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Dr. Mavis Burke: Esteemed Educator And Champion Of Early Childhood Education In Jamaica Has Died

Photo contributed by the Burke family.

Dr. Mavis Burke: Esteemed Educator And Champion Of Early Childhood Education In Jamaica Has Died

By Neil Armstrong
Contributing Editor

Neil ArmstrongTORONTO, Ontario (Tuesday, July 19, 2022) — Dr. Mavis Elaine Burke, the founder of the Toronto-based Project for Advancement of Childhood Education (Canada) — P.A.C.E. Canada — died, peacefully, earlier this month, at the age of 93.

Responding to the call from then-Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, to assist community-based pre-schools, also known as basic schools in Jamaica, Dr. Burke established Women for PACE Canada in 1987, later renamed PACE Canada.

The organization is involved in a number of programs, in Jamaica and Canada, which enhance the overall development of young children at the critical age of 3-6 years. It does not receive any government funding, but relies on the generosity of individuals to continue providing these vital programs.

The mission of PACE Canada is to promote early childhood education for socio-economically disadvantaged children, through responsive community efforts. PACE now assists 317 Basic Schools in Jamaica through its adopt-a-school campaign

In an email, the organization said — on behalf of the PACE Board, and in particular, its President, Diana Burke, and Mardi South, it is informing everyone that its beloved founder passed away on July 7.

“Dr. Burke had a vision and passion that will live on through PACE, and we each were blessed to have had the opportunity to contribute in our own way to this vision. Over the years, we came to know how much PACE and Early Childhood Education meant to her. She will be missed by many but never forgotten,” the email eulogised.

PACE Canada also expressed its condolences to the family on behalf of its sponsors, patrons, members, and friends.

“Since 1987, when Dr. Mavis Burke responded to an appeal by then-Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Hon. Edward Seaga, for support of early childhood education in Jamaica, the impact of her tremendous legacy continues to be felt by generations. In forming P.A.C.E., Dr. Burke brought people of all walks of life together, with a simple yet brilliant approach that has resulted in thousands of young children in hundreds of schools having access to certified teachers, educational aids from workbooks to playground equipment, healthy meals and a range of other opportunities, all providing the foundation required for greater success in life. As a consummate educator, hers was a life truly dedicated to the enrichment of the lives of others,” memorialised Mary Anne Chambers, a former president of PACE Canada and the new Chancellor of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Photo contributed.

Photo contributed by the Burke family.

Dr. Burke was born of Jamaican parents, Ama Gladys Burke (nee Simpson) and Charles Norman Burke, in Caimanera, Cuba, on September 10, 1928. She grew up in Jamaica, where she attended Gerry Hall’s school in Old Harbour, Suthermere Prep School, and St. Andrew High School for Girls.

She taught at several schools in Jamaica, including Kingston College. Dr. Burke was also a lecturer and teacher trainer in comparative education, history and social studies with the Department of Education, at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The passionate educator came to Canada in 1970 on contract to Professional Development Associates of Ottawa, an educational consulting firm. While in Ottawa, she undertook a number of research assignments and, later, completed her doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa in 1975.

“Coming to Canada at the time, when an increasing number of immigrants from developing countries were arriving, Dr. Burke focused on ways in which to bridge the gap between Canadians and newcomers. The announcement of the Multiculturalism Policy (1971) made it clear that there would be a need to find ways to accommodate diversity,” notes a profile of Dr. Burke in the “Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish”, a coffee table book, published in 2012 by Jamaica 50 Celebration Inc., to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence.

After moving to Toronto, she became involved in a number of projects relating to the Caribbean, such as Project School to School, an initiative of the Ontario Ministry of Education and a school exchange visit between the Toronto School Board’s Charles G. Fraser school and Jamaica’s Mona school.

She was employed by the Toronto Board of Education as a Special Immigration Consultant in 1976, and initiated a process involving staff, parents and community members to encourage participation in the school system by newcomers and improve relations between teachers and students.

When Dr. Burke joined the Ministry of Education in 1977, she introduced several initiatives that succeeded in changing learning resources in the schools, as well as relations between teachers, students and community leaders.

Her leadership of the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism and Citizenship provided an opportunity for the 60-member provincial group to advise the government on policy and procedures that would assist ethnic minorities to participate, more fully, in Canadian mainstream institutions, notes the commemorative book.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of PACE Canada in 2012, Dr. Burke said the organization had survived because of volunteers and she was pleased with its achievements.

She obtained a Bachelor of Arts with a major in education from the University of the West Indies; a Master of Education from the University of London, UK; a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa; and was made a Fellow of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

Dr. Burke was a recipient of the Order of Ontario in 1999, and holds the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) presented by the government of Jamaica to her in Toronto in 2004. In June 2017, she was awarded the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education, in recognition of her outstanding service.

She was predeceased by her parents and siblings, Enyd MacKenzie, Norma Fernandez, Charles Norman Burke, Jnr and Sydney Burke; and leaves behind nieces and nephews, as well as many cousins, other relatives and close friends.

A memorial service will be held on July 22, at 10:30 a.m., at Highland Funeral Home, Markham Chapel in Markham, Ontario, at which the wearing of masks is required.

In recognition of Dr. Burke’s commitment to improving Early Childhood Education, her family is requesting that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to PACE Canada at www.pacecanada.org.

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