By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Law and Education was the theme of CREDItable Conversations Educational Symposium 2019 hosted by the Catholic Religious Development Institute (CREDI) Saturday, February 16 at the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, Mount St Benedict.
The symposium targeted mainly CREDI students pursuing Bachelor of Education degrees. It addressed two related issues: The Concordat and the Constitution, and Parental Responsibility for Children’s Education: Legal and Moral Dimensions.
Archbishop Jason Gordon prefaced his opening remarks using multiple Junior Calypso and Chutney Monarch winner, Aaron Duncan’s 2019 song ‘Back to Basics’.
“We have to find a way to go back to basics, retrieve from our incredible depth of tradition and bring it forward to Generation Z and Generation A and find a way to capture their imagination; find a way to capture their heart and their soul”.
The Archbishop gave an overview of the long history of education in Trinidad and Tobago. He said there was need to go back and reflect on “why did we start schools…and what was the primary purpose that was driving us”.
Archbishop Gordon cited the ‘Aspiration for Catholic Education’ in the Pastoral Plan. “Our Catholic schools are led by principals and teachers who are missionary disciples, steeped in the philosophy of Catholic education who work with parents/guardians to ensure each child achieves his/her full potential….”
To go “back to basics”, he said missionary disciples must be hired to staff Catholic schools who can communicate the faith and development of the whole person to the present generation.
Archbishop Gordon stressed that the role of Catholic education is formation with academic achievement being one component. “I want to see character. I want to see a generation that will not take bribes and a generation who will give themselves as a vocation to the development of this country…to be at the cutting edge of social issues in this country.”
He said the Concordat was short— nine clauses but there were “spaces for fruitful engagement”. He however, critiqued mechanisms for implementation of the Concordat that “are not working for what we need at this time”.
The Archbishop related that he knew a young Catholic willing to be a teacher at a school with a vacancy but could not get hired yet.
He gave other examples. “When a teacher goes to another religion and decides they don’t want to say the rosary and this and that, the mechanisms for dealing with that are so onerous.”
Getting heads of departments in place was “nearly impossible”. Archbishop Gordon complained many schools did not have vital staff necessary and said of repairs to schools: “Let me not even go there”.
Justice Sebastien Ventour presented ‘The Concordat and the Constitution: An Historical Perspective’. He touched on the tension between the State and denominational boards in the 1960s when the government wanted education reform.
An agreement was reached and the Concordat signed in 1960 to preserve the character of denominational schools. He urged attendees to study the Concordat.
Justice Ventour discussed the case of Kamla Jagessar v Teaching Service Commission (TSC) in which he presided. The relationship between the Concordat and the Constitution was examined in reaching his decision.
Jagessar, a non-Presbyterian challenged the TSC’s decision to abide by the Presbyterian Board’s objection to her becoming principal. She had acted in the position. The Board cited paragraph 4 of the Concordat.
Justice Ventour explained why he ruled against Jagessar, whose legal counsel used various arguments citing sections of the Constitution and Education Act. He noted, “A subtle practice had developed over the years prior to the commencement of the Constitution as to the way in which the administrative discretion relative to the appointment of teachers to assisted schools was exercised by the government. Clearly, a teacher would not be appointed to an assisted school if the Board of Management objected to that appointment on moral and religious grounds.”
Justice Andrea Smart presented on ‘Parental Responsibility in Law’ and Spiritual Director of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, Fr Matthew Ragbir dealt with ‘Parental Responsibility Moral Dimensions’.
The symposium ended with a panel discussion, ‘Implications for Denominational Boards, Principals and Teachers’ which addressed practical issues of parental involvement given the socio-cultural realities of family life, adult literacy and other factors.
Panellists were: Rev Dr Jason Boatswain, president of CREDI; Dr Patricia Bascomb-Fletcher, dean of Studies, CREDI; Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Education Board of Management, Sharon Mangroo; and educator Claudette Sinnette.