While in Toronto in 1987 to celebrate Jamaica’s 25th independence anniversary with nationals, then Prime Minister Edward Seaga suggested the Diaspora community here should consider supporting early childhood education in the Caribbean island.
Lifelong educator Dr. Mavis Burke was ill and unable to attend the event, but she received a phone call early next morning informing her of Seaga’s request. The Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) soon emerged and has become the most visible and consistent Jamaican charitable organization in Canada in the past 23 years.
It’s the only organization of its kind outside Jamaica that embraces early childhood education, raising thousands of dollars to help prepare kids between the ages of two and five for higher education.
PACE recently honoured Seaga with the Founders award established eight years ago.
“I am here to thank you for putting your best foot forward,” Seaga said at the award ceremony at the Jamaica Consulate. “By adopting schools, you have enabled those institutions to feel that they have an angel assisting them. I am very proud of the group here in Canada.
“PACE Canada is however really PACE Toronto. Why not PACE in the other provinces, in New York, Atlanta, Miami, London? Perhaps, the people there don’t have the same public-minded faith that you have. But I believe that if you give them a good project, they would learn how to be public-minded.”
Seaga said the early years of a child’s life provide the foundation for their development and the opportunity for them to become useful citizens.
“That’s why there is a need for government to start to put more money into early childhood education and build from the bottom up,” he said. “Right now, major funding is being placed in secondary and primary education. The focus should be in the early years with the first two years being devoted exclusively to reading and writing that will lay the groundwork for the rest of their academic career.
“Unless you can conquer the problem of an uneducated society, we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world because uneducated people don’t have a future.”
PACE has adopted 256 Basic Schools from St. Mary in the north to Clarendon in the south and Portland in the east to Hanover in the west and developed a fully equipped mobile computer bus with 10 computers, a teacher’s station, generator and air-conditioning to ensure that Jamaican children can compete in the evolving technological environment. The organization also supports book and nutrition programs and a toy drive and provides annual early childhood education scholarships in Canada and Jamaica.
It’s estimated that PACE enriches and empowers the lives of almost 10,000 young Jamaicans every year.