Dwight Bellanfante, Gleaner Writer
There is compelling evidence recommending an expanded role for the Church in education in Jamaica. The increasing incidence of indiscipline, crime and violence in schools involving primarily students, but also teachers and administrators, points to a lack of ethical and spiritual values, a vacuum that could be filled by a moral authority such as the Church.
Many Jamaican schools at all levels are formally connected with the Church and especially at the secondary level, most of the country's traditional schools were started by the Church. However, over time, the relationship has become distant in many instances as the State assumed the greater responsibility for education.
One advocate for increasing the Church's responsibility in education is the Rev Len Anglin, executive chairman of the Church of God in Jamaica and a board member of the Ardenne High School, one of the country's leading high schools that maintains a close relationship with its founder, the Church of God.
According to the Rev Anglin, the Church of God plays a holistic role in the life of the school, helping to influence all facets of its operations from the calibre of teachers it recruits, to raising funds for the school's athletics team.
"We (the Church of God) are very careful in the selection of our staff members, we consider their spiritual outlook and overall moral values alongside academic and other considerations ... we engage in chaplaincy at all levels and we have a very active mentoring scheme," Rev Anglin said.
He noted that while the Church of God did not seek to dictate issues such as religious denomination in selecting its staff, it was careful to ensure that they adhered to the overall outlook of the school in terms of its values.
The Church also plays a role in development projects at the school and works closely with bodies such as the alumni and the PTA in areas such as fund raising, he noted.
"We are active in the total life of the school, it is our view that no extra-curricular, or other programme should be cancelled due to a lack of money," he observed.
It is obvious that the Ardenne formula is working, the co-educational school consistently rates high in academic performance, ranking in the top 10 schools in Jamaica on the basis of the CXC and CSEC exams.
It is also noted for producing distinguished scholars like Jamar Hamilton who attained 10 ones and a straight-A profile in the 2009 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations to cop the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools award for Best Overall Performer in CSEC examinations.
High standards of behaviour
But while Ardenne is noted for its high standards of behaviour and academic and sporting performance, Rev Anglin acknowledges that it is not immune to the negative social forces outside its walls.
"We are not exempt from what is happening outside, we have had to discipline and even expel students for extreme conduct, but we provide spiritual support to students as we recognise that they are under a lot of pressure emotionally, socially and economically, so we wouldn't expel a student just on the basis of surface manifestations," he said.
Historian Michael Burke is one advocate for expanding the role of the Church in education. Burke, a Catholic layman, believes that more so than at any other time, due to declining values and crime, there is a need for the church to influence school life.
"Not just parsons, everyone should look to the Church to impart the kind of ethical values necessary to preserve good order," Burke said.
He believes the role of the Church should not be so much focused on administrative detail, but in transferring basic Christian values through mentoring.
He notes a decline in some Catholic schools since orders like the Jesuits began to focus more on community work instead of the classroom.
"Mentoring students is the best way in which church members who are connected with a school can help. Children, with all the pressures and distractions of these times, need guidance," he said.