By RON FANFAIR
When then Jamaican Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, issued a call to the Diaspora community to consider making a financial contribution to early childhood education in the Caribbean country, lifelong educator, Dr. Mavis Burke, responded by starting the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) in 1987.
Over the past two decades, the organization has adopted nearly 250 Basic Schools in Jamaica from St. Mary’s in the north to Clarendon in the south and Portland in the east to Hanover in the west, and contributed thousands of dollars to help prepare kids between the ages of two and five for higher education.
PACE honoured its visionary founder at the 22nd annual Strawberry Tea awards recently.
Ontario’s Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best said Burke’s extraordinary vision has helped countless Jamaican children get a start in life through innovative programs like Adopt-a-School and tek-a-bus.
PACE developed two fully mobile computer buses with computers, teacher stations, generators and air-conditioning units to ensure that Jamaican children can compete in the evolving technological environment.
“I was inspired by Dr. Burke to adopt a school and I have been able to see for myself the great work that PACE continues to do,” said Best. “Last year, I visited the school I adopted where I was raised in May Pen and I met the principal and toured the facility. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”
Ontario Cabinet chair, Gerry Phillips, who attended the first Strawberry Tea event at the residence of late Jamaica Consul General in Toronto, Kay Baxter, said that PACE and Burke are two great institutions that deserve to be celebrated.
“Your name was famous in Ontario in the 1980s when you were a leader then, particularly in the field of education,” Phillips told Burke. “You led the way for many of our current leaders and you did it with talent, dignity and accomplishment.”
A graduate of the University of the West Indies and the University of London, Burke came to Canada in 1970 to continue research on her doctoral thesis in education. She acted as an education and international development consultant to a private professional development firm in Ottawa and worked as a private consultant in education and as a special consultant on immigration for the then Toronto Board of Education after completing her PhD at the University of Ottawa.
Burke held the post of chair of the Ontario Social Assistance Review Board for two years before being offered an advisory position with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. She also served as an education officer with the Ontario Ministry of Education, as chair and president of the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism and Citizenship and a board member of the Couchicing Institute on Public Affairs, the Family Service Association of Toronto and the Overseas Book Centre.
Jamaica’s Consul General in Toronto, Anne-Marie Bonner, paid tribute to Burke for giving birth, life and meaning to PACE which enriches and empowers the lives of almost 12,000 young Jamaicans daily.
“You have provided the guiding light and motivating drive,” said Bonner.
PACE also supports book and nutrition programs and a toy drive and provides early childhood education scholarships in Canada and Jamaica.