By RON FANFAIR
Painting a very bleak picture of Jamaica’s education system, Chancellor of Ryerson University, Dr. Raymond Chang, has challenged the alumni of one of that country’s oldest high schools to step up and help rebuild the crumbling infrastructure and, in the process, provide students with opportunities to succeed.
In his keynote address at Jamaica College Old Boys Association of Canada’s 21st annual fundraising gala last Saturday night, Chang urged alumni to go the extra mile for their beloved college which, like most of the country’s educational institutions, is decaying.
“The majority of us here left Jamaica well over 20 years ago,” said Chang, a St. George’s College graduate who was given an honorary membership by the J.C. Old Boys association here a few years ago. “I do not need to tell you that we are seeing a whole ‘different’ Jamaica. A few years ago, I stated that the country is rich, but the government is broke, therefore hamstrung. Today, the government’s debt is greater, having incurred successive budget deficits.
“It’s shocking that the country can barely afford less than Can$750 per student enrolled in early childhood education and in the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. But this is the reality. It gives you an education system that is grossly under-funded and misaligned and, with the current and future productivity requirements of a globalized market, this spells disaster, both economically and culturally.
“We cannot leave it to any government to bring education up to speed. The needs are horrendous and the resources are limited. We must depend on ourselves to survive. Our schools need us. Part of the buildings, infrastructure and human capital may survive, but only barely if we do not step in to give, first of ourselves and then of our resources.”
Chang told the alumni that, in a time of crisis, they need to do more than just show up at parties, picnics and other fundraisers, have a good time and then return to their places of comfort without considering how they can help their alma mater regain its place as a breeding ground for the best and brightest.
Founded in 1802 by Barbadian Charles Drax, Jamaica College has produced 17 Rhodes Scholars, including the late Norman Manley and Michael Manley, both former prime ministers, current prime minister, Bruce Golding and former West Indies cricket captain, Jimmy Adams.
“It’s not my job tonight to tell you how much your school needs you,” Chang said. “I am here to tell you that your school needs your energy more than ever before. Tonight is about camaraderie, friendship and reconnecting but, make no mistake, after you’ve gotten past the wonderful food and foot shaking, some serious business needs to take place. That’s the business of renewal, to make Jamaica College once again one of the most outstanding and respected high schools in Jamaica.
“Organizations like yours are doing a great job raising funds. The need is great, much greater than you think and the call to help requires much more than you are already doing. Some of you have dedicated your time, talent and energy to your beloved alma mater and, like me, you are looking to retire and looking at a legacy. So what could be a better legacy than an outstanding Jamaica College? At the end of the day, a good life is not measured by the amount of wealth you have accumulated. It is evaluated according to the contributions you have made to society, of yourself first and of your resources next.”
Chang, one of Canada’s most highly respected and successful business leaders, is a passionate advocate of lifelong learning. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson is named in honour of his generous support and his obsession with education.
Chris Wynter, president of the local J.C. Old Boys chapter, said the funds accrued from last Saturday night’s fundraiser will be used to refurbish the college’s library and purchase computer equipment and other educational supplies.
“This is something we have been doing over the years and we continue to do with the increasing needs,” said Wynter. “We are looking to expand our base and get more of our alumni – especially the younger ones – involved in the organization. There is a lot of work to be done and we need as many hands as possible on board. That’s my challenge to alumni residing in the GTA who are not members of the organization.”
Individuals interested in becoming members can contact Wynter at (905) 890-3694 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rest of the executive comprises Edmund Munroe (vice-president), Austin Daley (treasurer), Alvin Beckford (secretary) and Tony Stuart, Charles Francis, Louis Robinson and Kerith McLeod (directors).