CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Underpinning civic education with Catholic social teaching

HONG KONG (SE): The social teaching of the Catholic is by far the most comprehensive, detailed and incisive collection of reflections on community and human relationships.

Developed by successive popes over a 126-year period beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s watershed document, On Human Work, it is regarded in almost all quarters as a unique resource in the world.

Often referred to as the best kept secret in the Catholic Church because of the crass ignorance of its existence by many people in the Church, the Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong held an international conference on the campus from March 17 to 18 to investigate how it can be promoted as a resource for civic education in schools.

The 80 teachers and students gathered for the conference heard 15 speakers address the topics of religious and moral education in Hong Kong, with an emphasis on the cultural identity of a teacher in a Catholic school and professional ethics.

The teaching of ethics used the real life dilemma approach, while the topic of global citizenship was illustrated through models of intercultural education.

The supervisor of the centre, Father Louis Ha Ke-loon, told the gathering that he believes Catholic social teaching can be incorporated into many areas of a school curriculum, but especially in anything dealing with civic education.

He described it as a creative and effective way of imparting Catholic values in the classroom.

The centre at the Chinese University offered training to teachers at Catholic primary schools covering topics like human dignity and economic justice, as well as ecology and environmental protection between 2015 and 2016.

From March to April this year, another course offering much the same content was conducted for secondary school teachers.

Father Ha said its purpose was to support Catholic schools in developing their teaching strategies in order to face up to the many challenges that education presents in this day and age. He added that the centre is planning similar sessions for the next semester.

He explained that it is especially important for teachers to remember that they are not just there to impart knowledge, but are also challenged to guide young people in understanding their identity as a citizen, as well as underpinning their understanding of Catholic values with solid information.

A representative of the Hong Kong Institute of Education explained the result of a survey on the programme for primary teachers reveals that the majority of participants agree that it meets their teaching needs, as it gives adequate support to them in their work in responding to situations at school.

Eighty-three per cent said they had not taken part in any other training or done any other course on Catholic social teaching.
Vishalache Balakrishnan, from the Faculty of Education of the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, said teachers should also focus on training students in communication skills so that they will be better able to speak up for justice when facing challenges in a pluralistic society.

She has designed a set of mock moral dilemmas for students to use in discussion in the classroom.

Sister Marianne Farina, from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology of the United States of America, said social teaching focusses on how to assist young people in understanding the identity of and truly becoming a global citizen.

Sister Farina said that reading the papal encyclicals is like a “reading of the signs of the times,” reflecting the moral import of concerns surrounding education in Hong Kong as well as other issues.

She pointed out that the encyclicals are not historical records, but living guidelines on the understanding of justice. She believes they are a solid academic and pastoral resource for the formation of an active citizenship in society.

Lam Siu-yau, a teacher responsible for the faith formation group at Tuen Mun Catholic Secondary School, said the course that the centre has designed can help teachers to impart Catholic core values in different curricula, even on topics like nationalism, and help in making assessments in related formation work.

Joseph Choi Chi-chung, from Marycove School in Aberdeen, added that Catholic teachers may not be the majority in any school, so the formation can also equip non-Catholic teachers with the Catholic principles of justice, which can be used in the civic education curriculum.

In summarising the symposium, Mary Yuen Mee-yin, who works at the centre, said that the social teaching of the Church contain a good description of the qualities of a good citizen while giving credible guidelines on how to develop a mentality of giving priority to the marginalised people in society.

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