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Transforming Education Into Mission

Transforming Education Into Mission

The oft repeated complaint about education in India is that it has become a business and a means for making money. The schools run by the dioceses and religious congregations are also not free from this accusation. For a large majority of the people who make use of the private educational institutions, education is a service and the educational agencies are service providers like any other service provider. The parents check the quality of the service and choose the one which they can afford. Once the students go out the school or college, very rarely the student or the parents have any relationship with the institution in which he/she studied. There may be a very few students who keep contact with their alma mater. The owners of the educational institutions are satisfied as long as they can manage good result and get enough admission. The students who speak of the influence or impact the school or college made on their lives are also very rare.  

Often the dioceses and religious congregations claim that for them education is a mission. But the million dollar question is whether education has become a mission in reality. The mission of a disciple of Jesus is nothing but the continuation of the mission of Jesus in view of realizing his vision. The vision of Jesus is establishment of the Reign of God. Reign of God as envisaged by Jesus and depicted in the Gospels is a situation in which God is accepted as the Father/Mother and all human beings as brothers and sisters with equal rights and opportunities.   The same vision is also found in the preamble of the Indian constitution. The vision of India is a sovereign socialist, secular, democratic republic where all citizens enjoy justice, equality, liberty, and fraternity that ensure the dignity of all individuals. Realization of the Reign of God demands individual and social transformation.

In the context of India the realization of the Reign of God requires two types of transformation. The first type of transformation is liberation and empowerment of the poor as described in Lk 4:16-20. The second is a transformation in the mindset of the rich and the middle class, a transformation that makes them sensitive to the needs of the poor and the underprivileged groups, a transformation that enables them to see God in every human being, especially the poor and the needy, and a transformation that makes them aware of their social responsibility.

After being involved in the field of social work as a grass root level worker, chief functionary of NGOs and a trainer and consultant for more than 35 years, I have come to the conclusion that the best way for the empowerment of the poor is quality education that has been denied to them by the politicians of this country. The crafty politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, try to keep the poor as a vote bank by providing them with freebies and depriving them of the key to get out of their deprivation and powerlessness. Large majority of the poor in India are enrolled either in the government schools or the substandard private schools where the quality of learning outcomes is very poor. Bulk of them drop out before passing class ten and join the unskilled labour force or the daily wage workers.    

My limited study during the last 35 years has convinced me that the best way to liberate the poor from the web of multiple inequalities is quality education, an education that enhances their competence and character and makes them aware of their rights and duties as well. Income generation activities and creation of employment facilities can improve the economic condition of the poor, but it is to be used for accessing quality education for their children if they have to come out of the vicious circle of poverty.

The present education system encourages cutthroat competition and as a result the students become highly ambitious. Often the goal of education is limited to getting a high paying job and amassing wealth. That is why a few poor people, who have been successful in breaking the shackles of poverty and join the middle class or the rich, become insensitive or indifferent to the poor. Hence quality education to poor should also focus on creating a broad, inclusive and lasting vision in the students so that they become agents of social transformation, committed to the realization of the vision of the Indian constitution.

Majority of the students who study in the English Medium private schools and colleges run by the Church organizations are from the middle class and it provides great opportunity for the Church personnel to influence them with the values of Jesus and bring about changes in them in view of realizing the Reign of God. At the same time, it is a great challenge to change their mindset in the context of today. Large majority of the middle class in India has become the blind followers of Hindutva ideology and blind supporters of the BJP whose ultimate goal is to convert India into a Hindutva Rashtra. They are highly ambitious and they are becoming less and less sensitive to the underprivileged and the poor in the society. Hence the dual challenge before the Church personnel involved in education is to make the students upholders and promoters of the vision and values of Indian Constitution and to instil in them sensitivity and concern for the poor, if the education ministry has to become a mission.    

The middle class plays a crucial role in the government and the society as political leaders, bureaucrats, professionals and entrepreneurs etc. Now the curial question is how far the dioceses and religious congregations that run the educational institutions are able to influence them? According to the CBCI website of Education Commission, the Catholic Church in India runs about 50,000 educational institutions with about 5 core students. Naturally the Church has access to about 10 crore parents and lakhs of alumni. This is a huge opportunity for the Church personnel to be in touch with millions of Indians and to influence them with the values of Jesus.  

I have been in the Universal Solidarity Movement (USM), Indore for the last six years. I am actively involved in the Enlightened Leadership Training for High School students. My experience with the USM has convinced me that attitudinal change can be brought about in the middle class through the youth because I have seen remarkable changes taking place in the students who undergo the leadership training in USM.

The most important change that is noticed in the students is increased sensitivity and compassion towards the poor and the less privileged in the society. Secondly, they also become the promoters the core values of Indian constitution, especially pluralism. The training process makes them understand that pluralism is acceptance, appreciation and celebration of diversities and that is the heritage of India.

The changes that have taken place in the students are reflected in their resolutions. A good number of students resolve either to reduce consumption of junk food and aerated drinks and use the money thus saved to help the needy children. The other resolutions include celebrating birthday with inmates of an orphanage or old age home, stopping the use of crackers on festivals,   not wasting food and honouring every human being, especially domestic help, driver, gardener and respecting all religions and not to discriminate anyone on the basis of religion or caste.  

I have visited a few schools and interacted with the parents of the students who had participated in the leadership training. More than 90% of the parents shared with me that remarkable changes have taken place in their children as a result of taking part in the training and the changes are sustainable. The most important change the parents noticed in their children is increased sensitivity towards the poor and the less privileged in the society. The noble values and habits that children pick up at a young age will generally remain in them throughout their life.

After being in USM for 6 years and observing how the students imbibe the values of compassion, honesty, pluralism, inclusiveness, respect for every human person etc I am confirmed in my conviction that the students of our schools can be made the disciples of Jesus, if the school authorities and teachers become mentors. Baptising the students, parents and teachers into the values of Jesus and the way of Jesus without changing their religion can be realized through the educational apostolate.

The schools need to take certain concrete steps to make the students and teachers the disciples of Jesus and thereby transform education into a mission.

·       Value inculcation, especially the values of the Indian Constitution, should be one of the top priorities of the school and all teachers and parents should be aware of it.

·       The Church personnel who are part of the school should become the role models of practicing the core values of Jesus and they must motivate the teachers also to practice those values. More number of Church personnel should be involved in teaching.

·       Teachers should be trained to become mentors. The principal and the teachers should undergo a professional training every year in view of updating themselves.  

·       The teachers and other staff members should be made partners of the school through participatory planning, monitoring and evaluation and practice of transparency.

·       The school has to build excellent public relations with the local people, officials, and local leaders.

·       The principals of schools should not be transferred routinely every three years or six years. They should be in the school for a long time in view of mentoring the teachers and building relationship with the parents and local people. A vice principal who is trained under the principal should take over the charge from the latter in course of time.

(Published on 24th August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 35)