterprise service.
ACE in Belize is also viewed as an important means of educating the adult population and enhancing their employability. The Employment Training and Education Service (ETES) of the Ministry of Education in Belize is responsible for providing quality occupational employment training to empower youth and adults, through the development, monitoring and expansion of modernized technical and adult education programmes. Institutes for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ITVETs) are spread over the six districts of Belize. Their mission is to provide and support skills training, in particular to the youth population who did not have the opportunity to enrol in or complete secondary school, as well as to workers seeking to upgrade their skills. Ultimately, this is expected to enable members of these target groups to obtain better jobs, to improve their quality of life and, thus, to contribute to national and regional development.
To enhance the public perception of technical vocational education and training and encourage enrolment, Belize’s Education Sector Strategy 2011–2016 (ESS) set out plans for a National Qualifications Framework that closely aligns the curriculum of secondary schools with the ITVETs. Moreover, Belize is part of the CARICOM Vocational Qualifications Framework, developed to (1) improve progression routes; (2) modernize qualifications; (3) ensure parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes; and (4) promote transparency, comparability, transferability and recognition of skills and qualifications.
One notable feature of the ESS is the important role it gives information and communications technologies (ICTs) in widening and improving adult education services. ICTs are considered a viable option in extending the provision of learning services to certain target groups, such as those with special needs and those living in remote or highly populated areas.
Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute Office in Belize. 2010. Belize Country Highlight report 2009. Available at: http://www.cardi.org/wp-content/themes/default/files/Highlights/Final%20BEL%20Country%20Highlights%20Report%202009.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2017].
Government of Belize [not dated]. National Development Framework for Belize 2010–2030, Horizon 2030 Framework. Available at: http://www.cdn.gov.bz/belize.gov.bz/images/documents/NATIONAL%20DEVELOPMENT%20FRAMEWORK%202010-2030%20USER%20FRIENDLY%20VERSION.pdf [Accessed 21 March 2017].
Government of Belize, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. 2012. Improving access, quality and governance of education in Belize, Education Sector Strategy 2011–2016. Available at: http://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/sites/planipolis/files/ressources/belize_ed-sector_strategy_2011-2016.pdf [Accessed 22 March 2017].
Ministry of Education, Belize. 2009. National Report: Adult Learning and Education in Belize. Available at: http://uil.unesco.org/fileadmin/multimedia/uil/confintea/pdf/National_Reports/Latin%20America%20-%20Caribbean/confinteavi_national_report_belize_en.pdf [Accessed 21March 2017].
Statistical Institute of Belize. 2017. Mid-year Population Estimates by Area and Sex 2008–2016. Available at: http://www.sib.org.bz/Portals/0/Docs/Statistics/Population/Population-Estimates/Population%20Estimates%20by%20Major%20Administrative%20Areas%20and%20Sex,%202008%20to%202016.xlsx [Accessed 5 April 2017].
UNESCO-IBE. 2010. World Data on Education VII Ed. 2010/11, Belize. Geneva: UNESCO-IBE. Available at: http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/WDE/2010/pdf-versions/Belize.pdf [Accessed 22 March 2017].
UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training 2013 [not dated]. World TVET Database Belize. Available at: http://www.unevoc.unesco.org/go.php?q=World+TVET+Database&lang=en&ct=BLZ [Accessed 21March2017].
 The CARICOM Vocational Qualifications Framework includes 15 countries in the Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago).