How do our Catholic schools continue to remain relevant in Singapore’s rapidly changing educational landscape? How do we ensure that students in our Catholic schools receive that “something extra” which they cannot get from secular schools? Perhaps the best way to address these concerns is with reference to the Holy See’s teaching on Catholic schools.

For many years, the presence of Religious in our Catholic schools has served as a built-in guarantee of the Catholic identity. The shift to lay leadership over time due to the scarcity of Religious is now presenting its own set of challenges. It is, therefore, important for all who are involved in Catholic education to be familiar with the following five essential marks of a Catholic School.

Inspired by a supernatural vision

The Church sees education as a process that forms the whole child – to be good citizens of this world, loving God and neighbour. An emphasis on the inalienable dignity of the human person especially the spiritual dimension, is especially necessary today. However, it is unfortunate that today many perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success and a more comfortable standard of living. Such an impoverished vision of education is not Catholic.

Founded on a Christian anthropology

The educational philosophy of a Catholic school must be built on the correct understanding of who the human person is. This understanding attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God. Thus the holistic education provides calls for the fullest development of all that is human, so that our students will flourish to be the unique individuals that God has created them to be. The Gospel of Christ must inspire every aspect of education, not just the academics. All too many Catholic schools fall into the trap of a secular academic success culture where Christ is “fitted in” rather than being the school’s vital principle. The Gospel spirit should permeate all facets of the educational climate.

 Animated by communion and community

The Holy See describes the school as a community in four areas: the teamwork amongst all those involved; the cooperation between educators and bishops; the interaction of students with teachers; and the school’s physical environment. Educators, administrators, parents and bishops guide the school to make choices that promote overcoming individualistic self-promotion, solidarity instead of competition, assisting the weak instead of marginalisation, and responsible participation instead of indifference.

Close cooperation with the family is especially important when treating sensitive issues such as religious, moral, or sexuality education, and orientation toward a profession or a choice of one’s vocation in life.

Catholic educators recognise that the bishop’s pastoral leadership is pivotal in supporting the establishment and ensuring the catholicity of the schools in his pastoral care. The bishop must integrate schools into his diocese’s pastoral programme and he must oversee the teaching within them.

The Catholic philosophy of education has always paid special attention to the quality of interpersonal relations in the school community, especially between teachers and students. Saint John Bosco said “education is a thing of the heart”, so the authentic formation of young people requires the personal accompanying of a teacher.

Prayer should be a normal part of the school day, so that students learn to pray in times of sorrow and joy, of disappointment and celebration, of difficulty and success.

A Catholic worldview in the curriculum

A Catholic education must present a worldview that is constantly inspired by the Gospel. While Catholic schools conform to government-mandated curricula, they can implement all their programmes with a religious and spiritual dimension.

The Holy See’s documents on schools insists that education is about truth – in both its natural and supernatural dimensions. Unlike relativists, Catholic educators believe that to a limited but real extent, truth can be attained and communicated to others. And this pursuit of truth and reflection of one’s purpose in life must include a strong sense of duty to God, self and neighbour.

In an age of information overload, Catholic schools must be especially attentive in their instruction to strike a delicate balance between human experience and understanding, ensuring that with experience, students appreciate the human significance of what is learnt.

Sustained by Gospel witness

A final indicator of a school’s authentic catholicity is the vital witness of its teachers and administrators. With them lies the primary responsibility for creating a Christian school climate, as individuals and as a community. Theirs is a supernatural calling and not simply the exercise of a profession. The nobility of the task to which teachers are called, demands that in imitation of Christ, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behaviour.

As we go forth into the future, with faith that the Church is eternal, we pray that she will go forth with her schools that are recognisably Catholic.

The above is an extract from “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools” by Archbishop J. Michael Miller.

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