Cre­at­ing a bet­ter Ja­maica through pi­o­neer­ing ro­bot­ics, cod­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - FEATURE - Paul Clarke/Gleaner Writer [email protected]­

MAR­VIN HALL has talked the talk and is now walk­ing the walk in an ef­fort to give Ja­maican chil­dren an op­por­tu­nity to be on a level play­ing field as their coun­ter­parts in more de­vel­oped coun­tries, and in the process, he has pi­o­neered a new and ex­cit­ing path for Ja­maicans.

In es­tab­lish­ing his Halls of Learn­ing in­sti­tu­tion, play­ing on his sur­name, Hall has started a rev­o­lu­tion, and his busi­ness ti­tle tells the tale. “I am a fa­ther, teacher, and ed­u­ca­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

“I think of my­self as an ed­u­ca­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary be­cause when I look at Ja­maica, I love this coun­try. I see that we need to have a learn­ing rev­o­lu­tion, and so, when I was think­ing about start­ing my com­pany, I was read­ing a lot of Tom Peters – a man­age­ment guru. He was talk­ing about rad­i­cal and in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies and us­ing in­no­va­tive ti­tles, more than the CEOs and such,” he told The Gleaner. Putting his new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion into prac­tice came easy; he was, af­ter all, Mar­vin Hall, chief ed­u­ca­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary of Halls of Learn­ing, the start-up com­pany he founded in Au­gust 2003.

He said that it was the first step in vi­su­al­is­ing the role he in­tended to play while in­flu­enc­ing a learn­ing rev­o­lu­tion. Hall, who stands to re­ceive the 2018 RJRGLEANER Hon­our Award (Spe­cial Award) in the cat­e­gory of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, has a steep back­ground in teach­ing, hav­ing stud­ied math and com­puter sci­ence at The Univer­sity of the West In­dies (UWI), Mona, be­fore re­turn­ing to his alma mater Cam­pion Col­lege, where he taught math­e­mat­ics. “It was there that I ac­tu­ally fell in love with teach­ing,” he quipped. Hall fur­thered his stud­ies in The Nether­lands, where he did a masters de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy. He then re­turned home, where he com­pleted his teacher train­ing. He taught at Cam­per­down High for a num­ber of years and also lec­tured at The UWI.

He said that it was those bits of ex­pe­ri­ence that gave him the nec­es­sary ex­po­sure and made him push to start the Halls of Learn­ing. Hall noted the sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence the ex­ploits of Na­tional Hero Mar­cus Gar­vey have played in his own life. “It was learn­ing about this man that did the trick for me. He never had a big univer­sity de­gree. In fact, he ended up with about a grade nine-level ed­u­ca­tion, and it didn’t stop him. He read ex­ten­sively, and he kept learn­ing through his travel.

“Gar­vey was a man of learn­ing. His life in­spired me – his self-re­liance, among all – to start Halls of Learn­ing and to bring it to chil­dren re­gard­less of their back­ground,” stated Hall.


Hall, whose forte has evolved into master ro­bot­ics and cod­ing, has a team of eight peo­ple work­ing with, and they have quickly stamped their value in the world of ro­bot­ics, pi­o­neer­ing in this new field of en­deav­our in Ja­maica to cop a num­ber of awards in in­ter­na­tional ro­bot­ics com­pe­ti­tions.

“All our chil­dren need a cer­tain level of ex­po­sure. It’s some­thing we are ded­i­cated to, and it’s some­thing that we have used to have a sus­tain­able busi­ness. This is what ro­bot­ics and cod­ing can do for our chil­dren,”said Hall.

Ac­cord­ing to him, pur­su­ing ro­bot­ics and cod­ing is to utilise the highly touted STEM sub­jects (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics) as the ideal way of turn­ing around the over­all tra­jec­tory of the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor.

“This is what ro­bot­ics and cod­ing are about, ex­plor­ing deeply the STEM sub­ject ar­eas. I think Ja­maican chil­dren ob­vi­ously love the hands-on ex­pe­ri­ences. The typ­i­cal black­board or white­board set­ting, where chil­dren just sit and lis­ten to a teacher, is not enough.

“Chil­dren, as you know, are very ac­tive. They come up through the pri­mary years be­ing ac­tive, but as they get older, it’s more about sit­ting down and be­ing still. So when we are giv­ing them this hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence through ro­bot­ics, it stim­u­lates their crit­i­cal think­ing; they learn how to work as a team, how to re­late to oth­ers.”

He said that these are life­long skills be­ing taught to chil­dren at a very early stage, which will cre­ate that dif­fer­ence needed for the coun­try to de­pend on their ex­per­tise in later years to help move Ja­maica for­ward.

The po­ten­tial for growth in ro­bot­ics and cod­ing is im­mense. Ac­cord­ing to Hall, there could be a ro­bot­ics in­dus­try, the de­sign of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that could play key roles in the greater em­ploy­ment sec­tor.

“These are big deals Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence is a big thing be­ing talked about across the world now in re­la­tion to who is lead­ing, whether China or the United States, and us­ing data to help to make de­ci­sions and au­tonomous cars and drones. All this stuff is rooted in com­puter sci­ence and ro­bot­ics en­gi­neer­ing.”

He said that such a mas­sive in­dus­try, if it takes off, places Ja­maica in line to where the de­vel­oped world is go­ing, and opens up cre­ative op­por­tu­ni­ties un­heard of 20 years ago.

Ever the rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Hall stated that the RJRGLEANER Hon­our Award means a lot to him be­cause it recog­nises the work he has put in over the years in pi­o­neer­ing some­thing that be­fore, was not se­ri­ously looked at in Ja­maica.

“It is im­por­tant be­cause it also shows the coun­try that these kinds of skills that we have been pro­mot­ing, and this space that we have been pi­o­neer­ing for a num­ber of years, is ac­tu­ally be­com­ing very im­por­tant and needs to be put in front of Ja­maica as some­thing we can cel­e­brate and strive to­wards and mea­sure our­selves against the best in the world and some­thing we can even­tu­ally lead the world in,” noted Hall.

As for his vi­sion for Ja­maica’s fu­ture: “My vi­sion is for a Ja­maica that would be­come not just a coloniser through mu­sic or a world leader in track and field, but a coloniser of the world be­cause we in­vented things that peo­ple ... want. That’s my vi­sion for Ja­maica.”

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