The various media houses in the nation were invited to the Archbishop’s House for a formal launching of three important pastoral initiatives by the archdiocese on September 26.
Each initiative was concerned with various elements of Catholic education and formation. The initiatives were:
1) the Revitalisation of Catholic Education;
2) the Values and Virtues Programme; and
3) the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute.
In my column this week, I want to share some of the historical background for one of the initiatives, the Values and Virtues programme, summarise the structure of the programme along with a brief presentation of its content.
In January of 2007, I issued two statements which dealt with Values and Virtues Formation.
The pragmatic context for the statements was the crime and violence problem in the nation. For the information of the archdiocese, the statements were published in the Catholic News (Jan 21&28).
While I did not underestimate the importance of therapeutic attention for students and adults who had value/virtue problems that had already affected their behaviour, I stated clearly that preventive measures are to be preferred.
The operative principle in Catholic education is that while formation can be very demanding, it is, ordinarily speaking, much easier than reformation.
To make values and virtues an even more significant part of the Catholic system of education/formation, I requested that each department of the archdiocese (there are fifteen departments in the Archdiocese) address the issue of Values/Virtues Formation.
More specifically, I asked that the departments collaborate with each other in such a way that a holistic programme would be developed and duplication would be avoided.
The contribution of archdiocesan departments
Five departments of the archdiocese have been especially active in developing the Values/Virtue Programme: Catechetics, Education, Family Life, Social Justice and Youth.
These departments have constant access to young people or those teaching young people. The Commission for Evangelization has collaborated with the implementation process because of the intrinsic evangelisation component in the programme.
The Family Life Commission has been given the primary responsibility to develop the curriculum for the Values and Virtues Programme and oversee its implementation.
It is being designed to facilitate behavioural change and create the foundation for virtuous living among the nation’s youth. The programme will touch approximately 4300 students each year.
The goals of the programme are:
1) To introduce the children to values and virtues in a systematic way and to give them the tools to build values and virtues into habits in their daily lives;
2) To use the Abstinence Programme as a template to facilitate a change of behaviour and to build the foundation for virtuous living;
3) To give the students the foundation to become responsible citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
The stakeholders in the programme are the 120 Catholic primary schools, all students in the Catholic system at the SEA level, the parents and families of all the participants, the secondary schools which the participants attend, the communities where the children live and, of course, the nation.
Phases in the programme
There are three phases in the programme:
I) A post-SEA teacher training programme in the abstinence curriculum. Twenty-five teachers have already been trained. Ninety more teachers will be trained prior to Christmas and additional teachers will be trained after Christmas.
II) A three-month post-SEA curriculum in values formation. This programme is a 12-part series which concentrates on values, virtues, risk avoidance, behaviour change, life skills, self-awareness and goal-oriented boundaries. It includes mathematics, English, health, family life, drama and a full complement of sporting activities.
III) A stabilisation and parenting programme. In this phase of the programme a student database will be developed to follow students through the August holidays and into secondary school through their parishes. It will include membership in abstinence clubs to support values/virtues choices.
The involvement of parents is especially important for the success of the programme. It frequently requires the education of parents regarding:
1) an adequate understanding of the developmental stages of children;
2) an openness to developing healthy communications skills and
3) an appreciation of the pressures and influences affecting their children.
The three phases of the programme aim at providing the students with an experience of learning rather than just communicating values/virtues information to them through a book learning approach.
Catholic primary schools serve 23% of the primary school population in the nation. Statistically, 59% of students in Catholic primary schools are members of other religious traditions or follow no religious tradition.
Yet the content of the value/virtue formation programme can positively influence all students because in addition to theological principles that are generally acceptable to all religious traditions, the foundation of the programme is deeply rooted in reason.
The Catholic Church teaches that value/virtue formation is a lifelong journey. Consequently, what is being done in the value/virtue programme in schools must continue into adult life.
Living value/virtue formation throughout life must be supported in some way either by groups which share the fundamental values on which the programme is built or by periodic participation in lifelong learning programmes.
This is an important initiative for students and for the nation. I ask for your prayerful support and, when requested, your understanding and collaboration.