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By Educate Magis
May 14th, 2019

In this interview, the Secretary of Education for South Asia, Fr. Sunny Jacob SJ, shares the different actions and activities that schools in the JEASA region have been taking towards working on Interreligious Dialogue . In addition, he explains that because of South Asia’s multi-religious and multi-cultural context it is important for them to encourage students and other stakeholders to learn to respect each other. Throughout the interview Fr. Sunny shares multiple resources as examples of the implementation.

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background in Jesuit Education and your current role?

For the last 5 years I have worked as the Secretary for Education of South Asia (Secretary, JEASA). Prior to that I worked in the Province of Jamshedpur as Teacher, Vice-Principal, Principal and Director of Educational Institutions. I am currently also the National Adviser to the Jesuit Alumni Association of India (JAAI). As well as that I am a member of the ICAJE (International Commission for the Apostolate of Jesuit Education) too.

2.  What is your general opinion about action #2 (described below) and its impact on the successful achievement of the mission of the Society of Jesus? 

The Delegates commit to work with the schools to ensure a module (or some such unit of the curriculum) of interreligious education is implemented. This module should allow students to learn about it from the world’s religions and respect the various ways religions express and celebrate the divine” Action #2. Action Statement – JESEDU-Rio2017

We have been working on Interreligious dialogue in our schools. We have prepared books and graded syllabus for our schools this year (see the attachments). All our Jesuit schools in South Asia have a week long communal harmony week, during this week we conduct special Assemblies, inter religious Prayer Services, Street plays, Poster Exhibition, Quizzes and many schools take up Rallies too to nearby areas and towns to create awareness among people about the need for Communal and Religious harmony. JEASA is committed to strengthening Interreligious education in our schools. Here are some of the resources used: Practice of Interreligious Education and Religions in Public Life:  A Practical Guide to Religious Harmony

3. Could you tell us how the implementation process of this action has been in your Provinces? What steps have you and your Delegates taken?

In the South Asian multi-religious and multi-cultural context we need to encourage our students and other stakeholders to learn to respect each other. Keeping this goal in focus we have lots of programmes in our schools. Modules of such programmes are sent you in the attachment.

We had the Zonal level meetings of the Heads of schools and decided a time bound action plan to implement it in our schools. Thus, a common week is fixed, from August 7th to 15th as the Communal harmony week. August 15th is Independence Day in India, and similar dates have been fixed in Nepal too to have Harmony week. Interreligious education is an important subject we discuss in all our meetings and trainings. We have a problem of Majoritarian Religious Nationalism spreading its wings rapidly. So we are responding to it proactively in the following ways:

  • Jesuit Response to increased Fundamentalism and Communalism in South Asia:
    Any Jesuit Response is founded on our mission to promote justice and reconciliation in our broken world of which dialogue with the poor and with people of other cultures and religions is an essential part. Our mission as Jesuits in South Asia is to build counter-cultural human communities of solidarity that will be instruments of peace and reconciliation to respond to the danger of this region turning into a region of hate and violence. To remain silent spectators in the midst of this onslaught on the Constitutional values of equality and fraternity, secularism and pluralism is to betray our mission. Our response must be in collaboration with men and women of good will and through networking with civil society and other organizations that share our values.
  • Strategies:
    The strategies recommended here are relevant for the whole Assistancy (Conference) and across provinces, in coordination with others in the zone. It is crucial to adopt and coordinate both long- and short-term strategies, to focus on causes not symptoms at all levels. Prioritising and contextualising these strategies must be the work at the province and community level for specific situations. Most of our stake-holders are not fully aware of the hate ideology of saffron groups and  educating them is therefore a prime duty in our strategy. We should produce educational   modules with counter narratives, films and documentaries to instruct students and the public. A module of ‘socio-cultural analysis’ is integrated in all our educational institutions; formal and informal, professional and technical.

a. The education ministry undertook this task with urgency.
b. A principal weapon to fight against communalism in India is our Constitution that places equality, fraternity and community as central tenets in contrast to the divisive agenda of the communalists. We should highlight the values of our Constitution in all our   ministries. We should work for harmony, mutual understanding and anticipate   communal tensions and also work for peace and reconciliation of the protagonists after   incidents of communal violence occur.
c. We should encourage and promote initiatives on inculturation and interreligious dialogue.
d. The Assistancy needs to create a professional think tank to continuously educate the   Assistancy on the dangers of communalism and recommend ways to counter   fundamentalism. As part of this process, there should be a schedule of discussions at various levels, from the communities to the provinces, the zones and the Assistancy and we have formed a Think Tank Core Team to study the issues in question.
e. We need to create networks with church bodies, the media, civil society and other secular forces to promote a pluralistic and inclusive society.
f. We could create media cells in our institutions and build cadres within our own campuses to spread the ideology of secularism through new forms of alternative media. The task is urgent. In order to make a difference at the earliest, we shall join all people of good will to defeat the forces of hate and violence by promoting a politics of pluralism and inclusion that ensures justice, equality, liberty and fraternity.

4. What would you say are the main challenges in the implementation of this action? What would you advise other schools/provinces to consider before, during and after the implementation of this action?

Since the situation is varied in different countries and regions, and diverse languages etc. we were faced with a bit of a slow process in some areas in implementing the Action plan. Timing of the schools are different. in some areas or regions the leadership took it far ahead while others are still slow in executing it. My advice is to implement all our decisions fast and quick with urgency. JEA is ready to help any logistic support to all.

5. Anything else you would like to add? (optional)

JEA has introduced new text books on Global Citizenship in the form of Human Rights and Constitution. Which also talks about Inter-religious education. All schools are welcome to use these as lesson plans in their classrooms.

Lesson Plans to Teach Global Citizenship in the form of Human Rights and Constitution V1 (9-12 years old)

  1. The Web World Exploring the interrelationships and interconnectedness of the world around us through exercises to do in class and at home.
  2. LifeUnderstanding the importance of life and living beings through group exercises and personal reflection.
  3. Family Learning to see family as the basic unit of society and understanding our rights and relationships within our family.
  4. School Learning to explore our relationships and rights within our school through exercises to do in class and at home.
  5. Society  Learning to explore our relationships and rights within society as a whole through exercises to do in class and at home.

Follow this link to see more lesson plans for 9 to 12 years old.

Lesson Plans to Teach Global Citizenship in the form of Human Rights and Constitution V2 (13-15 years old)

  1. Human Needs Understanding the difference between human needs and wants through a range of classroom activities.
  2. Human Dignity Exploring the meaning and importance of Human Dignity and what this means for ourselves and for others.
  3. Human Rights & Duties Understanding our rights as human beings and how these rights protect us and help us to grow.
  4. United Declaration of Human Rights Understanding the origin, growth and development of the Declaration of Human Rights through classroom exercises.
  5. Right to Life Exploring our rights to life and security and how education plays a role in this.

Follow this link to see more lesson plans for 9 to 12 years old.

What do you think about this interview? If you would like to share your experiences on this topic please share them in the comments section below. Thanks