NEW DELHI, India (UCAN) – The Indian Catholic Church's first policy document to guide its educational institutions, released May 31, stresses quality education for poor sections of society.
All India Catholic Education Policy 2007 "will open a new chapter in the history of Catholic education in India, as it will work towards ensuring education of all Catholics and the marginalized," said Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, who released the document.
Cardinal Toppo, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told the invited gathering of church people and the press in New Delhi that it is "the church's duty to give serious attention to deepen the spiritual formation of students."
According to bishops' statistics, the church runs some 20,275 Catholic educational institutions that serve more than 10 million students in the country. The majority of its schools, 59 percent, operate in villages and serve poor, marginalized rural people.
The church wants to provide "quality and relevant education" in its schools, said the cardinal, whose archdiocese is in the eastern state of Jharkhand. He said such education is the key to progress, and "the church needs support from the government in achieving this."
In the field of education, he observed, the church has always cooperated with the government, and "the government too must support the church's effort to bring education to the masses."
The new policy seeks to clarify the essential mission of Catholic education in India, according to a press release from the bishops' conference. It says the key focus area in the policy "is on the need for Catholic institutions to contribute actively to the betterment of India and its people by bringing the light of knowledge to as many people as possible."
Francis Fathom, a parliamentarian who attended the function, said the policy comes after decades of debates and discussions on the need for such a policy.
During the past few decades, Hindu groups have accused church schools of "inducing" tribal, socially disadvantaged and poor people to Christianity. They have called the Church's education mission a facade to convert the gullible.
On the other hand, forums of Catholic laity and Religious in recent years questioned the relevance of the church's education mission as education became commercialized in the country.
Several such meetings in the past decade also accused church people of becoming "institutionalized." They said many "elite" institutions in cities care for the rich to the neglect of the poor, including Catholics.
The Indian bishops set “Catholic Education and the Church's Concern for the Marginalized” as the theme of their 2006 biennial gathering. Prior to that, they also directed their Commission for Education and Culture to gather data through a nationwide survey.
At the end of that biennial meeting, the bishops stressed that the church's education is aimed not at converting people, but at liberating them from ignorance and oppression. The meeting asked the education commission to formulate a policy stressing the aspect of liberation. The policy would be implemented in all dioceses throughout the country, they said.
The resulting policy document stresses that "all Catholics are admitted to our schools on the essential merit that they are Catholics." No Catholic child "should be deprived of quality education because of lack of means," it says.
The 60-page document asserts that church institutions "assume the responsibility for education of the poor and the marginalized" as "an essential part of our contribution to build an inclusive and just society."
It adds that the church is committed to developing a "monitoring mechanism" to ensure implementation of the policy. For each school this is to involve the school, parish, parents, students and community leaders.
According to Father P.P. George, former secretary of the bishops' education and culture commission, collecting the data and statistics on Catholic education took more than three years.
He told the policy-release function that only 22.7 percent of students in church schools are Catholic students, with another 5.6 percent Protestants. The majority, 53 percent, are Hindus and Muslims make up 8.6 percent.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).