The G.C. Foster College, which opened its doors in September 1980, remains on a path of growth, as it continues to produce some of the finest sports education specialists in the world, while investing in infrastructure and programmes.
The college, which in the past offered specialisations in physical education and sport at the diploma level, is upgrading its offering to the degree level.
“We are moving towards becoming a degree-granting institution with the recognition that at the entry level basic requirement is now a first degree and as a college we’re focussing on that. So we will be developing other degrees in the areas of sports and recreation hopefully in the near future,” Principal Edward Shakes tells JIS in an interview at the institution located at Angels in St. Catherine.
“In the past we have been largely been involved in the training of physical education teachers and coaches, and I think that we have done a pretty good job to the extent that 80 per cent of the physical education teachers in the system are graduates of GC Foster college and we have also a significant number of PE [Physical Education] teachers from the Eastern Caribbean being trained here also. They act as PE teachers and coaches. Obviously we are seeing where non-traditional high schools have been doing well in champs and we attribute this to the contribution of the GC Foster trained professionals in those schools,” the veteran administrator notes
The G.C. Foster College is also on a mission to build capacity in the areas of sports and is currently adding new facilities. The changes which will occur will include upgrade of the current physical facilities as well as expansion into adjoining lands.
“The Ariguanabo property has been given to the college. We will not be able to take control of it before next year because it has been leased and we want to transform that into a high-performance centre with some indoor facilities and so on. We have to find a way to bring in significant investment to upgrade the existing physical plant, the replacement of our track for example is needed,” Principal Shakes informs.
The cost of the improvements, which includes refurbishing of the student accommodation facilities, is projected at over $60 million.
“The truth is, 30 years ago people’s ideas and concept of student accommodation is much different from what it is now. And by so doing it might help us to attract more overseas students I think there is a demand but we need to improve our facilities to take advantage of that,” Principal Shakes continues.
The college thrives on its well-earned reputation of excellence in teaching and coaching and is taking seriously the need to maintain its legacy and competitive edge. “We have a reputation – we have some very good coaches. We have Maurice Wilson [outstanding athletics coach and Jamaica’s Head Coach for the IAAF Championships]. We have elite athletes who would wish to come and train here, so we have to improve the facilities to enable that. So a serious investment in infrastructure development is going to be required over the short and medium term. There will be the development of more programmes that are going to be targeted at recreation,” the head administrator informs.
Those programmes include sport science, and will include collaboration with other institutions in that regard. “This is going to be required because I don’t think Jamaica is awash with technical resources in that regard, so technical collaboration is the name of the game,” Mr. Shakes shares.
One such development is a Masters programme done in collaboration with the University of Technology (UTech).
“Several grads of GC have used it as an opportunity to upgrade themselves to the Masters level,” The principal notes.
The institution has also been involved in training recreational professionals.
Mr. Shakes explains, “When we speak of sports and recreation, we are not limiting it to PE and the coaches. We recognised as well that in the society we have changing demographics. We are becoming an ageing population, we are beset by a number of the lifestyle diseases – high blood pressure, diabetes and so we need to train people who will be able to address those issues.
“Since last year we have deliberately introduced some new programmes – two in particular. One of them is what we refer to a sports instruction and the intention here is to produce persons who are able to work in gyms and will work will people who go there to manage gyms and who will become personal trainers and also these persons will develop competencies that will enable them to become employed in the hospitality sector, so this is sort of growing area,” Mr Shakes continues.
The Colleges also introduced a two-year programme in sports massage therapy to address the rising incidence of sports related injuries. “We notice the amount of injuries that affect our athletes, even at the schoolboy level. Every year at champs we’ll see a lot of schoolboys get injured and so massage therapy is an important addition. We developed it from a short course we had in training massage therapists. For example, Usain Bolt’s masseuse was trained here at GC Foster in that programme,” Mr. Shakes informs.
G.C. Foster College is also addressing the need to train and upgrade the skills of sports officials.
“We as well recognise that part of our role is to build capacity for our sport to expand and develop and so we had deliberately entered into arrangement with the association to train the officials. Take netball for instance. One of the challenges with netball is with the growth of the sport is that they have very few umpires and timekeepers and those that they have are limited to the Corporate Area and so working with the JNA we have programme of training more umpires so that these umpires can be dispersed right across the island.
“We have entered into and arrangement with the Jamaica Football Federation to ensure the training of referees and similarly we are looking at areas to train umpires with regard to cricket and down the road we are looking at training people like time keepers. We will have to be looking at persons who can even go and mark out fields properly. We have to get to a stage where we can get people to maintain the facilities. And so this is one of our thrust to build capacity to enable the growth of sport. So we see those going forward as the way to go,” Principal Shakes says.
Explaining the link the rationale for the expansion in outlook, Mr. Shakes notes, “there will always be a need for teachers but there is a greater need for professionals in recreation and of course recreation has an economic component to it because it is something that is not only for our ageing population but also tied in the hospitality industry as well”.