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Bishops Plan To Improve Catholic Educational Institutions

Updated: November 11, 2008 09:11 AM GMT
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Indonesian bishops, concerned about a steady decline in enrollment at Catholic educational institutions in recent years, plan to restore the quality that made these schools popular in the past. ij_jakarta_1.gifAt their annual meeting, being held Nov. 3-13 in Jakarta, the bishops are discussing the theme "Catholic Educational Institution: Medium of the Gospel Proclamation, Being Outstanding and Siding with the Weak." The meeting began with two days of study for which clerics, Religious and laypeople involved in Catholic education joined the 45 bishops. Together they drafted a recommendation that noted the decline in student numbers had caused hundreds of Catholic schools to close in the past five years. It identified problems related to human resources, management, finances and pastoral issues among the main reasons for the decline. Demographic changes also were cited. "As a result, the Church is losing one of the places where Christian values can be proclaimed among youths," the draft warns. Brother Heribertus Sumarjo, executive secretary of the bishops´ Commission for Education, attributed the generally poorer quality of education now to teachers´ level of professionalism falling short of standards. Limited funding and lack of decent school buildings contribute to the problem, as does competition among Catholic institutions for students, when public schools offer free tuition, the Immaculate Conception brother said. Meanwhile, demographic changes have reduced enrollment in urban as well as rural areas. Urbanization has taken school-age children from the countryside, while in city neighborhoods family planning programs have resulted in fewer children. Highlighting the severity of the problem, Brother Sumarjo reported that 52 Kanisius Foundation schools had closed since 2001 -- the number dropping from 267 to 215 -- in the archdiocese of Semarang, based in the capital of Central Java province. In Jakarta archdiocese, the Strada association closed two of its 75 schools during the same period. A survey the bishops´ commission conducted of 30 Church-run primary and secondary schools revealed that 19 showed decreased enrollment totaling 20,355 students over four years. Of the 12 Church-run higher-education institutions surveyed, 10 of them lost a combined 17,106 students over the same period. To resolve the human resources problems, the bishops and educators proposed establishing an educational institution for teachers, especially those teaching in elementary schools. They also suggested offering teachers faith formation, further professional training and higher salaries. On a management level, they urged Catholic schools to become more transparent and accountable. They also called for monitoring foundations´ management. To address financial problems, they agreed to raise contributions from parents to improve education programs, in addition to tuition fees. Session participants also recommended fund-raising among parishioners and Catholic businessmen, with careful accounting for these funds. They suggested Catholic educational institutions develop principles for subsidies and a solidarity fund to which the schools would contribute regularly and could borrow from to implement particular projects. They also recommended schools build relations and cooperation with the government to get subsidies. The bishops and educators reaffirmed that the schools should live out their educational mission according to Catholic principles and called for them to pay attention to the most vulnerable students. Catholic schools particularly need to focus on character education, they agreed. The group also said that making education a pastoral work similar to other pastoral activities is how Catholic educational institutions should address matters of a pastoral and demographic nature while improving the quality of education. The institutions could also develop better cooperation, they suggested, for example in sharing education-related information and in offering scholarships. Franciscan Father Antonius Edy Kristianto, who heads the Jakarta-based Driyarkara School of Philosophy, read out the draft recommendation, based on discussions that included delegates from all six ecclesiastical regions -- Java, Kalimantan, Nusa Tenggara, Papua, Sulawesi-Maluku, and Sumatra. The bishops will further discuss it and approve a final version that will be implemented as an educational policy. END

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