At the post-lecture reception, left to right: prefects from SJI, Dr Koh Thiam Seng, Principal of SJI, and Her Excellency Minda Calaguian-Cruz, Philippine Ambassador to Singapore, and Br Armin A. Luistro.

A Filipino De La Salle Brother and education official said that Catholic schools can make a difference in society by becoming a leader for change.

Br Armin Altamirano Luistro, who is the Secretary of the Department of Education in Philippines, told CatholicNews in an email interview, “I think Catholic schools will have to continue to be a voice that will predict what is happening in society…. Catholic schools will have to show the way, both in word and in deed, and I think that’s where model schools in terms of where we want societies to go, should be started in Catholic schools and institutions.”

For example, Catholic schools can act in areas such as care for the environment, towards the respect and tolerance of other religions, as well as care for the sick and the poor.

Pope Francis had asked Catholics to have a special heart for the poor and Catholic schools should respond to his call and be on the lookout for children and families who live in poverty, Br Luistro pointed out.

Catholic schools need to fulfil their charism in caring for the world and the poor as Christ did during His time.

“If Catholic schools would be relevant today at least from the point of the view of the present pope, we must make a difference in the lives of the poor. I think that is a real challenge for all of us,” Br Luistro said.

The 51-year-old, who was appointed to his current role in 2010 to address the needs of basic education such as facilities and the number of teachers in the Philippines from kindergarten all the way to senior high school, said that he does not see his role as a public servant to be in conflict with his Religious or Catholic ethos.

He is the second De La Salle Religious to be appointed Secretary of the Department of Education.

Br Luistro said he has to be “careful” to not show partiality or favouritism to Christians but ensure all have equal access to programmes and activities in the public school system.

As a Religious, he brings frugality and humility to the position, is happy with what he has, and feels he is protected by the temptation of power and money by his vocation.

He added, “I’m serious about what we need to accomplish. I have no political ambitions, therefore I do not make decisions based on what is popular or over-benefit. I always look at what will be for the common good.”

Educated in the De La Salle schools, Br Luistro later earned a Masters in Religious Education Values and Education as well as Doctor of Educational Management degree, and has worked extensively in education in the Philippines. He had been head of De La Salle Philippines which oversees the order’s various institutions.

He told CatholicNews that Catholic schools welcome children of all faiths, and supports them to live out their respective faiths, “because [while we remain] faithful to our religious beliefs, we don’t impose them on our students”. We take care of them “because they are children of God”.

This reflects the changing nature of a Catholic education in Asia whereby Catholic schools are “universal”, as compared to earlier years when only Catholics attended Catholic schools, he said.

Br Luistro is optimistic that Catholic schools will continue to provide “quality education” to all young people, and to be places whereby mutual respect could be built, and thus influence non-Catholic schools and society.

Br Luistro was in Singapore to speak at the Fullerton-SJI Leadership Lecture on May 31 at the Fullerton Hotel.

He spoke about his work as the Secretary of the Department of Education which oversees 46,000 schools and up to 21 million students – his job includes visiting schools in the Philippines.

He said, “I do not know what plans God has for me, but the task that is before me today is one that is challenging, to say the least.”

Br Luistro also spoke about his simple lifestyle and joy of being the “poorest cabinet member”.

He also shared about his vision of education in the Philippines and his concerns of the use of technology in education.

The event is part of the second series of the lectures organised by The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and St Joseph’s Institution (SJI).

By Darren Boon
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Br Luistro said he has to be “careful” to not show partiality or favouritism to Christians but ensure all have equal access to programmes and activities in the public school system.