The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is Here, but is Belize Ready? An Analysis of Student Readiness in the Digital Era
Approximately 40% of employers based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have indicated that the skills gap was the primary obstacle to productivity and employment in the region. For Belize, the skills gap is particularly pronounced due to the country’s reliance on vocational labor in tourism and agriculture. Despite its reputation for rich ethnic diversity and a vibrant ecosystem, the small Central American country has failed to distinguish its economic identity spanning two centuries of industrial revolutions. The COVID-19 pandemic acutely evinced the vulnerabilities in Belize’s workforce, leading to the most significant economic contraction in Belize over the past 30 years. In light of the 4IR’s range of new technologies - that fuse the physical, digital, and biological worlds and impact all disciplines, economies, and industries - the importance of Belize’s need for leapfrogging by bridging the skills gap of its future workforce has been in full display.
Belize's need for skill development and a more resilient workforce has thus become a core focus for policymakers. Past interventions have demonstrated success, suggesting a need for continued interventions to support educational institutions. As a result, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) hired Tambourine Innovation Ventures (TIV) to conduct a study to prepare Belize’s future workforce for the 4IR. The study aimed to close the learning and access gaps that widened during the pandemic, improve the pertinence of education to respond to 4IR requirements and reframe the possibilities of female youth by promoting their participation in the 4IR. This study directly supported the IADB team in preparing a lending operation, drawing on the Skills for the Green Economy model previously developed by the IADB.
TIV's specialists examined the 4IR skills mismatch between Belize's secondary school and TVET graduate profile and the country's labor market needs during project execution. An instrument that quantified the 4IR skills mismatch among Belizean employers and 65 secondary and TVET institutions was developed, considering Belize's technological gap, ICT prevalence, and ICT infrastructure. Additionally, TIV's experts analyzed the curricula of the country's 65 secondary schools and 6 TVET institutions to identify the percentage of schools that include 4IR skills in their curricula. This analysis examined private and public school graduates, location, and proximity to a major city. The study further investigated Belizean secondary school teachers' survey responses on the 4IR, gender gap, and student skill mismatch. Based on the preliminary investigation, all the data was used to create a theoretical indicator. This indicator illuminated Belize's difficulties in adopting and integrating the 4IR, particularly in secondary education and SDG achievement. Therefore, the study has illuminated the need to revise the curriculum, best practices, and standards throughout the education system in Belize.