From the 1650s the British buccaneers began to settle along the Belizean coast. During that time these buccaneers where only interested in the wealth of the land and neither in developing it or securing it for England. Nevertheless, this was the chronological beginning of the nation known today as Belize. Throughout the time from the 1600s until now many battles have been fought both internally and externally, which today has given birth to the nation of Belize with its small but vibrant population of little over 350,000 citizens. The country was colonized by England in1862, which later lead to the country becoming a Crown Colony in 1871 and later to Independence in 1981. Belizeans have come a long way under the rule of England. With such a rich history and such a close relationship with England it can be seen why today our official language and much of our social and political structures are imaged from that of England's.
Belize today boast a diverse composition of cultures with different and unique languages, histories, values and beliefs, clothing and foods among others things. This unique blend has allowed for a rich and proud heritage. Some of the more dominant cultures and their languages include the Creoles who speak a dialect that gets many of its terms from the English Language; the Mestizos who speak the Spanish Language; the Mayas who speak either of three Maya Languages in Belize; and the Garifuna who speak their Garinagu language. English is the official language of the country and was supposed to be the unifying language for all the cultures living in Belize. This however is not true to a certain extent; even though a majority of the population can understand the spoken English and can read in English many have some difficulty speaking fluently in English. Any visitor to Belize who is fluent in English would tell you that the locals can carry on a fairly good conversation in English; however, there are quite a few errors when attempting to say English words known only in their language or dialect as well as consistent grammatical errors. There are Belizeans who are able to fluently speak the English language either due to formal higher education or in many cases simply through the acquisition process of communicating with individuals who are proficient English speakers or through their experiences while living and working in the United States of America.
The capital city of the young and independent nation of Belize is perhaps the smallest capital city in the world. Belmopan is geographically located in the center of the country and is in the Cayo District. This city has been the capital since 1970 and has a growing population of less than 20,000 residents. It is the central hub for all government business; however Belize City, which was the once the capital is still the commercial and financial hub of this country. There are far less educational institutions in Belmopan in comparison to Belize City, which has a population in the proximity of 70,000 residents. Within the existing city limits of Belmopan, there are ten primary/elementary schools, four high schools and one university, which is the national University for the country of Belize. The University of Belize is the largest private tertiary institution in Belize and serves as the cheapest and most accessible institution of higher learning. Of the ten primary institutions, two are private, four are church and state administered and the remaining four are fully state administered.
The school where the study will take place is one of the ten institutions located in the heart of the city. This school can be considered as a suburban institution with better trained teachers and more resource materials than many of the other neighboring schools. Due to this advantage the students who take their school leaving exam or the Primary School Examination (PSE) have consistently performed better than the other schools in Belmopan and in the Cayo District. It has to a certain extent been seen as a model school for the Cayo District and specifically for the government managed schools in the District. The school's population over the past five years has fluctuated within the range of 675 to 750 students per school year as students transfer out district or to Belize City. Currently the school is staffed with 32 full-time teachers of which 28 of them are females and 4 are males. The school's administrative team is comprised of three female; one principal and two vice-principals. There is a male counselor whose office is on the campus but conducts weekly visits on assigned days to three neighboring school. A secretary was recently employed by the Ministry of Education and assigned to the school due to repeated requests from the administrative team of the school. In addition to the above staff members the school also has three full-time wardens - one male and two females- who are responsible for safety of the children during break and lunch sessions as well as the safety of school property.
The student body is as diverse as the country's population in that all ethnic groups can be identified within the school's population. The socio-economic statuses range from those whose parents are in the higher bracket of the society to those whose parents are below the poverty line. A majority of the students fall in the middle where their parents can only afford to live a middle class life. The current cultural population of the school comprises of a large number of Mestizo and Creole students, who make up the majority of the population, followed by a fairly large representation of Garifuna and Maya students. There are small numbers of Chinese and Taiwanese students present at the school and an even smaller number of Mennonite students. Of interest is that the Mestizo culture has over the past fifteen years increased in numbers to the point that that culture represents the ruling majority not only in the school but also in the country. Class sizes are not equally spread across all grade levels; therefore, the student to teacher ratio ranges between 20:1 and 30:1. Almost all teachers are trained either at the Associate Degree level or at the Bachelor Degree level, thus, making it possible for the school to achieve many of the school goals as well as those set out in the curriculums developed by the Ministry of Education.
Nature of the Problem
Belize's geographical location in Spanish speaking Central America and the large number of immigrants who cross into Belize from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for the most part has also contributed to the large number of Belizeans who are not fluent in English. The children born in Belize to these legal and illegal immigrants are Belizeans who are therefore entitled to all the rights and freedom enshrined in the country's constitution, which includes the right to an education. Their education starts out with English being the language of communication on the part of the teachers; however, these children quickly become acquainted with the unifying and popular dialect being spoken - Creole. Creole is the unofficial language spoken by most Belizeans in and outside of the educational system. This dialect is spoken as a first language by those children born to Creole parents and in many instances to parents of all the other ethnic groups.
The problem faced by teachers at all levels of our educational system is therefore teaching our students to speak in English as fluent as they do in their first language. At grade six our students can read fairly well in English, write at an acceptable level in English and listen for understanding in English at their grade level. The problem really appears when students are requested to communicate in English for presentations or for simple academic conversations. Students have difficulties holding a conversation in full English and many times the child would include Creole words or phrases as p art of the conversation or completely transfer to speaking Creole. Students are not able to conduct a full conversation in the English Language with hesitation or using Creole words or phrases. This has created a serious problem that has not only affected the grades for oral presentations but also in areas of spelling, vocabulary and writing. Because students have limited time using and practicing the English Language they lose out on acquiring new English terminologies and their meaning in the context that it is being used. This deficiency then in turn affects students' ability to comprehend what is being read or said. Additional problems arise when the child is expected to write in English because their small word bank in English is quickly and easily exhausted. Students then tend to either write very short essays or keep repeating what they have already written. Allowing for practice time in class for students to speak in English is almost non-existent in our school system. Teachers only allow for oral communication by students in English during presentations and when asking a question. Rarely would you find a scheduled period on the class time table for students to express themselves orally. When students are outside of the classroom they communicate mainly in Creole or Spanish; therefore, their practice time in English is further shortened. At home students are expected to converse and communicate in the family's first language as in many cases the parents either don't speak English or feel that English is only to be used in the classroom or for formal settings.
Purpose of the Study
According to the National Syllabus prepared by the Belize Ministry of Education (2000), students leaving primary school at grade eight should be able to communicate proficiently in English. The purpose of this study therefore is as a result of the failure of our schools to achieve that goal. This study is designed to determine whether the use of technology as a supportive tool in a sixth-grade level classroom would significantly improve students' proficiency in speaking in English. Teacher and students will be in direct use of technologies that will impact on their attitude and interest to speak and communicate in English.
As a part of this research, educational technology for the most part will include the use of the computer lab, digital projector, tape recorder, video recorder, web camera, cell phones and interactive website on the internet. The use of these emerging technologies will allow for interactivity and the opportunity for immediate feedback. Our students today have grown up in a technological world with televisions, DVDs, video games, electronic toys, cellular phones and more. With this reality we are confronted with many advantages and equal disadvantages of using technology in the classroom to assist and support learning. This researcher will benefit from the fact that a majority of the target group are already knowledgeable in the use of many of the tools this researcher plans to use. Our students are knowledgeable and accustomed to receiving and processing information through multi-sensory sources, (J. Hollis, 1995). Thus, this study should prove to be very interesting and hopefully successful.
This research project is expected to not only impact students in the target group but also teachers and perhaps the larger school body. Students will be able to use the available technology to improve their basic speaking skills in the English Language both in and out of the classroom. The benefits of such an achievement will surely impact other related areas of interest such as spelling, writing and reading in the English Language. With such marked improvement there will be an improvement in all other subject areas as English is the language of instruction and text in our schools throughout Belize.