School looms on the horizon as parents and their charges begin the compulsory journeys to places of learning. The word ‘school’, which derives from a Greek word for leisure is now associated with stress-producing frenetic activity as the pressures of a demanding curriculum (a word derived from a Latin word for race course!) increase the frequency and intensity of testing and grading that soon become tools for labelling the personal worth of the student from pre-school to graduate level.
Part of the problem, which is not peculiar to this period of history though we experience it with particular intensity, arises from the changes in the way the societies of the world operate, changes which are not uniform or linear. So, for example, information technology and traditional worldviews form an uneasy coalition which brings into sharp relief issues of inequality of access based on economics, gender perceptions, class barriers and geographical location.
By far the most significant contributor to the stressors of education is the confusion about the purpose of education. Do we set out for school on Monday morning for our personal enhancement so that the individual develops a cultural identity and a personal autonomy as well as acquiring a set of skills and information that will enable her to establish a career?
Or do we expend vast quantities of resources on schooling for the benefit of society, shaping individuals into good citizens, productive members of the society who can promote economic growth and preserve the dominant culture?
Of course, there is no either or distinction, both the development of the individual and the enhancement of society are the proper concerns of the activity of education. The challenge lies in the balance between the two ends. From the perspective of Catholic anthropology, the person is never a means to an end, a human person is always an end in himself.
This is because each individual is a unique creation of the love of God. Applying this to the establishment and operation of schools in a multi-cultural society where the values of power, acquisitiveness and a perception of scarce resources inevitably seep into the value system of the faith-based school demands clarity of vision, courage and creativity.
These qualities have always been available to leaders and thinkers who, basing their efforts in the faith that shapes their view of humankind and of the world, have crafted solutions to seemingly intractable problems in various areas of endeavour.
Our national community is not bereft of such persons. Given the seriousness of the issues raised by the current crises in schooling from the reluctance of persons to serve as educators to the suicide of students in the systems, it is urgent for such thinkers and scholars to undertake the thankless, but vital task of educational reform.