Educators, students discuss this at a recent education conference

Archbishop William Goh joins students in their breakout session during the Catholic Education Conference.

What sets Catholic schools apart from their secular counterparts?

It’s the “Christian motive”, said Archbishop William Goh. Catholic school educators serve “because we want to reveal Jesus to students, to give them a higher vision of life”.

Catholic educators “must offer nothing less than Jesus Christ to students”, he said.

Archbishop Goh made these remarks during the March 13 Catholic Education Conference, which had the theme, Heart of a Catholic School. The conference aimed to highlight the values of a Catholic education and affirm its relevance for the present and future.

About 600 participants, comprising principals, teachers, school staff, parents and current and former students, attended the conference held at CHIJ Secondary. The event, held every two years, was organised by the Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools (ACCS).

All 35 Catholic institutions from primary school to junior college level were represented as well as five kindergartens.

In his speech during the full-day conference, Archbishop Goh noted that there is the ever present worry that students who are too involved with their faith end up neglecting their studies. However, the opposite is true. “Students who have a motivation for God, a fullness of life, service and purpose, will be the ones scoring top grades,” he said.

“These students are motivated by the right reasons. Not motivated by money or material pleasures but by God.”

Participants at the conference held at CHIJ Secondary.

During the morning segment, a video showing educators and students sharing what a Catholic education means to them was screened. It set the tone for the first breakout session which saw participants discussing the topic.

Participants were placed into five groups: sponsoring bodies, school leaders, teachers and staff, parents and alumni, and students above Pri 5.

The panel discussion that followed saw five people – each from a group – share what was discussed in their breakout track.

Ms Serene Sim, a parent, noted that the pressure on students today to focus solely on academic excellence rather than a “Catholic” education could negatively affect their personal growth.

“Students today are spending 10 to 11 hours in school … therefore the environment created in class is really important,” said Ms Sim.

Toh Si En, a Catholic Junior College student, shared that the key takeaway from the students’ group was the importance of a supportive school community. “Having a community that is warm and accepting can really empower a student,” she said. “Knowing that you’re not alone in your faith journey in school can go a long way.”

‘Bear witness to the Catholic faith’

A panel discussion was part of the programme during the conference. From left: Mr Lin Ganfeng, a teacher from St Gabriel’s Secondary School; Ms Magdalene Chin, principal of CHIJ Kellock; Canossian Sr Theresa Seow; St Joseph’s Institution principal Fr Adrian Danker, who was the moderator; Toh Si En, a Catholic Junior College student and Ms Serene Sim, a parent.

Ms Magdalene Chin, principal of CHIJ Kellock, stressed that Catholic schools today should emphasise both moral and spiritual values. Catholic schools should have a “more factor”, she said, “a belief that staff and teachers bear witness to the Catholic faith.”

Mr Lin Ganfeng, a teacher from St Gabriel’s Secondary School who is not a Catholic, highlighted the important role that Religious play in Catholic schools. He noted that the last time that his school had a Religious Brother was in 2005.

Canossian Sr Theresa Seow urged all Catholic schools to “support” one another and to be a place where “evangelisation takes place”.

The second half of the conference saw former SJI student Matthew Tan sharing how his school rallied around him in 2010 during his O Level year. He had met with an accident during a judo competition resulting in a blood clot in his brain.

Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools chairman Prof Tan Cheng Han speaking at the conference.

He was in a coma for about two months. After he came out of it, he was initially unable to do simple tasks and had to use a wheelchair.

Mr Tan recalled how his classmates visited him in hospital despite being busy with exam preparations, and after he was able to return to school, how his teachers would offer him a lift home after night study sessions there.

On the day of his Physics exam, his Physics teacher, who wasn’t a Catholic, prayed with him in the school chapel. “SJI cultivated a life of prayer in me,” he shared.

Mr Tan took his O Levels in 2012 and obtained an aggregate score of 11 points. He is now a pastoral care officer in CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent,

A second breakout session was held for each school to identify its current situations and future goals and to highlight these to their own management team.

Each school was also tasked with writing, on a large heart-shaped paper, a commitment to strengthen its own Catholic identity.

Each school was asked to write a commitment to strengthen its Catholic identity.

ACCS chairman Prof Tan Cheng Han, in his closing address, urged all Catholic schools to “serve others like Jesus did, be evangelisers like He was.”

He urged them not to be “timid” about their faith in God. “Be proud that you are motivated by Christ in your actions!” he said.

Participants told CatholicNews that they were encouraged by their experience of the conference and that it gave them new insights.

Ms Susie Ho, principal of CHIJ St Joseph’s Convent, said the video gave her “rich input as well as multiple perspectives” on what it means to be a Catholic school. Her hope is for “all Catholic schools to rally together with a common understanding and direction.”

Ms Juliana Lee, a Hai Sing Catholic School teacher, said the conference provided a great opportunity for schools to share their challenges and assist one another in overcoming them.

“Overall the conference was really multi-directional and eye-opening for me. My main takeaway would be for us to really embrace God’s love and presence in our schools, and for us to be led
by Him,” she said. 

By Jared Ng
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