Opinion

AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE EDUCATION SECRETARY, CATHOLIC SECRETARIAT OF NIGERIA, REV. FR. AUGUSTINE OKOCHI, ON THE OCCASION OF THE MAIDEN EDUCATION SUMMIT OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF AWKA, 5 NOVEMBER, 2019

Your Lordship, Most Rev. P. C. Ezeokafor, the Bishop of Awka diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka diocese, Most Rev. Peter Okpalaeke, Rev. Fr. Hilary Nwajagu, the Education Secretary of Awka diocese, Rev. Monsignori and Frs. here present, Knights and Ladies of the Church, all Catholic school administrators, teachers and students, ladies and gentlemen, I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wish to congratulate you on this joyous occasion of the first education summit to be conducted in this noble diocese aimed at consolidating catholic education.

According to canon 795, Catholic education is concerned with the formation of the whole person, so that all may attain eternal salvation in Christ and at the same time promote the common good of society. Catholic education is involved in the Formation of the human person in view of his final end and the good of society; it helps children and young people to harmoniously develop their physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual talents and qualities as well as forming, feeling, judging and acting always in accordance with right reason enlightened by the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. People engaged in Catholic education are, therefore, engaged in an apostolate.

As this education summit begins, we must remind ourselves that education in the manner described above, was a major weapon used by the missionaries – especially Bishop Shanahan – to evangelize eastern Nigeria. They were effective not only because they taught the people with their lips, but also because they showed personal examples by their ways of life. Degrees and diplomas are awarded in character and learning. The first requirement to be effective is for us to believe what we are passing on to others and to lead by example.

THE VISION OF THE CHURCH FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION

The International Organization for Catholic Education (OIEC) organized an education congress for catholic educators from all over the world in New York city from the 5th to the 8th of June, 2019. At the end of the deliberations, catholic educators were encouraged to emphasize the following:

a. Commitment to dialogue: Establishing dialogue between students from different religions. Sustainable development education as well as a peace and human rights education are also recommended.

b. Maintaining Christian identity. The Catholic school is a school participating in the public service of education in each country. Its primary purpose is not to earn money, but to render the service of education for all, in the tradition of the great Christian educators who founded congregations engaged in the service of education. The Catholic school must commit to educating each student about the meaning of his life and transcendence.

c. For an inclusive school, open to all and especially to the outskirts: Catholic schools have the vocation to offer educational service for all, especially to the poorest. They commit themselves to develop attention to every person, and to go to meet, sometimes against the flow, those who come from the most vulnerable groups.

d. Training of leaders and teachers adapted to contemporary educational realities: Throughout the world, Catholic schools must seek a commitment to teachers and leaders training, which takes into account education in contemporary reality, and produces control strategies against school failure, school dropout, teenagers’ desocialization, illiteracy and violence in schools. I reminded our brethren in the archdiocese of Jos a few weeks ago that we must never forget that whatever Catholic education has to offer, these would have to compete with other forces out there on Facebook, WhatsApp, television, radio, etc. for the minds of our young people. It is our responsibility to devise means and ways of meeting our young people wherever they are – in and outside the classroom – and convince them to follow the right path in the planning and the living of their lives, using the learning tools of their age.

e. Safeguarding of the Common House (Laudato Si): The world, our world, the Common House, is in danger, threatened by serious climatic and ecological dysfunctions produced by an economic development based on hyperbolic growth and little respect for nature and by associated human activities. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si invites us to become aware of this reality and to act responsibly for the safeguarding of the common house, that is, the environment. Engaging seriously in environmental education: In the spirit of Laudato Si, we have to work out how to promote environmental education. The world is our “common house” and we have to educate our children to treat every creature – people, animals, plants etc. – with respect. This also involves reducing wastage and encouraging recycling in our schools and homes, desisting from unnecessary felling of trees and from actions that result in the degradation of the environment. Planting of trees and flowers should also be encouraged as well as appreciating the beauty of nature.

f. Child protection: There must be an efficiently functional policy in Catholic schools to protect children and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse. A policy is already in the making and will be reviewed and, hopefully approved, by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria in the very near future.

The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education has published an education strategic plan which our Catholic schools should key into. The title of the publication is Education for Change, a Ministerial Strategic Plan (2018-2022). Covering all levels of education, including out-of-school children, it addresses Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Education Data and Planning, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education, Library Services in Education etc. Specific objectives, activities and targets are clearly stated as well as the deadlines for their accomplishment.

MARCHING TOWARDS THE FUTURE

While we celebrate the remarkable progress made so far in Catholic education in the diocese of Awka – increase in the number of schools, national and state awards to some schools, commendable contributions by many alumni of our Catholic schools are making to society as a whole etc, we must call our attention to some dangers that are rearing their ugly heads.

a. Quality of teachers: There is a saying in the field of education that students cannot rise above the quality of their teachers. Employing qualified, competent and dedicated teaching personnel in our schools should be accorded the highest priority. Low quality teachers turn out low quality students and vice versa. Continuous training of teachers should also be encouraged and teachers must be motivated through the payment of living wages.

b. Competent management personnel: Education is an apostolate. Qualified and dedicated people should be sent to manage Catholic schools. Maturity in character must be considered before posting anyone to a school management position.

c. Examination malpractice: As a result of the present emphasis by the Nigerian society on certificates, there is the danger that some Catholic schools might fall into the temptation of engaging in examination malpractices. It is hoped that this summit helps to highlight the dangers of this dangerous phenomenon and recommends ways of tackling the problem seriously and honestly. One of the most effective ways of destroying a country is to destroy its educational system; examination malpractice serves as a very potent catalyst in the destructive process.

d. Confusion regarding stakeholders’ roles: I am optimistic that this summit will address the proper roles of some stakeholders in Catholic education such as the Parents Teachers and alumni associations. In addition, we must fashion out ways of involving associations of Catholic businessmen and women, Catholic technocrats, Catholic technicians, Catholic lawyers, corporate bodies and generous individuals in Catholic education.

I wish to assure you that the Education Unit of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria is willing to work with you to achieve the aims and objectives of Catholic education in the diocese of Awka. I encourage you to make use of the educational programmes occasionally offered by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria tailored towards improving school administration, training of teachers, maintaining academic integrity etc.

Finally, I thank all who have accepted to contribute their ideas to the Catholic diocese of Awka during this education summit. We look forward to learning from them how best to relate with both governments and communities, how to engage more fruitfully in staff capacity-building, how best to maintain and utilize our Catholic identity, how to improve our academic performance and how to protect our students from abuses of any kind.

May God bless you all, and may God bless the Catholic diocese of Awka. Amen.

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