Most who come to Belize are a little surprised to see so many tiny children teaming everywhere dressed immaculately in school uniforms. I’ll never know how those kids who seem too small to be able to walk keep those bright uniforms clean while ambling home on the dusty country roads around Cayo and Corozal.
For my first 10 years in Belize I never really gave much thought to the quality of the school system. It was when my roaring 20s turned into my supposedly more respectable 30s and I found out that I was about to be a father that it all changed…
Suddenly I had to decide:
- Were the schools in this lackadaisical Caribbean and oftentimes sleepy backwater good enough for my little girl?
- Would she be able to get a university degree here?
- Were options like home-schooling practical?
- What happens if they later decide to move back to your home country? Would their grades, credits, or credentials be applicable back home?
- Would educating my little girl outside the Irish school system that I grew up with hamper her prospects?
First off, there are primary schools in every village. You’ll also find high schools and junior colleges wherever there is the population to warrant one.
However, varying quality of education is a serious concern for expats with kids. Depending on where you live, the primary or secondary level education can be OK, a bit hit and miss… or a total miss.
The reason is fairly common—the teachers are underpaid, some schools in villages have difficulty finding properly trained staff and are underfunded, or parts of the curriculum are not strong enough.
Who Runs The Schools?
The Ministry of Education oversees all schools in Belize. They certify and pay nearly all teachers and directly administrate a large portion of the public schools in Belize.
The rest of the schools are run by churches—predominately Catholic—but it runs the whole gambit with Protestant, evangelical, Mennonite, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, and many others. Even religious schools are generally multidenominational, though some of them are pretty fundamental.
How Are The Schools Organized?
The school system is modelled on the American system, with students progressing from primary school (kindergarten and standard first to sixth) to high school (first to sixth form), to junior college for an associate’s degree before university for a bachelor’s degree or more.
Belize City is not normally the place to choose to live as an expat. But those who choose to do so for work reasons have good educational options.
I sent my daughter Nelia to Belize Elementary School in Belize City when I had to move from Cayo to the Belize City.
Belize Elementary School is a private, fee-paying school, and very well run in my opinion. The teachers are very friendly and you really felt everyone took the idea of a rounded education very seriously.
Fees were about US$1,300 per year and it was considered expensive. Located on Princess Margaret Drive, it is a safe and pleasant place.
Nelia loved it. I know there are plans to move to a larger modern campus in the future. Had we stayed in Belize City, St. Catherine’s Girls Academy is a well-respected, all-girls secondary school. EP York, another school in Belize City, is getting good results these days.
St. Johns is a Jesuit high school and junior college that seems to have slipped a bit lately from its lofty position as traditionally the best school in the country.
Public schools still do have some fees, but they are much lower, usually only a few hundred dollars a year.
I know people are very happy with The Island Academy primary school in Ambergris Caye. It’s right on the beach and there is also a high school on the island.
There is an international primary and high school on Caye Caulker.
Expats were happy with the primary school in Placencia, but once again it requires heading to independence across the lagoon or to Dangriga for high school.
You can find several primary and secondary schools in Belmopan such as QSI International School Of Belize.
There are a plethora of primary schools in the area including Sacred Heart High School and College, which provides a reasonably good level of education.
There are also other Christian schools in the area and a school for kids with hearing loss in Spanish Lookout.
Toledo And Stann Creek
I’m not that sure how the high schools in towns in southern Belize like Dangriga and Punta Gorda are rated. They will probably deliver a reasonable basic education.
Once again, the Ministry of Education is trying to modernize, and Belize gets support from the CARICOM and several other international agencies.
Corozal has primary, secondary, technical schools, and junior colleges.
There are some expats homeschooling in Belize and there is a Facebook group about it. Often, I find it’s due to fundamental religious reasons or parents wanting their children to finish their U.S. or Canadian high school exams to qualify for foreign universities in the future.
What Other Types Of Schools Are There?
- There are technical training colleges in every district called Technical and Vocational Training Schools (TVTS).
- Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ) can be earned in TVETs that are recognized across the Caribbean.
Universities In Belize
Every postgraduate university course choice isn’t catered for in Belize, and for quite a few professions, travel abroad might be necessary.
The University of the West Indies has a small campus in Belize City, and while mostly only providing undergraduate courses in Belize, graduates can go on to attend the large campuses in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. There you can get graduate and postgraduate degrees in fields from Law or Medicine, to Engineering and is an internationally recognized institution.
Galen University is a small private college 8 miles before San Ignacio. The fees are higher than UB and they no longer provide courses accredited by US universities.
In conclusion, schools in Belize generally are not as good as many schools back home. There are some reasonably good schools at all levels, and it’s possible to continue your education in the Caribbean to a high level if you want to.