Piloting and Development of a Belizean Studies Curriculum

Belize Ministry of Education; Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH)


  • Implement the National Cultural Policy of Belize (2016-2026).
  • Scale up the pilot integration of living heritage in education at the primary school level to the secondary school level.
  • Ensure that cultural knowledge and practices inform the development of educational content as well as its methodologies and structures.
  • Encourage students to inquire about their own cultural practices and those of others.
  • Involve practitioners and knowledge bearers in the design and development of ICH educational materials.

Over the last decade, community-based capacity-building programmes, awareness-raising, inventorying and production of educational resources has continued steadily in Belize. The Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) within the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), the Belize Ministry of Education, the various local communities along with their living heritage practitioners and several cultural organizations have come together to work for the piloting and development of a Belizean Studies Curriculum.

Through this curriculum, the project seeks to encourage students to inquire about their own cultural practices and those of others. It is the collaborative result of a gradual scaling up of initiatives focused at integrating living heritage in education in Belize. The curriculum is being developed and piloted, building on the incorporation of ICH at the primary school level and the drafting and finalization of the National Cultural Policy of Belize 2016-2026.A number of the themes of the curriculum are derived from subject areas like social studies, civics, history, culture, sustainable development and environment that also link with and deliver ICH-relevant learning outcomes.

Integration of ICH in Education at the Primary School Level

The initial step in the integration of living heritage in education in Belize, consisted of revising the social studies curriculum that exists for primary schools. This was driven by a growing awareness towards the need of incorporating study material related to living heritage and cultural diversity within the classroom. Discussions revolved around aligning the curriculum with the ICH related work already taking place at international levels, such as the 2003 Convention. During these discussions, a conscious decision was made to give preference to the local terms, so as not to overwhelm children in primary school with foreign technical concepts. Instead, the idea was to support and assimilate existing initiatives that carry the essence and spirit of the 2003 Convention into the curriculum. For example, in Gulisi Primary School, ways and methods of drum making, drum playing, and dance are reinforced through the participation of traditional knowledge-bearers and artists in the school. Similarly, in Tumul’kin School, the recognized practices and knowledge associated with traditional agriculture are taught across different subjects.

Thus, the teaching of living heritage begins in the first year of primary school itself, with a general introduction to the various ethnicities of Belize and their geographic locations. As the students advance through primary school, they are exposed to different cultural practices, traditions and cultural expressions. By the final years of primary education, students are equipped with in-depth knowledge about the living heritage of specific ethnic groups, the importance of safeguarding cultural practices, and the work and efforts of various stakeholders and communities involved in the same.

National Cultural Policy of Belize, 2016-2026

In 2013, a framework document for the National Cultural Policy began to be developed. Drafted by the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR), it was shared with different stakeholders ranging from practitioners to education officials, which led to framing a second draft that underwent public and bilateral consultations. Finally, the third draft received additional input from UNESCO leading to the launch of the final policy document in 2016.

The National Cultural Policy sets forth a Bill of Nine Cultural Rights, one of which is the ‘Right to holistic formal and informal education including arts and culture’. It also highlights specific policy interventions relative to education and cultural heritage such as:
(a) ensuring that cultural knowledge and practices inform the development of education content, methodologies and structures;
(b) ensuring the full integration of the teaching of national heritage, culture and the arts at all levels of the education system and at all education institutions; and
(c) ensuring the development of programmes for the building of the capacity of educators and trainers in heritage, culture and the arts in schools, vocational training institutions and universities.

The Belizean Studies Curriculum

The policy interventions relative to education and culture were partly the reason to set in motion the project of piloting and development of a Belizean Studies Curriculum at the secondary education level. This Project is a collaborative effort between the Institute for Social and Cultural Research , practitioners, local communities, and the Ministry of Education. As of 2018, secondary students now have Belizean Studies at school, which builds on the integration of cultural heritage at the primary level of education.

The curriculum encourages students to reflect on how cultural practices and belief systems shape an individual’s identity, as well as that of the various communities and the ethnic, linguistic and social groups that exist in Belize. Students are asked, for example, to compare how the traditional beliefs and cultural practices such as marriage rituals, death rites and ceremonies like rites of passage, occur and change in different ethnic groups. Furthermore, cultural heritage provides a foundation for studying certain core subjects, such as geography. As an example, students learn to differentiate between latitude and longitude when identifying the presence of different ICH within the country, are taught ways of plotting coordinates and can distinguish between and identify various geographical features like coastal lands, inland, cardinal directions, to name a few.

As a support to the school curriculum and for broader public education and dissemination, two websites have been launched – one as a compilation of living heritage of Belize and the other that is specifically dedicated to Belizean studies. The relevant education materials are compiled and curated with the support of community members, experts and practitioners that have the knowledge pertaining to their living heritage. The pedagogical material was also launched and showcased for and within the communities involved, such as various schools, the youth, the practitioners and the elders of the communities. The practitioners and bearers of knowledge are regularly invited to share about the ICH of their communities and to elaborate and add topics to the curriculum.

Teacher Trainings

During the pilot implementation phase, the Ministry of Education has, through its Quality Assurance and Development Services (QADS), organized multiple teacher training workshops. These workshops addressed the ways and methods of teaching the curriculum as a whole and the learning outcomes from that, which concern and relate to ICH topics. Through the Teaching Learning Institute, the teachers can also enrol for annual professional development courses, including the ones specifically catering to the Belizean studies Curriculum.

Project Outputs

  • Belize National Cultural Policy, 2016-2026
  • Belizean studies Curriculum being integrated in schools since 2018. A dedicated Website and video showcasing its key elements was also developed. This website provides an online breakdown of the curriculum as well as teaching resources and sample lesson plans relating to the various learning outcomes.
  • On March 2020, the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR), the focal point entity for implementing the 2003 Convention, developed and launched the Belize Living Heritage website to support the education sector. This platform is designed to: increase visibility and awareness for Belize’s living heritage; highlight initiatives which contribute to its safeguarding; promote the transmission of knowledge and practices associated with Belize’s living heritage; support wider participation of cultural organizations, communities and practitioners to identify and define their own living heritage through contribution to the Inventory; and share good practice examples of successful integration of living heritage in formal education.
  • Three trainings designed for teachers on how to integrate living heritage into their teaching methodology.
  • The National Festival of Arts program, is a national annual activity organized by the Institute of Creative Arts in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. As a part of this program, students prepare stage presentations which may feature aspects of living heritage in Belize such as dance, music, and the language expressions of the various groups within the country.


As a result of integrating teaching and learning about different ethnic groups and living heritage in Belize, the new curriculum has helped students to understand the importance of cultural diversity and how it contributes to their own and Belizean identity. There is an emphasis on inculcating values like respect, appreciation and tolerance for varied ways of cultural expression, among the students.

For the safeguarding of ICH, educational material and resources on elements that were inventoried have been developed and incorporated into the Belizean Studies curriculum as part this project. For example, the inventory of cultural celebrations was used to develop a traveling exhibit, a brochure, school posters, and a series of short documentary videos. These have been integrated into the curriculum to promote the ICH and educate students and teachers about the elements. Copies of this educational material are also shared with the communities and stakeholders that participated in the inventorying process. This has increased the visibility of the elements and has fostered cultural understanding and appreciation among students, their families, and communities previously unfamiliar with the element(s). Digital samples of these resources can be found at https://www.belizelivingheritage.org/belize-living-heritage-resources.

“…Belizean Studies is important for nation-building, for identifying ourselves as Belizeans and pushing forward the agenda of development, we must make sure that what we push in that curriculum appeals to our young people, and they want to be ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS of its delivery.”

– Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture at the Belizean Studies People’s Launch on June 1st 2018.

First form of Pilot teachers of Belizean Studies
Belize Living heritage

The content of the projects and documents referenced in this platform do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO, including designations employed concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.