SCHOOLS AND INTEGRAL EDUCATION
Br. Michael N.R.K. Mateka
“I beg to preface my presentation with an expression of most profound gratitude to the Holy Father for the invitation to attend this august assembly. My initial excitement later turned to consternation, dismay, and sheer terror, when I was asked to make a “presentation of not more thin fifteen minutes” on the theme: Schools and Integral Education. My fear stemmed from my feelings of inadequacy in the face of this huge task; how do you do justice to such a vast subject as schools and education, both of which are the heart of the mission of the Church to “Go and teach...” in 15 minutes? What do you include, what do you leave out; indeed, where do you start? It’s a task that would be daunting enough for a course of several months, but a quarter of an hour for a sufferer of verbal diarrhoea like me is nigh impossible. I have a very narrow and limited experience on the theme, and the topic has already been dealt with very thoroughly and comprehensively by the Second Vatican Council in its “Declaration on Christian Education” (Gravissimum educationis), and the Sacred Congregation for Education in its 1977 document: “The Catholic School. The topic has also come up very frequently in the speeches of the Holy Father to different groups of eminent persons. Faced with all this, I have nothing to offer, no new insights, and it would be impertinent and presumptuous of me to tell you what you are supposed to have said or written. So I stand here before you in my nakedness, with nothing new to say. What I have done to save face was to change the scope and focus of the topic and approach it from the perspective of my experience in Lesotho, with apologies to the General Secretary because it is not quite what I was asked to do. But, since I am basing myself on the two above‑mentioned documents: “Gravissimum Educationis”, and “The Catholic school”, I figure that I am “in the general direction”. And giving it the designation, “Lesotho experience”, affords me the badly‑needed security blanket.
I am assuming that our understanding of the terms, “schools” and “integral education”, is the same and that you are familiar with the two documents mentioned. The composite nature of the terms includes characteristics like these, in no particular order: place where knowledge of Christ and His Church are explicitly taught, where love of Christ and His Church are implicit in every aspect of school life, whore service to God and people is encouraged, where there is commitment to the whole person, where gospel values underpin and underpin every aspect of teaching and relating among those involved in the education act, where the Catholic vision of life is taught and lived, where the “ubuntu” values are taught and fostered, the African values that make one human ‑ kindness, respect, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, participation, sharing, interdependence, mutual support, reciprocal duties and obligations, commitment ‑ where the human worth is emphasised, because “people are made people through other people” ‑ an all inclusive education ‑ where the gospel sense of stewardship underlies the teaching on the integrity of creation, respect for life, all life not just human life.
For the context I will touch a little on the educational system of Lesotho, to show how it has shaped and influenced our approach to integral education. The education system of Lesotho is a joint venture among the Church, the Government and the Community‑parents. It has often been compared to a three‑legged pot in which the child-student is boiled, stewed, baked, cooked or whichever process fits. This metaphor assumes that the three legs are healthy and well‑balanced, so that the pot does not tip over and spill the contents, and that the fire, which is education, is appropriate for the contents. Education, as we know it, came with the missionaries in the 19th Century: the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, later Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) in 1833, the Roman Catholics (RC) in 1862, and the Anglican Church (ACL) in 1880. The denominations own, operate, maintain, and administer 987c of all primary schools and about 80% of all the Secondary/High Schools. The Churches provide the infrastructure: buildings, materials and the capital expenses. The government pays some teachers and contributes towards buildings and classrooms as well as managing the majority of the tertiary institutions: the University, the National Teacher Training and some Technical and Vocational schools. It pays teachers through a system of grants‑in‑aid managed through educational Secretaries. There was no agreed‑upon formula, but the whole thing was based on an unspecified subjective code, that depended more on the persuasiveness of the negotiator than anything else. It was a gentleman’s agreement, but it marked the beginning of the formal cooperation between the government and the Churches. It went on more or less that way with hitches and glitches here and there until independence. The Churches fought to get something from the government. This in a way reflected the manner in which the Churches arrived in the country: competitive, professing the same God but bashing each other to death. At first this alarmed the people till the King wisely pointed out that the struggle between the Churches was but the “bellowing of the cows in the meadow; it mattered not how they bellowed, as long as they gave milk.” Wise words!
After independence, there followed a period of rapid expansion of schools to meet the demand for education. Because the government could not pay, it contracted a succession of “Donor Agencies”, many of whom came with hidden agendas that were at times diametrically opposed to the Church’s policies on education. Though the government said publicly that it would not “take over” Church schools, it found the conditions of the “monied” people hard to resist. This increased the frictions in the Church‑government enterprise in education and led to numerous clashes and disputes. We are still mired in that period where we have to be ever vigilant against the government which is increasingly being run from IMF‑WORLD BANK office to the detriment of Catholic education.
THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL
In Lesotho, Catholic schools enjoy an excellent and outstanding reputation for producing people of character, and this is acknowledged even by the rivals and enemies of the Church. The schools have a well‑deserved reputation for good discipline, concern for the student as a person, and moral upbringing. Even hostile government officials try to get their children into Catholic schools, sometimes forcibly with threat to life and limb. As a group, students in Catholic schools out‑perform their peers and counterparts in the other schools by almost every standard of objective judgment. Employers everywhere see them as being mom reliable, more honest, more trustworthy than others from other schools. This is not to say that we haven’t had our share of “spectacular crooks”, but even Christ had his Judas. The reason frequently given by foes and friends alike is that in Catholic schools there is a significant concern for persons over the subject matter. Our teachers, though often of lesser qualifications, are seen as being more dedicated. If “by their fruits you will know them” we have good reason to be proud and to look to the future with confidence despite the difficulties. In our schools, even though the government determines the curricula and the syllabi, we have continued to keep religion as the core of the core subjects. We have our religion syllabus which is administered by the Catholic Schools Secretariat in all schools, and it has proved a success. In the post‑primary programmes we have inserted moral teaching in the syllabus and on the time‑table.
You can have schools, you can have students, but for an act of education to take place you need the teachers. We have few dedicated teachers who are willing to make the school a lived evangelical reality. Many of our teachers do not feel confident enough to teach religion. The phenomenon began soon after we had lost our Teacher Training Colleges to the government in 1975. That is because religion is not considered a priority by the government, even though we all decry declining moral standards. It is imperative that we retrain our teachers because they are essential if we are going to keep our Catholic schools Catholic.
There has been a noticeable tendency among some parents to virtually abdicate their role in the education of their children, for one reason or another, for example, because economic realities fracture families for long periods or because both parents work. This causes strain on family life, and education suffers in the process because it finds no home reinforcement, resulting in a weakened human formation, discipline problems, drugs and substance abuse, and the like.
(3) Financial Constraints
Schools charge fees which vary in amount from school to school depending on the needs to pay additional teachers, provide facilities, maintain the buildings, make improvements etc. This has resulted in a high drop‑out rate among those who can’t afford these fees. Aid from the government is minuscule, haphazard and infrequent, and comes in more as a once‑in‑a‑while occurrence for the lucky few. Thus all schools charge fees.
(4) Hostility of the Government
The government of the day influences the aid to schools. With a hostile government we remain in the rain shadow of whatever aid is available and have to struggle to maintain the level and the quality of the educational services we offer. Like the proverbial nail that gets hammered down because it stands out, we always get if first. The last two governments have been particularly hard on Catholic schools, which ironically has not been that bad. If anything at all this hostility has awakened our Catholics and moved them to action against the threatened loss of
Catholic schools. Their reaction has been a unanimous: “tell the government, if it has any children, to send them to its own schools, but stay well clear of ours. As for our own Catholic schools we want them to remain Catholic, and if at all possible, their Catholic character be strengthened. We appeal very strongly to our Church leadership to ensure this”. Fighting words, and I like that because it means that they see the value of the Catholic school, and they see it as a value worth fighting for. They want the Catholic school to continue because in their words “it gives a training and an education which is whole, complete and touches the entire life of a person”. Despite the deficiencies in the system, the impediments and the difficulties, they want Catholic schools to be retained, maintained and strengthened.
FOR THE FUTURE
We can face the future with confidence despite difficulties. The Catholic school by its very nature of giving integral education remains the best tool for evangelisation, and is absolutely essential for the success of the Church m carrying out the mission entrusted to it by Christ: “Go out and teach...”. It makes possible the carrying out of the five major themes the synod is tackling: proclamation, inculturation, dialogue, justice and peace and communication.
A friend of mine once compared education to a patch one sews on a pair of trousers to repair a tear in them thus: “ we notice a man whose breeches are torn in the back and we notice that they are in a state of great disrepair. In repairing our trousers, which we are reluctant to throw away, however, let us be careful in choosing the cloth; we should choose the one which will match the original fabric”. Evangelisation must do this, and the school is the tailor shop where this is done and where it can be done the best way possible. The cultural cloth must fit the trousers God gave us when he made us and saw that “it was good”. Education is the fit, the colour, the size, the pattern, the thread. Only when it fits the soul of a mosotho, and I add, an African, will he/she be finally integrated. Let us make Catholic schools into forces to help us become integral human beings, unified and authentic before God and man, free of negative foreign and local influences, of the suffocating consumerism and dehumanizing materialistic influences that are becoming popular and prevalent. Education should make us more African and Basotho ‑ nothing else ‑ redeemed, saved, loved and loving, in harmony with each other and with God.
An irrelevant story: “a man was out in the savannah veldt when he was confronted by a lion. There was only one huge thorn tree whose lowest branch was ten meters high. He ran to it with the lion hot in pursuit, jumped and missed the branch”. Then What happened? How come you are still here? “Oh”, he replied, “I didn’t miss it on the way down!”
I pray and hope that I didn’t miss you on the way down!
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