One of the big challenges Archbishop Joseph Harris faced during his six years as Archbishop of Port of Spain was improving Catholic education. There have been improvements but he said there is still “a lot of work to be done”.
“When I came in my intention was to bring Catholic education back to what it used to be, not in a nostalgic way but …back to a point where a Catholic school displayed certain values. That is a harder nut to crack than it appears,” Archbishop Harris said last Wednesday during the Ask the Archbishop live stream on Facebook.
He explained the education system “to a large extent” was controlled by the state and the role of the Church is to lobby as much as possible to enhance the values which should be taught in Catholic schools. Although there is a lot to be done he said there was a good Catholic Education Board of Management working very hard to lift the level of Catholic schools.
Archbishop Harris mentioned the Quality Assurance System (QAS) in Catholic primary schools which was now “beginning to bear fruit”. The QAS was launched April 2013 and implemention began August that year.
Information on the programme stated, “The QAS is not only about completing and submitting documents to the CEBM. QAS challenges principals and teachers to engage in self-assessment, to examine all data about school performance and generate plans of action with a view to improving student improvement and, indeed, promoting healthy school environments (in the fullest connotations of the concept).”
Archbishop Harris highlighted the role of teacher training in preparing teachers for Catholic schools to have a “Catholic perspective”. There was a change in the early 1970s from denominational training colleges to state-run training institutions and “spiritual training” was absent. The aftermath of Vatican II also caused a lot of turmoil; the result was Catholics from this system were not confident enough to transmit their faith.
Archbishop Harris said the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI) was an attempt to respond to this issue however, operating a tertiary education facility is costly.
“To run it and run it well you need to have an endowment. It costs plenty money and we don’t have that so we have to find ways of working,” he said. Some have suggested the Church should disassociate from government and run its own schools but if this happened, he commented, “we will in fact run very good schools but very good schools for the rich”. Archbishop Harris said Catholic schools offer the preferential option for the poor and cannot abandon them.
The Archbishop gave himself 60 per cent in accomplishing his goals. He said one can never accomplish everything. “If you are lucky, some of them you get through; others you have to keep working at them. Life is not static, it changes; you begin with one thing and halfway through you discover new things and you have to shift course but it has been six exciting years.” – LPG