CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WELCOME NEW ACADEMIC YEAR – Government recognizes the importance of Catholic education

Marco Carvalho

More than three thousand teachers that work and teach at Macau’s Catholic schools took part, last week, in the 2020 celebration of  “Teacher’s Development Day.” Promoted by Macau Catholic Schools Association, the event signaled the official beginning of the new academic year for twenty-six schools and colleges serving more than ten thousand students.

The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a pall on the work made by schools and universities all over the world and last week’s ceremony was no exception. The number of people attending the event, held at the Macau Polytechnic Institute sports pavilion, was limited to no more than one thousand teachers and school representatives, but the three-hour long ceremony was broadcasted live to Saint Paul School and to Yuet Wah College, where two thousand other professionals watched the telecast.

The ceremony was presided by Macau Bishop H.E Stephen Lee and graced by the presence of several Government dignitaries, namely the Secretary for Education and Social Affairs and Culture, Elsie Ao Ieong U and the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau Director, Lou Pak Sang.

In her speech, the Secretary for Education and Social Affairs recalled that, since the establishment of the Macau Special Administrative Region, the Government has made education and personal development a priority. Ms Ao Ieong U also asserted that the investment made by the Government in the education of the younger generations has been gradually increasing over the last few years and that the positive effects of the resources poured in education can be seen both in the quality of the teachers and the teaching environment at local schools.

Elsie Ao Ieong U also guaranteed, in an intervention that lasted almost 15 minutes, that “education is a common cause between the government and the private sector.” The Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture praised the Catholic schools of Macao and expressed the wish that the Government and Macau Catholic Schools Association may continue to work closely, in order to promote the development of education in the Special Administrative Region.

A CHALLENGE CALLED COVID-19

The words of Secretary Elsie Ao Ieong U resonated with Candy Ng Sao Wai. The Principal of Saint Rose of Lima English Secondary School says that the position of the Government and the massive adhesion to the “Teacher’s Development Day” are a clear proof of the importance of the local Catholic schools. These schools, Ms Ng claims, continue to play an essential role in the formation and education of Macau’s youngest generations.

Although Catholicism is a minority religion in the Special Administrative Region, Catholic values ​​and virtues have an almost universal appeal, the director of Saint Rose of Lima English Section says. More than transferring knowledge, Catholic schools in Macau make a difference mainly because of the nature of the values they try to convey: “There are 26 Catholic schools in Macau. Catholic schools, as I see them, have an inherent responsibility to spread not only the love of God, but also the virtues of the Catholic faith and what we see as fundamental Christian values. To be able to convey these aspects is, in my opinion, much more important than to merely convey and transmit knowledge,” Candy Ng Sao Wai said.

An education expert, Ms Ng recognizes that it is not always easy to convey those values without proselytizing, but she believes the main reason why thousands of families in Macau enroll their children in Catholic educational establishments is precisely due to the nature of the values ​​being conveyed.

The call for respect, tolerance and mutual help, Ng Sao Wai considers, is a fundamental aspect of the education transmitted by Catholic schools and it explains, to a large extent, why parents and guardians trust schools like Saint Rose of Lima: “It is our responsibility and our duty to tell our students that God is love and that we must love one another as God loves us, although it is not always easy to convey this sort of message. When parents enroll their children in our school or in Catholic schools in general, it is because they admire some of the virtues and some of the fundamental values ​​that we want to transmit their kids. They want their children to be able to learn from us ”, she ascertains.

Most Catholic schools in Macau reopened on September 1, after more than half a year of uncertainty due to the new coronavirus pandemic. Local students had a troubled academic year, after classes were suspended in late January, due to the covid-19 outbreak. Children cautiously returned to school from mid-May on, after a few months in which distance learning solutions were put in practice. The previous academic year, Candy Ng recognizes, was demanding for everyone. The teachers were no exception: “It was very difficult, in particular because teachers had to make use of a lot of new technologies so that they could teach their classes. Many had to learn how to do this. On the other hand, we always emphasize the importance of embracing and promoting continuing education. It is something to which we attach a great value and it is something in which our students and our teachers have always cooperated in a harmonious way, even before the Covid-19 pandemic,” the principal of Saint Rose of Lima English Secondary School claims.

In order to ensure a safe return to school, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau demanded that educational establishments do their best in preventing and controlling the epidemic and advised students and teachers to “raise their awareness” concerning their own and their fellow students’ health.  The Government also asked teachers and students “to avoid traveling to infected areas and abroad” and to “keep aware of the latest developments concerning both the development of the epidemic and restrictions on immigration.”

Schools were also made “to thoroughly clean and disinfect their campuses” before the beginning of the new academic year. Social distance, the mandatory use of masks and temperature measurement are still compulsory in all the local schools, in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Macau has not registered cases of local transmission. The restrictions are still plenty, but Candy Ng believes that the new academic year will run smoothly: “I believe that students and teachers in Catholic schools are well prepared for this challenge,” she concludes. (Photos by Alexandra Ferreira)

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