Patrick Faber
UNF Degree: Master's in Educational Leadership
Employment: Belize Minister of Education

Faber reforms Belize schools

Since taking office as Belize’s minister of education in 2008, Patrick Faber has worked to improve access to education and reform the quality of teaching and teacher preparation, modeling these efforts after a long-standing UNF program responsible for training most of the Central American nation’s educational leaders, teachers and administrators.

The 32-year-old Faber, who has a master’s degree in educational leadership from UNF’s College of Education and Human Services, runs the largest and most powerful ministry in a nation where 50 percent of the population is under the age of 15 and 75 percent is under the age of 35.

Having begun his career teaching at an Anglican high school in Belize City, Faber noticed many of his colleagues lacked the country’s minimum teaching qualifications. He noted that only 35 percent of primary school teachers hold an associate’s degree, 45 percent of secondary teachers have a bachelor’s degree and only 30 percent of higher educators have master’s or doctoral degrees. He also noticed that about 50 percent of students dropped out after primary school to work on a family farm.

Faber knew that if the trends were not reversed, a perpetual cycle of poverty would continue in Belize. During summer breaks from 2000 through 2003, Faber attained his master’s degree through a collaborative program in which visiting UNF education professors provided intensive classes in educational leadership, research and instructional methodology in Belize. He credits UNF professors Warren Hodge, G. Pritchy Smith, Betty Flinchum and John Kemppainen as major influences on his development as an educator and reformer.

“I remember Patrick Faber not only as an extraordinarily bright graduate student, but also as one with a heart for social justice,” said Smith.

At 25, Faber won a seat in the Belizean House of Representatives and began a meteoric rise in the political system, taking the lead on several key socioeconomic initiatives. He has been re-elected in his home district of Collet several times by wide margins. He is the youngest member of the Belizean Parliament and Cabinet and is the regional leader of the largest constituency within his party, the United Democratic Party.

“I always knew that I would be a politician so that I could make a difference in Belize,” he said. “Now, there is a chance to make great changes in what has been a [political] stalemate [on education reforms] for a very long time.”

His immediate goal is to have 80 percent of teachers meet the minimum qualifications, which he estimates would have taken 20 to 25 years under the existing system. Working with local junior colleges and universities and members of the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation, including UNF, the ministry developed a “fast track” certificate program in which under-qualified teachers could attend research and pedagogy classes during weekends, summer and holiday breaks.

“The strength of UNF’s master’s program is that it was geared toward educators at a time when we were out of the classroom,” Faber said. “We were able to focus on being students when we were students and teaching when we were teachers. So, now our teachers seeking certificates in our program can immediately use what they have learned instead of waiting until the entire training is finished and get immediate results.”

While public education is free for most children in Belize, parents still have to pay for school supplies, books and uniforms. These costs are occasionally too high for Belizean parents, which forces some students to drop out early. To begin addressing both problems, the ministry started offering a $300 subsidy in 2008 nationwide to help poorer families with those costs. In two of Belize’s poorest districts, attendance in high school has risen 7 percent.

Many of Faber’s fellow Belizean classmates from UNF’s master’s program compose the key leadership within the Ministry of Education, as well as other high-level administrator roles as deans and department heads within the primary, secondary and tertiary schools.

According to Belizean media, public confidence in Faber, the ministry and its restructuring has been positive. Consequently, Sir Colville Young, the governor general of Belize, recently entrusted Faber with also running the Ministry of Youth. Faber has even served occasionally as acting prime minister, being responsible for running the affairs of state, when key leaders are out of the country.

“We are all very inspired for our kids now,” Faber said. “The things that we want to get done – and the things that we always should have been trying to do – are now easier to do.”