John Sexton on being appointed President of New York University in 2002 said "I am a very fortunate man". I too am very fortunate for having the opportunity to work in many schools across a number of countries and jurisdiction, and alongside many good people dedicated to their ministry in Catholic education.
The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education in its Declaration informs us the Catholic school is an important part of the salvific mission of the Church. Whilst evangelisation is the mission of the whole Church, education in faith, of which one's human, psychological and moral consciousness is a precondition, is the common mission of all Catholic schools.
Catholic education, consisting of both Religious and Diocesan schools, is the largest system providing education in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has 379,000 Catholics, approximately 5% of the population - the 4th largest religious group. The colony of Hong Kong was constituted in 1840 and Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong was established in 1841. There are presently 264 Catholic educational institutions in Hong Kong, from kindergarten to tertiary education, (103 are run by Religious Congregations and 98 by the Diocese) educating 165,781 students. The colonial government was always less involved in education in the colony providing land equally among different religions and denominations, for the establishment of schools and hospitals. The colonial government from the beginning provided subsides to all schools and in more recent times, full subvention.
Catholic schools were free to develop their own religious education curriculum which became more familiarly known as Religious and Moral Education (RME). Given that only 5% of the population in Hong Kong is Catholic and that the government allocates students to subvented schools, including Catholic schools, on a rank/meritocratic system based primarily on academic achievement, most Catholic schools, which are ranked highly academically, have fewer than 5% Catholic students and many have no Catholic students (0%). This has meant that Catholic schools have developed differently to Catholic schools in Australia, yet they are still very Catholic with all students fully involved in every aspect of the broader curriculum, education in faith programmes, and devotional practices of the school.
A Catholic education is highly sort after in Hong Kong with tutorial schools helping students attain results to get allocated to their preferred school. Catholic education is distinguished for its inclusivity, its values, and its instruction in Religious and Moral Education. In this course, it is difficult to distinguish between religious education, moral education, life education, civic education, and spiritual education. Perhaps not too dissimilar to Christian Living or other such courses common in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970's. A curriculum that meets the essential preconditions of the salvific mission of the Church, while also forming good young men and women who are civically responsible, understanding and respectful.
In 2011, the Hong Kong government introduced a new curriculum which included Ethics and Religious Studies, an elective, examinable subject for Years 10-12 in the new leaving certificate, the Hong Kong Diploma in Education. This subject is very similar to Studies of Religion in Australia. However only 703 students out of approximately 60,000 took this subject in 2016. Most Catholic schools have continued with RME as a compulsory subject in Years 7-9 at least, with limited hours, as these hours are now within the prescribed humanities subjects.
Another change to Catholic Education in Hong Kong post 1997 was the legal requirement in 2011 for Catholic schools to give up their Religious Congregation run Management Committee and establish an Incorporated Management Committee constituted by various prescribed stake holders.
Contrasting Hong Kong to New Zealand where there are 492,384 Catholics or 11.07% of the population. Catholic schools in New Zealand under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 are required to enrol no more than 5% non-Catholics and are governed by a Charter agreement with the Ministry of Education. There are 240 Catholic schools in New Zealand educating 66,000 students. This means over 80% of all Catholic students attend a Catholic school in New Zealand.
In Australia, there are 5.4m Catholics or 25.3% of the population (27% of the population in NSW is Catholic). Across Australia 20% of all students are enrolled in Catholic schools of which about 30% are non-Catholic. This is significantly different to both Hong Kong where over 95% are non-Catholic and New Zealand where 95% are Catholic.
Given the different history and structure of Catholic education, Catholic schools wherever I have worked are remarkable in that they are not so different. They are all distinctively Catholic schools. This I believe is because Catholic schools are clear on what their mission is and this is guided by principles set out in various Vatican Documents and the Declaration which articulate the nature and purpose of the Catholic school and its mission. Catholic schools across the three jurisdictions provide a Christian and human education in the pursuit of excellence developing each and every student's talents and potential, founded in core Christian values and the wisdom embedded in our religious texts.
About the Author
Br. Steve was educated by the De La Salle Brothers in New Zealand and completed a double major in Economics and Geography from Auckland University, an MA in Administration, an MA in Religious Education from ACU; a GradDip TESOL, and a GradDip Technology.
As a De La Salle Brother, Br. Steve has taught across Asia and the Pacific, including New Zealand, Australia (Sydney & Adelaide), Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Br. Steve has been Principal of De La Salle College, New Zealand, and La Salle College, Hong Kong, prior to his appointment as Principal of Oakhill College, Sydney, in 2017.