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An overview of priorities in Jesuit schools of South Asia
India Although the Jesuits in South Asia Assistancy conduct several educational initiatives in India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, I shall confine my writing to the educational priorities of our schools in India and Nepal. India and Nepal constitute 19 provinces and regions of South Asia Assistancy. India has twenty-eight states and seven union territories, and according to 2011 census, it has an estimated population of 1.21 billion. Currently Jesuits manage Primary (classes first to fifth consisting of children of 6-11 years); Middle (classes from sixth to eighth); Secondary (classes ninth and tenth) and Higher Secondary (classes eleventh and twelfth classes) schools. Most of the States have their Education Boards and local language as the medium of instruction. 85% of Jesuit schools are aided by the State Government and so our students write their secondary and senior secondary examination through various State Government Boards. This poses a challenge in terms of common syllabus and the medium of instruction. 15% of our unaided schools are affiliated to the National Boards, namely, The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and The Council of Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE). These schools have their medium of instruction in English. There are several reasons why our provinces have started schools. The three important criterion are: 1. Option for the Poor: A few years ago, the literacy rate in Nepal and India was very dismal especially among the poor. As a response many educational initiatives were started, especially the primary schools and non-formal schools in rural areas. Further, these initiatives were in tune with the national literacy mission. These schools ensured the three Rs- reading, writing and arithmetic at appreciative levels. Hence, we have many schools for the poor, dalits and tribals in rural areas. To overcome the financial burden and to ensure that the medium of instruction is close to students' mother tongue, Jesuits opted for aid from the State government. Our priority was to spread literacy among the poor, and among those who on their own would not seek education. 2. Service to the Church: Christians constitute a small fraction of the population. The numbers are not in our favour to have a 'voice'. Hence, many of our English medium schools were started to make known the presence of Christian community. These also became centres of influence having amiable contacts with public and leaders of the local community. As a result, the Church was able to conduct smoothly many of its pastoral and social activities. Promotio Iustitiae, n° 114, 2014/1 21 3. Request of People: There is general perception among the people that Church/Convent schools impart values and promote character development. Further, they are affordable for the middle class families. Hence, from time to time several groups have requested the church to start new schools in areas where there is no presence of Christianity. These schools were noted as institutions that are inclusive, selfless, and genuinely committed for the welfare of people. Inspired by the Documents of the General Congregations and the needs of people, our schools, while fulfilling certain academic standards of the Boards, have focused on certain priorities that fashion our teaching learning experiences. Some of the important priorities are: 1. Sharing of Jesuit Legacy: The manifold challenges that pose the smooth running of a Jesuit school demands teamwork and unity of purpose. Hence there is periodical sharing of Jesuit legacy not only with our teaching staff but also with alumni, students and parents. Thus schools ensure that all its stakeholders share a common vision of Jesuit education. 2. Care for the Whole Person: Our schools aim at the development of the whole personintellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially. Through various curricular and co-curricular activities and attempts in mentoring and counselling, our schools seek to nurture and promote the best in every one and enable them to reach their potential. 3. Academic Excellence: Academic excellence takes its manifold meanings depending on the context of the school. Our schools encourage students to achieve beyond their current level of performance. The teaching-learning experiences are directed to include a love for learning, discovery, integration across a wide range of disciplines and interests. 4. Justice Consciousness: Our schools seek to educate students for justice. With a strong emphasis on social cohesiveness, the school climate attempts to promote concern for the marginalised and show solidarity with and care for all who struggle for justice. Students are encouraged to develop their talents, and use them to make a positive difference in their local community. 5. Care for the Environment: Most of our schools are involved in promoting awareness of our planet and the importance of affirmative action for the care and protection of Mother Earth. Our education seeks to foster eco-friendly orientation to life, namely, 'reduce, recycle, reuse' and reduction of one's 'carbon footprints' as a strong expression of care for the environment. 6. Respect for Other Faiths: In the context of pluralism of faiths, our schools foster inclusivity by having students of diverse faith and respect for each other's sacred space. By celebrating various religious festivals, conducting serious studies of various faiths, reading sacred texts of various religions in the school prayer, etc. our schools encourage respect and understanding of various faiths. 7. Orientation to life: In today's society, people have been conditioned to think of life within the reference of material possession. People make choices to facilitate an enhancement to their material wealth. Pursuing possessions and consuming more is a factor leading to undernourishment of vital relationships in our lives. In this context our schools offer classes on value clarification, the importance of giving back to the society so that personal goals and societal development are seen not as mutually exclusive but its harmonious coexistence can lead to betterment of all and equitable society. 22 Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat 8. Process of Reflection: There are several exercises to promote 'reflection' which is the heart of our teaching-learning process. Reflection improves students' learning and develops their aptitudes, skills and values. Our goal is to promote personal development by enhancing selfawareness, sense of community, and a sense of one's capacities. 9. Networking: During the last five years, our schools are taking small steps in the area of intraprovince and inter-province networking. Within the province, there are common programmes for teachers and principals, sharing of resources, twinning of schools, etc. At the interprovince level, zonal programmes and initiatives are gaining currency. We still need to explore networking at different levels. 10. Technology Savvy: As technology is becoming more accessible and affordable, many of our schools are using technology to help improve student learning and to love technology at a greater depth. Further schools are encouraging students to become innovative by blending technology and smart thinking. Though our urban and big schools have made certain strides in this area, our rural schools are beginning to make this transition. Our schools have been responding to various social and global challenges. As competition and high grades become the sole criterion for higher education, schools face tension of pursuing high academic demands and formation of students along the priorities of Jesuit education. This tension may not be easily resolved but its challenges keep Jesuit schools alive in South Asia.
Norbert Menezes, SJ