Belize Kriol is one type of Caribbean Creole English-lexified language. It is the most prolific language of Belize, a country of 313,000 people situated in Central America and historically and culturally linked also to the Caribbean. Kriol is Belize’s lingua franca, the mother tongue of about a third of the population and the second or third language of almost all others; as one popular radio talk show host calls Kriol in Belize, “di gloo weh hoal wi tugeda [the glue that holds us together]” English is the official language and Spanish is a mandatory school subject, with Spanish also being one of five other national languages are recognized, along with the presence of several immigrant languages.
In large part, the work of the National Kriol Council of Belize has assisted in the shifting attitudes in Belize. The Council was formed in March 1995 as a not-for-profit cultural organization and today continues to be one of the cultural bodies included in country’s National Institute and History (NICH) registered members of Belizean civic society. The Council’s Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association were incorporated on April 29, 1996. Part of the Council’s objectives include:
Over the years, the Council has contributed to the formation of a national culture policy, has become the umbrella organization for all the Kriol groups that were in existence at the time of its formation (Belize Kriol Project, Punta Gorda Creole Group, Creole Association for Retrieval and Promotion and the Creole Society); has established a Website site where a listing of available publications can be found at www.nationalkriolcouncil.org; has published several literature books and the signal publication of the 2007 Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri [Kriol-English Dictionary]; has held numerous outreach public booths at fairs and village events, and schools.
Belize had representation in the January 2011 Creole language rights conference in Jamaica when a charter was ratified (see www.caribbeanlanguagepolicy.com) that seeks to have more public domain institutional support for language rights of all territorial languages. Belize appears poised to take a leadership role in the discussions. In its 1999 School Effectiveness Report, the Belize Ministry of Education acknowledged Kriol as having meaningful importance in the lives of schoolchildren countrywide. Even more instructive of successive Belize government’s apparent general will to accept a role for Creole and other indigenous languages in education is that the 2008 national curriculum for the upper division of primary school contains what is labeled the “Language Education Policy.” While specifically pointing to English proficiency desirability, it equally concurs with prevailing views on the positive effects of mother tongue use. Thus, policy components do acknowledge the meaningful role of mother tongues, even if specific training templates for its use are not available. (see Belize national standards and curriculum web for Language Arts, upper division, retrievable from http://www.moe.gov.bz/index.php?option=com_rubberdoc&view=category&id=101%3Aprimar
It states in part, “In accordance with international best practice as outlined in the International Reading Association’s policy statement on second language literacy instruction, it is recommended that teachers of all students its citizenry deem as meaningful in their lives” (pp. 3 – 4). Today, data-driven results are emerging in Belize that can be used to help drive further policy enactment, such as would enable Kriol to be instituted as a medium of instruction from initial schooling. Results emerging from regional initiatives point to success in both grade improvements, even if not conclusively for all, but unanimously for attitude, participation and overall literacy improvement. (See reprots on recent Jamaica and Nicaraguan projects using Creole in schools, and updates on the Papiamentu educational use in the former Netherland Antilles, in Creoles in Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs.
On July 12, 2010, the Belize Ministry of education granted approval for one, onesemester, Kriol-in-schools dissertation study in two schools that have remedial English classes. At the time of this submission, results are being analyzed with a view for concluding the research and making recommendations that can add to the growing body of literature that can be used to shape educational decisions. The question, then, is this: is Belize ready to take the next step up the ladder of language rights? Is Belize now ready to stop talking about a role for our Creole and other indigenous languages in education and to strengthen policy commitment to our Creole languages as, for example, mediums of instruction? Train translators for use in the Courts? Have court reporters record testimony in a standard Creole orthography? To have schoolchildren share their thoughts, their prayers, their hopes and their fears, not only in the language of international communication but in the language used at home and at play. Truly, these are exciting times.