[Contribution to Lab 2 on the Identity of Christian Schools during the World Convention of the International Organization of Catholic Education (OIEC) in Fordham University, New York, June 6, 2017]
It is a privilege for me to stand here before you representing the 1,500 member schools of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP). I wish to contribute to this Lab from the experience of Catholic education in the Philippines.
This is Lab 2, which focuses on the Christian Identity of our schools and their evangelical roots. The relevance of this focus is presumably that there are many Christian schools, or better Catholic schools, in name, but often unrecognizable as Catholic in practice. We have had our share of that in the Philippines. With the onset of secularism, the Catholic identity and mission of our schools have been put on the back burner. What is on the front burner is the performance and prestige of the school in its rankings, levels of accreditation, its ability to draw paying students, compliance with increasing government regulations – and in many cases – simple economic survival. In the Philippines survival has recently become a major concern of many of our Catholic schools, especially of our small mission schools, because of dramatically increased public funding for public education. In basic education, this has close to trebled the salaries that private schools can normally pay. In higher education, free public education in State universities has drawn paying students away from our Catholic schools.
Also in the Philippines, as the number of vocations to religious orders and congregations diminished, the participation in Catholic schools of religious personnel also dramatically diminished, leaving administration and instruction in the hands of lay teachers, and in many cases forcing religious congregations to turn over their schools to the Bishop, who in turn would turn them over to the leadership of a diocesan priest; this priest typically would have had no training in the administration of a school, much less a Catholic school. For that diocesan priest, it became a major challenge to understand what is required to maintain the Catholic identity of his school.
From this context of the weakened Catholic identity of schools in a secular environment, but also of the need of school administrators to understand what the characteristics, standards and benchmarks of a genuinely Catholic school are, the CEAP in the past three or four years has in partnership with Phoenix Educational Foundation articulated the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Basic Education (PCSS-BE) and has adopted it for use and implementation in all Catholic schools of the Philippines, especially as an instrument for the internal quality assurance of its schools. Meanwhile, the more challenging Philippine Catholic School Standards for Higher Education (PCSS-HE) have been articulated and are now being prepared for presentation and approval in the General Assembly of the CEAP this September.
In both the PCSS for Basic Education and the PCSS for Higher Education it is clear that an excellent Catholic school is characterized by such as being centered in the person and message of Jesus Christ, participation in the evangelizing mission of the Church, commitment to integral human formation, engagement in the service of the Church and society with a preferential option for the poor, and promoting a dialogue on faith and life and culture.
From these essential characteristics of our schools, the Catholic schools in the Philippines know that as Catholic schools they are not abstractions isolated from a world in need of the transforming power of the Gospel. As Catholic, our schools know that, touched themselves and transformed by the Gospel, they must in turn as whole schools touch and transform their stakeholder communities – some of them neighborhood communities, others regional, others global. Impelled by this mission, CEAP schools undertake to transform themselves and transform their communities in “JEEPGY” – Justice and Peace, Ecological Integrity, Engaged Citizenship, Poverty Alleviation and Youth Empowerment.
Because of the time constraints of this presentation, I cannot go into detail on what this encounters. CEAP has however published a “JEEPGY Manual, 2018” to help guide the schools in living out its commitment to transformative education. In this extremely useful manual, the context and challenge of each of the JEEPGY areas is presented, the biblical and doctrinal foundations elucidated, the JEEPGY area’s relationship to the PCSS articulated, the attributes of a teacher in the area provided, the civil mandates for interventions in the area listed, and pedagogical helps, including sample lesson plans, provided.
Let me simply end by saying, because our schools are Catholic, we saw our students and teachers last year organizing themselves to stop corruption in the Philippines, protesting against extrajudicial killings in the Philippine Government’s war on drugs, working to right historical injustices committed against Filipino Muslims by supporting the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, volunteering to keep the recent local elections free and safe, building houses to help victims of natural calamity, and going to the streets to keep open-pit mining in the Philippines proscribed. We even saw graduates of our CEAP schools volunteer to live for ten months in the villages of culturally-other Muslim Communities to teach secular subjects in their Islamic schools (madaris) in a spirit of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. They involved themselves in these JEEPGY activities even when it embroiled the Catholic school in public controversy or cost the school its friends or its benefactors. Why? In their Catholic school, they had encountered Jesus who had preached the Kingdom of God and gave up his life that we might experience the reign of God not only in the next life but already in this life. The reign of God, they knew, was incompatible with corruption, social injustice, religious intolerance, violent extremism and war. This, they knew, they needed to transform. The JEEPGY program has guided them in personal and social transformation.
[Photographs compliments of Ms Mary Ann Cruz of CEAP.]