An MIT and Belize Ministry of Education Collaboration Pushes Boundaries of Innovative Education

Itz’at STEAM Academy in Belize, a school that diverges from traditional teaching methods to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) has adopted a new innovative educational approach to teach their students. Fourteen-year-old Jahzhia Moralez, who previously attended a school with a heavy homework load, found Itz’at’s hands-on, fun learning environment refreshing and aligned with her career aspirations in architecture or veterinary science.

Itz’at, which means “wise one” in Maya, was launched in September 2023 as a collaborative effort between MIT and the Belize Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology. The school aims to prepare 13- to 16-year-olds for sustainable futures, emphasizing inclusivity and support for girls, special needs students, and learners from marginalized backgrounds. It introduces competency-based learning and authentic experiences in its curriculum.

The pedagogical framework of Itz’at, developed in partnership with MIT’s pK-12 section, focuses on social-emotional and cultural learning, transdisciplinary academics, and community engagement. Vice Principal Christine Coc emphasized the development of empathy, cultural awareness, and critical thinking through this model. Lionel Palacio, a teacher at the academy, noted the emphasis on competence and the acceptability of not having all the answers, moving away from traditional memorization and testing to assess understanding through project-based work.

Students like Moralez experience enhanced engagement and a deeper understanding of subjects through this transdisciplinary approach, applying knowledge across different projects and subjects. Community engagement initiatives further connect students with real-world applications of their learning.

Parents have noticed significant positive changes in their children’s confidence, independence, and academic engagement. The school’s approach not only fosters a supportive learning environment but also aims to strengthen Belize’s industries and career pathways for students.

The development of Itz’at STEAM Academy was part of a broader initiative by MIT and the Belize Ministry of Education, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, to innovate education and build local capacity for ongoing innovation. With plans to expand student capacity and continue enhancing STEAM education in Belize, Itz’at represents a significant step forward in the region’s educational landscape, promising a brighter future for its students.