With the increasing breakdown of Belizean families, there seem little other choice but for our population to depend more and more on schools to nurture such values as character strength, personal initiative and responsibility, care of body, mind, emotions and spirit, respect for others, creativity and civic pride that are vital for the well-being and future functions of our society.
Indeed the traditional subjects are necessary but these are not enough. More and more it has become evident that our children are simply not being adequately prepared for the realities of Belize’s development. Hence it is critical for schools to forge beyond the ineffective, alienating and failing system of imparting learning as though the students are mere empty receptacles to be filled. When schools fail to nurture essential core values, the consequences to individuals, families, community and the future of a nation are retrogressive and even devastating for each generation.
Several aspects of Belize’s education system have shown a gross disconnect between what our children are taught and the values that are necessary for their well- being as well as for the future needs of society. Schools have tended to disconnect students from their inner strengths, from nature, their culture and that of others, and disembodied them to become mere receptacles for regurgitating information, devoid of critical thinking and balanced emotions for holistic development and effective participation. Even basic but very important foundations such as awareness about healthy diet and lifestyle, creating and maintaining harmonious relationships, spiritual development, and respect for people and nature are vastly missing. We see such lack of those foundations in such behavior as unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and care for the body, inability to resolve conflicts and increase in abuse and violence, and lack of parenting skills. Even many of the most “educated” can be disconnected, tend to live in their heads, lack the awareness about healthy living as well equanimity to peacefully resolve conflicts. They tend to be compliant to the status quo.
In a previous article, I discussed as one example, the persistent failure of high schools to enable their non-Hispanic students to be conversant or literate in Spanish despite the fact that mandatory Spanish classes are taught through each of four years. Such lack of preparation has stifled many students from effective participation in scholarship opportunities offered by our Latin American neighbors and region.
Belize’s education system at all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary – does not seem to be designed to develop and unleash vital human capacities. It is a system thus described by a frustrated elderly Belizean employer: “Dem gat lat a education, but no learnment.” The practical application of character strength and core values is the “learnment” that he referred to as vastly absent.
Another glaring example is the naïve collusion of school Principals with merchants to establish schools as a captive market for soft drinks to our children. The strategy is that by conditioning their taste to these unhealthy drinks at an early age, a habit pattern will be formed. By the time these children grow older and become parents this habit would become so ingrained that they mindlessly pass it on to their children and future generations. Bingo for the company.
Given the high and increasing incidence of diabetes all over Belize, school administrations ought to be more aware and proactive to prevent such disgraceful alliance with the companies. It reflects that the school administration is either naive or least concerned about effects of high-sugar content drinks on the health of the students and the values they are passing on for the future well-being of our nation.
It is no wonder that Belize was featured in a Guinness Book of Records as the country that stands out as the world’s leading consumer of sugar with its per capita consumption of 62.6 kg (138 lbs.) per annum. Gulping each soft drink is like ingesting the equivalent of 8-12 teaspoons of sugar. Not to mention the other secret ingredients that companies promote to give “happiness”. Happy ignorance! Soft drinks are devoid of healthful nutrients. Too many students (like many adults) are hooked to the pleasure and daily desire for soft drinks with their (usually processed) meals. Many prefer soft drinks to healthy alternatives, including water. Consequently, Belize is increasingly becoming an abdominally obese and diabetic nation.
Numerous scientific studies, such as one conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010, have consistently shown strong evidence that drinking soda on a regular basis can lead to weight gain – especially in the stomach or abdominal area – and increase one’s risk for health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.
In a Nurse Health Study that followed over 90,000 women for over two decades, results show that women who consumed one or more servings of soft drink per day were twice as likely as those who consumed less than one serving per month to develop diabetes over the course of the study. Yale University researchers also found that people tend to eat more calories on days when they drink a lot of sugar-sweetened drinks, and that soda drinkers tend to grow heavier than people who don’t drink soft drinks. The evidence has led several countries to ban the sale of soft drinks in schools. In Belize, however, school leaders appear ignorant to these facts and expose our future generation to these risks.
The recent World Health Organization’s ranking of the top 10 leading causes of death shows that globally diabetes ranks as the 9th leading cause of death over the past decade. However, for Belize that report shows diabetes ranking as the first leading cause of death: – more than death by violence, which ranks as Belize’s 9th leading cause of death, prostate cancer deaths (rank 10th), or breast cancer (ranking as the 16th leading cause). Too many Belizeans, about 44,715 persons or 13.42% of Belize’s population, according to recent statistics, are living with diabetes. That number is growing. Many others mindlessly continue unhealthy eating habits including drinking soft drinks with meals.
Based on all the evidence, the sale of soft drinks at schools in Belize is just another example of further naïve disconnect between the educational practices and the values that are critically needed for the future health of our nation. Can’t school administrators see that promoting healthy drinks such as coconut water, natural citrus juice, and local fruits could greatly enhance the health of the students, instill proper values and build new opportunities in the domestic economy? Wouldn’t the demand from schools for these healthy alternatives encourage increase production among small farmers? Parents must also be aware.
Belize’s annual observance of World Diabetes Day and activities to promote public awareness has to go much deeper. The root of the problem has to be addressed not only in an academic way, but through the very practices and values that schools impart. School administrators each have to be more strategic, more visionary and deliberate towards merging principles and practice for a better society. There should be no excuses to place the corporate interests over the well-being of our children. Belize depends on our schools not to be static and detached from reality. Rather schools should dynamic and engaged to critically examine our current realities, to envision the future we wish to create, and to instill proper values and examples of healthy living and other vital foundations for the benefit of Belize’s future.
By Jeremy A. Enriquez