SINGAPORE – It’s that time of the year again in Singapore: Catholic parents will soon be faced with the question of which school to send their children to.

Some may also wonder why they should consider a Catholic school.

Years ago, there would have been few detractors from the idea of a Catholic child going to a Catholic school; it was almost automatic, Catholic children were sent to Catholic schools without further debate.

Fast forward to the present day and the situation has changed somewhat. Non-Catholic schools have improved by leaps and bounds in academic achievements and facilities. They are convenient and good, so what is the value-add of a Catholic education?

The perception

Some parents feel that the Catholic ethos in Catholic schools has disappeared with fewer religious Brothers and Sisters visible in Catholic schools these days. Others think that parish catechism can substitute attending Catholic School. Yet others are convinced that our schools are no longer really Catholic so they opt for a school that is academically stronger.

The facts

In fact, the traditions and charisms of our Catholic schools remain strong and are still under the guidance of the religious orders. There is a difference between being in a Catholic school for six to eight hours a day from Mondays to Fridays and being in the parish on Sundays for a couple of hours.

The schools are Catholic in ethos all day and in many different ways. The prayer that punctuates the day, the special occasions celebrated in Catholic tradition, the Marian months, the religious education, the way teachers and students interact, the way all subjects are taught – all exude the truth that God is our Creator and we are known and loved by God.

The Catholic school tries to bring the Gospel to life through the entire fabric of Catholic Education. Christ is at the heart of a Catholic school or we have nothing to offer that is different from any other school.

The archdiocesan response

Since the setting up of the Catholic Education Task Force in the early 90s, the Archdiocese has been playing a more structured role in Catholic schools.

In 2005, this was formalised with the formation of a Commission dedicated to Catholic schools: The Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools (ACCS), with nine staff, has a mission to “assist Catholic schools in developing whole persons for God in Society”.

ACCS maintains a close working relationship with the religious orders who are running most of our Catholic schools (for example, the Brothers of St. Gabriel and the Sisters of the Infant Jesus). There are regular consultations and discussions between the commission and the religious orders; it organises workshops, retreats and talks for principals, teachers, administrative staff, chaplains, students and parents as well. In 2010, there will be a total of 25 such events, compared to 14 in 2009.

Amongst its tasks is to remind all stakeholders in Catholic education that parents have the first duty to educate their children in the faith. Catholic schools and parishes are called to assist parents in this very serious responsibility.

What some Catholics say

Andy Wee, a parent with two children, shared: “My kids are still young, and currently in childcare. Unfortunately there aren’t many Catholic full-day childcare centres around, thus they are in a private centre.

“I would surely want to send them to a Catholic school when they are older because a Catholic school has a different environment compared to a normal school; there is a greater emphasis on Catholic values, practices, sacraments, Masses on key Church feast days. These provide a unique experience in the development of the child inculcated in the Catholic way of life.”

Kimberly Cecilia Ho, a student from CHIJ Toa Payoh Secondary School, who is taking her ‘O’ level examinations this year, says that “being in a Catholic school has allowed me to experience a holistic, all-rounded education which is not purely academic-based. For example, before every examination, the teachers say a prayer together with all the students, and non-Catholic students are also encouraged to pray in their own way. This encourages students to realise that religion is as important to life as is academic potential.”

Kimberly is an active clarinetist and pianist who attends Mass at Church of St. Francis Xavier, and she has been a student of CHIJ Toa Payoh since Primary One. She observes that almost everyone from the primary school will move on to the secondary school to continue their education after the Primary School Leaving Examination, even including those who scored over 270 points.

Darrenkane Ang, a former student of St. Patrick’s School and current undergraduate at the National Institute of Education, said that “a Catholic school is a place where more than academics are emphasised. You know that your personal and spiritual development are taken care of and held in high regard and you are being nurtured into a person worthy of God and men”.

It’s a fact that not everybody can send their child to a Catholic school. Distance and the suitability of the child to the school come to mind.

However, it must be remembered that in spite of their shortcomings, Catholic schools still offer a more rounded and complete Christ-centred education than the other schools.

By Don Gurugay, ACCS

Web links:

For a list of Catholic kindergartens the link is: www.accs.sg/Kindergartens.html

For a list of Catholic schools the link is: www.accs.sg/School List.html

For more information on ACCS and the work it does with Catholic schools, refer to www.accs.sg and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/singaccs

Primary One registration information page – www.moe.edu.sg/education/admissions/primary-one-registration/

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