The registration of Form One students at their new schools has by now been completed and September holds the promise of new experiences, new friends, and a host of new academic subjects for our youngest secondary students.
The criteria that directed the decisions of their parents regarding the ‘first choice’ schools do, however, bear some examination.
The parents’ hopes and dreams and their ambitions for their children are reflected in the schools of their choice and the anxiety that accompanies the process of choosing is understandable.
Every child needs to feel welcome, accepted and empowered in his or her new environment. The goal of both parent and child is success but real success is multi-faceted.
Our educational authorities, starting with the teachers in the primary schools, need to focus on the development of the whole person, the well-balanced child, as parents look to them for guidance and support as their children stand on the brink of their new lives.
It is a well-intentioned but very unfortunate reality that many parents make their choices of what they perceive as ‘good schools’ based on the number of national scholarships that a school wins in an academic year.
Excellent academic achievement is to be lauded and should be promoted as far as possible if we are to add to the intellectual capital of our nation. Our creativity, our vision, our problem-solving capacity is essential to the development of our country and many generations of our people have proven to be invaluable to our region and to countries all over the world.
A great danger arises, however, when we judge children’s worth on their academic achievement. It demeans those who do not conform to this narrow vision of ‘academic success’ and does not recognise that the highest intellects may not be developing into happy, fulfilled individuals and as worthwhile contributors to family and nation-building.
It is vital that, as a nation, we recognise the intrinsic worth of all our students and seek to help all to develop the unique gifts and talents that each of them has been given. This awesome responsibility rests in the hands of our nation’s school communities.
The late Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to teachers and religious in the United Kingdom, September 2010, defined a good school as one that “provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints.”
Our Catholic schools must never lose sight of our mission to produce “saints”. Respect for self and for others and for all of God’s creation must underpin the interactions of students, staff, parents, and benefactors.
There must be the recognition of the dignity of the individual and a genuine commitment by the school community to the mission to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. We do this through and for each other and for countless others whose faces we may never see.
This calls for religious education that does not demand that the child merely parrot words from a text, but that encourages a deep understanding of the faith and even a respectful questioning of teachings that the child may not fully understand. Administrators and teachers have to leave their religious comfort zones to minister to our young charges lest “the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in (their) heart” or lest the seed die from lack of true nourishment.
The many activities in which our schools have been involved are manifestations of their recognition to produce saints among ordinary young people in the ordinary walk of their lives.
Grandparents’ Day, Language Day(s), outreach to the poor and marginalised, the production of quality videos and magazines, the celebration of graduands as they take formal leave of their schools are all practical and meaningful paths that lead to all-round development of our students and put them on the road to holiness.
This is faith in action, faith that must be nurtured and watered and brought to full fruit