Belize is located on the east coast of Central America, and is bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea. The population is 301,270, making Belize one of the countries with the lowest population densities in the world. The literacy rate is
76.9%. Because of its history as a British colony, English is the official language, but most speak Belize Kriol. Spanish is a first or second language to most Belizeans because of the large number of settlers from Central America.
The original inhabitants of present-day Belize were the Mopan Mayans. Most of the Mayans died as a result of their contact with Spanish invaders who brought diseases unknown to the area. In 1638, the first British settlement was established in Belize.
Over the next 200 years, there were frequent clashes between the British and Spanish over the area.
In the late 18th century, slaves from the West Indies were brought to work as laborers to cut down logwood and mahogany trees. Slaves were emancipated in 1838.
By 1871, the area was called British Honduras and became a British Crown Colony. It became a self-governing colony in January 1964 and was renamed Belize on June 1, 1973. Belize gained independence from the United Kingdom on September 21, 1981. However,
independence is not recognized by Guatemala due to on-going disputes over the Belize-Guatemala borders. Guatemala has claimed all or parts of Belize throughout its history, and Belize is shown as a province of Guatemala on Guatemalan maps.
Education in Belize is free and compulsory from ages 6 - 14. Currently, the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture oversees the education system in Belize.
Primary and Secondary Education
Primary school is 8 years beginning at age 6. At the end of the 8 years, students sit for the Belize Junior Achievement Test (BJAT). Secondary school is 4 years and students are awarded a high school diploma upon successful completion. Students also sit
for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Secondary Education Certificate.
Post-secondary programs are available in junior colleges and 2 universities. Junior colleges frequently offer secondary school programs as well as post-secondary programs. They also offer the 2-year Sixth Form which leads to the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency
Examination (CAPE) or the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A-Levels). The CAPE was first offered in Belize in 2004.
Admission to post-secondary programs generally requires a high school diploma. Some institutions also require passes on the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Secondary Education Certificate as well as sufficient scores on the Association of Tertiary
Level Institutions in Belize (ATLIB) examination. The University of Belize was founded in 2000 with the merger of University College of Belize, Belmopan Junior College, Belize School of Nursing, Belize School of Education, and Belize College of Agriculture.
Galen University offers degree in cooperation with the University of Indianapolis.
Associates degree programs at junior colleges and the University of Belize are 2 years long. The Associate of Science program at the University of Belize is 3 years. Bachelors degrees are 4 years. The University of the West Indies offers some extension
programs in Belize.
Primary school teachers are prepared in a 3-year program offered by the University of Belize. They are awarded a Certificate in Teaching Level One after the first year, a Certificate in Teaching Level Two after the second year, and a Certificate in Teaching
Level Three after the third year. The Certificate in Teaching Level One can also be earned after 2.5 years of distance education. Secondary school teachers are prepared in a Bachelor in Teacher Education program at the University of Belize.