Great educators the foundation of our development

Published: Sunday | August 5, 2012 Comments 0
Audrey de Sola Pinto
Audrey de Sola Pinto
Wesley Powell
Wesley Powell

Gordon Robinson, Contributor

National development's single most important tool is education. For the past 50 years, despite governments' persistent neglect of their responsibilities to education, Jamaica has been blessed with iconic contributors to national development in the shape of our teachers. They nurtured our future.

"I believe the children are our future.

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Show them all the beauty they possess inside.

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.

Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be."

Our teachers are unrecognised, undecorated national heroes. Many national leaders owe their success to one or more of these heroes.

  • HUGO CARL WINSTON CHAMBERS

Mr Chambers (or 'Chimmy' behind his back) was a Jamaica College old boy and headmaster of his alma mater from 1945-1960. A stickler for discipline with a mind like a steel trap, Hugo Chambers prepared the likes of poet/playwright Dennis Scott; pianist Monty Alexander; businessman R. Danny Williams; international Justice Patrick Robinson; Finance Minister Peter Phillips; and sportswriter Jimmy 'Boots' Carnegie for adult life. He was true blue through and through:

"Hash and roast beef, mince and pie

N-O-M-E-R-C-Y.

Who is winning, well, I guess,

JC, JC, yes, yes, yes (Hooray!)"

I first met Hugo Chambers as a fourth-form student. He'd 'retired', but was making his post-Independence contribution as a Campion College maths teacher. Far advanced in age, slow and deliberate of movement, his mere presence and carriage commanded complete, utter respect. Regardless of the noise level developed while he took forever walking from Masters Room to classroom, as he crossed the threshold, silent attention was immediate.

I believed I was a maths 'brains' and found an algebraic formula 'proving' one equalled two. None of my peers could identify the flaw in its mathematical reasoning, so I decided to try it on Chimmy. During a quiet period, I proudly showed the equation to Mr Chambers. Within 10 seconds, he identified the fallacy.

Hugo Chambers: teacher, genius, Independence icon, nation builder, and national hero.

  • MARGARET SASSO

The Grand Dame of Preparatory School Owner/Principals so much so her exceptional Musgrave Prep was widely known as 'Mrs Sasso's Prep'. Decades ahead of her time, her curriculum included algebra, Spanish and English literature, thus preparing her students to glide all the way to third form, before learning anything new. A strict disciplinarian, she knew the value of a sharp rap on the knuckles when careless errors were made. Students rarely made the same error twice.

Musgrave Prep alumni have succeeded worldwide and include renowned Florida urologist, Paul Khan; Donovan Magnus ('Good Morning Man', Alan Magnus', brother); former national swimmer and Alcoa managing director, Jerome Maxwell; former champion jockey Richard DePass, businessman Clive Morin, architect Gregory Saunders (son of another seminal educator, Fay Saunders), JDF Major Richard Cooke, top-class attorneys-at-law Jennifer Dewdney and Victor Ziadie.

Margaret Sasso: teacher, visionary, Independence icon, nation builder and national heroine.

  • DR ASTON WESLEY POWELL

Wesley Powell's younger days gave no indication he'd end up a committed, excellent educator. But, as founder of Excelsior College in 1931, he dreamt of "total education of the child" from basic school to tertiary education in one institution. He started with five students on his parents' verandah in Campbell Town and ended with the education centre you now see on Mountain View Drive.

Adult education at the centre started in 1971 with a pilot project in the training of teachers for the secondary-school system. In 1972, what later developed into the evening division of the college was added. Excelsior alumni include actor, Carl Bradshaw; Major General John Simmonds; Swallowfield Chapel pastor David Henry; Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell; and national footballer Lebert Halliman. All have Wesley Powell to thank for them making their way in the world.

Dr Aston Wesley Powell: teacher, visionary educator, Independence icon, nation builder, and national hero.

  • SISTER MARY IGNATIUS DAVIES

Sister Ignatius' name is synonymous with the Alpha Boys' School she served with great distinction from 1939 until her death in 2003. She was responsible for the school's music programme that changed the lives of so many so-called wayward boys, and put them firmly on the path to iconic status themselves.

Four of the Ska-ta-lites founding members, Tommy McCook, Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore, Lester Sterling and the internationally acclaimed Don Drummond, were all Alpha Boys' School graduates. Drummond's Eastern Standard Time (1964) was Sister Ignatius' personal favourite. She also ran sound system dances for the Alpha students. If Clement Dodd is the father of Jamaican popular music, Sister Ignatius is the mother. She taught children who were otherwise told they had no future how to "mash down that lie". She taught self-belief.

"I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow

If I fail, if I succeed,

at least I'll live as I believe.

No matter what they take from me,

they can't take away my dignity.

Because the greatest love of all

is happening to me.

I found the greatest love of all

inside of me."

Sister Mary Ignatius Davies: teacher, Independence icon, nation builder, and national heroine.

  • RUSSELL Alexander BELL

A supreme motivator. The key to his incredible success is his personal interest in every student. The man who says that "learning is stupidly simple" has walked his talk by the results gained by his MRC Learning Centre's students. On a personal note, he's been crucially instrumental in the educational successes of each and every one of my three sons and is worshipped by The Old Ball and Chain.

Russell isn't fazed by obstacles. He elects to remove them. He was once asked about the fall in discipline in schools and responded:

"Discipline in school should be viewed in the context of the conditions of schools, teachers and students. As the student-teacher ratio increases; as physical facilities become worse; as the teachers' real pay becomes more eroded through inflation; as students' nutritional level fall, etc.; one cannot expect the same approach to, or quality of, education. I think students and teachers are working under very difficult conditions today. At the same time, conditions can be overcome. In this regard, I think a teacher must understand a student's background; character, home environment, quality of life before he/she can begin to relate meaningfully to him/her. My own experience has been that, with this approach, disciplinary problems can be minimised and positive results shown."

Russell Bell: a teacher for the 21-first century, success story against all odds, Independence icon; nation builder, and national hero.

  • AUDREY DE SOLA PINTO

Like Sister Ignatius and Alpha, Audrey Pinto's name is synonymous with Wolmer's Girls' School, which she led with a will of steel and an iron fist from 1962-1984. She was a strict disciplinarian with very definite views about the risks associated with young girls growing into adulthood and how to safeguard against them.

Ms Pinto believed that the purpose of education was "to aim for excellence within your capabilities and to educate the children to face the realities of life". Accordingly, she imposed and strictly enforced some very restrictive rules, including an absolute ban on any fraternisation at the fence with students from the boys' school. Yet, a large number of clubs and societies providing co-curricular activities were central to her policy, and the boys were invited to join the girls in these activities.

She had a stern demeanour, but her students learned (many in later life) that this was for their protection and that she loved each one of them as daughters. During her tenure, Wolmer's Girls flourished in the arts and culture and experienced a renaissance in sports well beyond traditional netball and tennis. Ms Pinto emphasised the role of sports at Wolmer's Girls in the "disciplining of the mind and body", if at all possible to win, but she also insisted that "her girls learn how to lose". Her focus was to protect these young girls from the dangers of a male-dominated society by teaching them how to love themselves.

"The greatest love of all

is easy to achieve.

Learning to love yourself

it is the greatest love of all."

Old BC was among the many young girls positively influenced by Ms Pinto and, for that, this crotchety old columnist is eternally grateful. International singing star Diana King spent a short time with Ms Pinto, as did current headmistress Colleen Montague. Attorney-at-law and University Singer Pauline Findlay is one of Ms Pinto's girls, as are Kingston Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, singer Darcy Tulloch (who sang like an angel even as a schoolgirl), Drs Althea Akar and Carole Rattray.

All these lives were moulded and nurtured by Audrey de Sola Pinto, teacher, mother to thousands, nation builder, Independence icon, and national heroine.

  • THE SOCIETY OF JESUS

Regardless of your religious beliefs, or even if you have none, the past 50 years has highlighted no better education than that delivered by Jesuits. Their contribution to Jamaica's education at Campion College, Alpha, St George's, Immaculate, and elsewhere can't be measured. It's simply priceless.

The Jesuits have proven that it helps your work product that you have little or no distraction. Their devotion to Christ first and their assigned task in aid of others second produce the sort of singular focus, combined with a calm confidence, that encourages intelligent argument while removing ego from the equation. You can spot the recipients of a Jesuit education a mile off. They are quiet. They can and do think. They won't accept dogma of any kind. They ask questions and require proof. They're not hostile, docile or puerile, but provide fertile ground for ideas and harbour strong urges to share their knowledge. They're inventive, entrepreneurial nation builders.

The Greatest Love of All features lyrics by Andy Abraham and the best voice of her generation, Whitney Houston. They capture perfectly a teacher's inspiration. Without question, teaching is the greatest of all vocations, driven by the greatest of all motivations. Regardless of your trade, profession or vocation, you can and should also be a teacher for youth entering your occupation. Teaching is true immortality. Teachers live forever through students' success. Successful students ensure teachers' immortality by sharing teachers' lessons with generation after generation.

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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