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Pope Francis with students of Rome's LUMSA Catholic Unvisersity. Pope Francis with students of Rome's LUMSA Catholic Unvisersity.   (AFP or licensors)

Vatican: real, not virtual people at the centre of education

Analyzing the world's education system under the Covid-19 pandemic, the Congregation for Catholic Education issues a circular letter, emphasizing the principle of the "relationship of exchange" between real people.

By Robin Gomes

Despite the world’s educational system taking a battering under the Covid-19 pandemic with distance learning, the Vatican reaffirms the direct and interpersonal relationship of exchange and dialogue between teachers and students as indispensable for the learning process.

The Congregation for Catholic Education stressed the point in a circular letter published on Thursday. It is addressed to Catholic schools, universities and educational institutions around the world. 

Drawbacks of distance learning

The letter laments that educational systems have suffered under the pandemic at both the school and academic levels under the Covid-19 lockdowns. The effectiveness of distance learning using digital platforms, the Congregation notes, has been conditioned by a marked disparity in educational and technological opportunities. Citing agencies, it said, “some 10 million children will not have access to education in the coming years, increasing the already existing educational gap.”

Without state funding, Catholic schools and universities are particularly at risk of closure or radical downsizing. Yet they have been at the service and benefit of the entire community.

Education and relationship

Under Covid-19, distance learning has been necessary. Yet, it has shown that the educational environment made up of people who meet, interacting directly and "in presence", is not simply an accessory context to the educational activity. Rather, it is the very substance of that relationship of exchange and dialogue (between teachers and learners). This, the Congregation stresses, is indispensable for the formation of the person and for a critical understanding of reality.

Whether in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, the letter says, the process of psycho-pedagogical growth cannot take place without the encounter with others and the presence of the other gives rise to the necessary conditions for creativity and inclusion to flourish.

Educators

While commending teachers and educators for their invaluable contribution under the pandemic, the Congregation for Catholic Education urged support for them. They need a solid continuing education on how to meet the needs of the times, without sacrificing the synthesis between faith, culture and life, which is the keystone of the educational mission implemented in Catholic schools and universities.  

Because of the effort of teachers, the Vatican points out, a spirit of fraternity and sharing is nourished not only with the learners but also between generations, religions and cultures, as well as between men and women and the environment.   

The person at the centre

For this to happen, the Congregation for Catholic Education says, it is always necessary to put the human relationship at the centre of the educational activity. The full potential of this relationship cannot take place through the impersonal connections of the digital network. The real person is the very soul of formal and informal educational processes, whose essentially relational and communitarian nature always implies the vertical dimension, which is communion with God, and the horizontal dimension of communion with other persons.

Fostering communion, solidarity, inclusiveness

Catholic education, the Vatican reiterates, aims for the integral formation of the person who is called to live responsibly in communion and solidarity with other people and in harmony with creation, our “common home”.

In the current trying situation, Catholic educational institutions are called to form people who are willing to put themselves joyfully at the service of the community, without indifference, selfishness and divisions. With the pandemic revealing the vulnerability and interconnectedness of everyone, the Congregation stresses that all educational institutions must contribute to the creation of an educational alliance or an integrated network of cooperation, to revive the commitment for and with the younger generations for a more open and inclusive education, which is capable of patient listening, constructive dialogue and mutual understanding.

10 September 2020, 14:00