Belize Education Overview for Expats and Retirees with Kids

RetirePedia's Roving Reporter Jim VeinotBy Jim Veinot

The structure of the Belize education system is based on the British model, as Belize was a British colony for over one hundred years (British Honduras).

There was also considerable influx from the United States by way of Jesuits teaching in Belize. Thus the content is much more American than British. The country is now approximately 60% Catholic.

The Jesuits were followed by the American Peace Corps and voluntary teachers from the U.S.;  thus the U.S. school system has become more influential. Private schools use the grade system (1 to 12) for the most part.

Canadian and American expats modeled some of these schools on their system at home. Religious private schools run by the Jesuits, and then the Anglicans and Methodists, did the same.

Belize Education and SchoolsBelize Education: The image shows a public school in Orange Walk [Image by holachetumal, via Wikimedia Commons]

Belize Education: Public School System

In the public system, there are three levels of education; primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary education lasts for 8 years and is compulsory. It is broken down into 2 years of “infant education” and then 6 “standards”. 

This education is mandatory for children 8 to 14 years old and theoretically parents can be fined $100 for non-attendance. However the only reason the kids don’t attend is because the parents can’t afford the $20 per month it costs for books, supplies and fees. As well, parents are responsible for the costs of uniforms. 

Secondary education consists of 4 “forms”, each lasting a year. This is followed by 6th form, a two year program equivalent to junior college in the U.S.. In fact the 6th form program was modeled after a U.S. college, which approved the curriculum and extended their authority to grant degrees or certificates. 

However, in the eighties Belize decided to take control of their own education system and took some steps towards making it more secular and less sectarian. One of the first steps was to ensure all teachers had degrees or certificates in teaching.

This of course created a shortage of teachers, compounded by the fact that they were significantly underpaid at about $1000 USD per month. In spite of the fact that this was a living wage in the countryside, teaching in the city (Belize City) was far more popular.

Nevertheless, over time progress was made not only in the quality and independence of the school system but in the level of attendance.

Also post-secondary education became available through a partnership with the University of the Caribbean in Jamaica, admission to professional colleges in Cuba, renewal of partnerships with colleges in the USA and the building of technical and scholastic colleges at home. 

Belize Education: Private and/or International Schools

Expats almost universally send their children to private school. These schools tend to be built where there are larger expat populations, such as Ambergris Caye and Belize City.

International schools provide an International Baccalaureate that is accepted worldwide as entrance to post-secondary education.

One of the best known private schools in Belize is found in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. It is called San Pedro High School and has an excellent reputation. Funded privately and by the government, it is open to all residents of San Pedro. Many of the students are children of those working in the tourism or construction industries.

The graduates of the facility find work mainly in the business sector. Those with other interests move on to a “6th form” or junior college school. Tuition and fees total about $3000 per year for a senior. Language of instruction is English.

San Pedro High School, Ambergris Caye, BelizeSan Pedro High School, Ambergris Caye, Belize [Image Credit: ambergristoday.com]

QSI or Quality Schools International is a non-profit organization with schools in 36 countries. Belize is the only Central American country where they opened a school.

It's located in the capital of Belmopan and currently has enrollment of only 28 students. These students are mainly children of diplomats, government workers or international business employees.

The school admits children aged 6 to 13 and provides instruction in English. Subject matter covers a broad range, with some emphasis placed on the history and culture of Belize. There are no fees on their website, but you can contact them to find out more. 

PIA or Peninsula International Academy is located at the bottom of the Placencia Peninsula. It is a multi-lingual private international school, providing education at the preschool and standard 1 - 5 levels.

While the curriculum standards of Belize are met, there is substantial additional training in a variety of areas, based on the capabilities and choices of the students. Entry fee is $2000 per family and tuition is $7000 per year.

Peninsula International Academy (PIA), BelizeStudents at Peninsula International Academy (PIA) celebrate their first annual Earth Day in 2016 [Image Credit: PIA Facebook Page]

There are a host of other private schools, many affiliated with religious organizations, throughout the country. Finding them requires some digging.

To start, do a web search of a particular locale, such as "private schools corozal belize" (without the quotes). One of the results that comes back is http://corozal.com/schools. On that page, you'll see these 5 schools listed...

List of private schools in Corozal, BelizeList of private schools in Corozal, Belize. Found at corozal.com.

Clicking the red icons opens up a Google map with the exact school location. To find their websites (if they have one), copy the school name plus the location and enter it into a new web search.

The Belizean Ministry of Education publishes an up-to-date directory of all schools, junior colleges and universities in Belize, grouped by district. You'll get name of school, principal, address, phone number and email address. However, there's no way to tell if a listed schools is a public or a private school.

Next we’ll move on to safety in Belize!

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