During these unprecedented times presented to us by the global pandemic the third UAP, “To Accompany the Youth in the Creation of a Hope Filled Future”, has become even more important than before. Many schools are doing amazing work to accompany their students through these strange times. With the aim to echo and share some of the wonderful ways in which schools in the different Jesuit Provinces have been accompanying students over the last few months we invited Education Delegates from around the world to share some insights from their Provinces. In this article Fr. Sylvain CARIOU-CHARTON, Delegate of the EOF Provincial for Jesuit Schools in France in JECSE, shares some of the work schools in France did to accompany their youth over the past few months.
1.What is your general opinion on UAP #3 now that our education system has been forced to adapt to a “new normal”?
– What awaits us? we don’t know!
– What is going to happen? we cannot foresee it !
But I am certain of one thing: more than ever, we need to educate for Hope! That is the main sense of the UAP 3 : “Journeying with Youth” – Accompany young people in the creation of hope-filled future.
Hoping against all hope (Rm 4, 18)
This was the main message I wished to share at the beginning of the school year in a small message to our educational communities. Hope : as a virtue… and as a theological virtue. It has different nuances (hopes and Hope), which are already important: “I have hopes that the pandemic will come to an end”. But Hope reaches deeper into the human heart, it touches the fiber of life: “I have Hope that Life will triumph over death! ” As Holy Scripture says, it is ” as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner” (Hb 18,20)
In other words, it is the link that connects us to the invisible, to the transcendent dimension of our lives and of this world. It is not for nothing that it is symbolically represented as an anchor! It is also a grace that we can ask for in prayer and wish each other.
I think that young pupils need to find near them women and men of Hope! We must be among them. We should know how to cultivate Hope in our hearts, like a fragile but tenacious plant… and we should find how to share its fruits with our pupils entrusted to us. In the act of education, in the transmission of knowledge, in daily relationships. We should try to be among those descendants of Abraham who, like him, are capable of “hoping against all hope.”
2. Could you share some examples of how schools in your Province have been accompanying and caring for students? What steps have you and your Schools taken?
Our Loyola Education Network is characterized by its vigor, inventiveness and a very remarkable pedagogical and educational energy. We have seen this during the hardest episodes of the lockdown and the after-lockdown. The inventiveness and professionalism of the teachers and employees and the adaptability of everyone, starting with the management teams, have made it possible to ensure pedagogical continuity and attention to the future of the children and adolescents entrusted to us.
What was the principal step of this lockdown period ? I would like to stress 3 steps
1/ At the beginning of confinement there was a strong mobilization, often with excessive investment and over-ambitious objectives. Therefore pupils were sometimes confused, and their teachers overheated.
2/ A phase of regulation, on the part of the teachers, until the spring holidays. We found the right rhythm on the teachers’ side. A lot of attention was paid to keeping the link with the students and parents. There was a great vigilance on dropouts or absenteeism. Large telephone call operations were organized. But attention was also paid to the learning conditions in families (e.g. one computer for several children, sometimes shared with adults, parents teleworking, siblings). For example, one of our School of Saint-Chamond, which provided about twenty refurbished PC to poorly equipped families. Sometimes paper-based courses were sent to families (in Reims, our School in the popular suburb of Marseille). A lot of attention was also paid to certain more fragile groups (pupils of 14-15 years old oriented toward vocational classes or schools). Parents did not always had time or ability to support their children’s studies. This attention was also needed.
3/ A “long-distance run” phase, when the pupils returned from holidays, where their motivation and investment may have been dulled by the length of the confinement, the lack of evaluation and the rather distant prospect of returning to class. It was also hard for the parents, whatever their good will have been.
On the pedagogical level, we noted the creativity of the teams (variety of tools used, sharing between teachers of the same subject, proposals made to the pupils), the concern for adaptation to the conditions imposed by the pandemic, mutual aid also with regard to colleagues who were less experienced in the digital world. That was great ! There will certainly be good things to keep for the future.
The pastoral care has also been very present, at a distance, with the pupils and families, for the different liturgical times lived during the lockdown : the end of Lent, Holy Week and Easter time. Here again, we should also highlight support and creativity of our pastoral teams. We thank them !
It should be noted that all our schools have also been mobilized to welcome the children of different categories of parents (doctors, nurses, etc.), with a rather variable number of children. In some school around thirty children every day. We have also been able to organize this duty during the school holidays.
Frustration grew because of the length of the period at a distance. The evaluations were stopped in mid-March. It was forbidden to give marks to pupils in the lockdown phase. This put into question the type of evaluation we use to practice (how take into account student’s assiduity and investment for example ?
In conclusion, it is certain that everyone enjoyed getting together for the start of the Academic Year in September 2020. Unfortunately, new phases of confinement are coming and the future remains uncertain. Fatigue is being felt a lot.
3. What would you say the main challenges of this UAP have been and still are, for the schools in your region?
I have already mentioned in the first question all the importance of educating for Hope. This is the main challenge for me. We live in societies that seem to be weakening. Violence is increasing in places, and people’s minds are shocked by the regular attacks that strike. Recently in France, a history and geography teacher (Mr Samuel PATY) was murdered on leaving his school by a young radicalized Muslim who could not stand the idea of freedom of expression.
All this climate means helping our young people to understand the context in which they live. To support them in their identity through education for dialogue. We also have to dig deeper into the theme of reconciliation.
All this becomes essential to support the integral development of our students. In addition to the knowledge they must acquire, it is undeniable that educational work on life-skills has become essential.
I believe that, on these issues, we have to undertake an enormous amount of work to train our teachers as well.
4. What would your advice be to other schools/provinces to consider, while using this UAP as a lens for their work? I.e., how can we better accompany our students or why do you feel this is so important?
It is very difficult to put advices to others ! I will not do this. I just think that some fundamental tasks of education are really universal and must be spread everywhere. For example : the use of reason, the right use of a critical analysis, the culture of debate, the respect of opinions of other, the ability to be oneself and to seek the Truth together. On another point of view there is also the aptitude to choose which is very important for young people. This is the issue of their orientation : for theirs studies, for their professional future and for their own lives !
Concerning all these issues, I really think that our Jesuit Pedagogy can help us. We have to deepen our knowledge of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and work to find the way in which we can translate this treasure into Pedagogical devices valid for today. This was always been the task of our Schools and it remains so.
This is a challenge for our French Network of Jesuit Schools but probably also for many others!