We, the members of the Society of Jesus, are known as the Jesuits, a Major Religious Congregation in the Catholic Church. Primarily, we are educators. Our contribution to education, especially of those in the margins of society, is highly esteemed throughout the world. Recently, we renewed our commitment to education in Sri Lanka to build ‘a reconciled and just society.’ Along with the country’s long-standing tradition of providing equal opportunities in education, we strongly believe that we can become instruments to promote reconciliation among various sectors and to bring forth a just and humane society.
The brutal war has cost lives and properties and has deprived of our nation island of many opportunities for education. It has particularly affected the quality of education in the Eastern Province in Sri Lanka. Not just formal education through schools but the lack of opportunities for tertiary education has significantly caused unrest among the youth desiring professional qualifications. This calls for a systematized-educational-action plan so that reconciliation may become a reality in our land.
Jesuit Education in Sri Lanka: History
The Jesuit Education was firmly established as a major apostolic involvement of the Jesuits in Sri Lanka since the beginning of the 19th century. St Aloysius College, Galle, St Michael’s College, Batticaloa and St Joseph’s College, Trincomalee were three prominent mainline schools administered by the Jesuits. These schools were renowned for their academic performance and sports. Although the Jesuit apostolate of formal education came to a standstill after the handing over of the schools to the Sri Lankan Government in 1970s, our commitment to education continued in different forms. The Jesuits continued as lecturers and chaplains at the state universities and in the formation of clergy in the seminaries. They also founded Vocational Centers, Computer Centers and English Academies to reach out to the youth in need of education. More recently our services have been extended through higher education centers like Loyola Campus which offers professional courses to our youth. Our history shows that the Sri Lankan Jesuits have continued to reshape education ministry in this precious land of ours and are now proud to be back in providing formal education through schools.
Jesuits’ Attempt to Re-enter the Field of Formal Education in Sri Lanka
Over the past decade, Jesuit Province of Sri Lanka is trying to re-enter the field of formal education, and the following setbacks identified in the sector has affirmatively instigated our desire to remake an effective comeback into the field and contribute more for the betterment of society in Sri Lanka.
Shortage of schools and overcrowded classrooms: Wherever the Jesuits are and work in the island, we find that both urban and rural schools get increasingly overcrowded due to lack of teachers, funds and sometimes closing down of the schools. As result, the average number of students in a class room has become as many as 50 per teacher. By starting new schools, we Jesuits expect to bring about some relief for those at the receiving end of society and for those who are dropped out in the competitive system of education in the country.
Students from underprivileged backgrounds are dropped out from school admissions: Students from poorer and under-privileged backgrounds find it increasingly difficult to get admissions in local schools because they do not fit into the requirements set by the government. Wherever the Jesuits are and work in the island, more or less a 70% percent of our students come from rural areas. It is their education that is most affected. For example, parents working in private sector, those who have to change their places of residence due to transfers, often find it difficult to get admissions to government schools.
Access for learning English and IT skills are not open to the rural poor: Access to enhance IT knowledge and English language is either poor or nothing at all in most of the schools in the island. Opportunities for learning English language and IT are often limited to the urban rich. The inadequate knowledge of the second language is always a barrier for the poor to advance in many ways. We Jesuits believe that knowledge of English language and IT will make our youth more employable in the IT world of today helping them to escape from the poverty trap. Therefore, giving these students a subsidized education, skills and integral formation is highly needed and it is also an effective way to establish peace, prosperity and national integration in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society like in Sri Lanka.
Schools as the best means to cater the UAPs in the Province: In 2019, the Universal Society of Jesus introduced its four key preferences to be made integral parts of every Jesuit as well as of our works wherever we are and whatever we do. They are, Showing Way to God, Walking wth the Excluded, Journeying with Youth, and Caring for Our Common Home. Given these preferences, during the last Province assembly held in December 2019, it is a unanimous feeling of the entre Province that our educational institutes, especially the schools, are the best local platforms to cater to the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society more concretely and effectively. This was also strongly remarked by the Province Apostolic Planning Team (PAP Team) in its efforts towards making Jesuits more involved in the field of formal education in Sri Lanka.
Quality education for an integral development of students: The main objective of setting up Jesuit schools in Sri Lanka is to reoffer ourselves more committedly to the development of the island, just as we had gloriously done it in the past. By imparting quality and holistic education on children we believe that they would in turn become resourceful one day enkindling the desired change in socio, economic, cultural, political and spiritual spheres in the country. Education we offer demands not only an academic excellence but also formation of character, personality growth, development in moral and ethical values, learning to deal creatively with one’s emotions and life issues, and growth in human skills to live a better and a fuller life.
Need for strong centers before moving into peripheries: More or less a seventy percent of our students come from the rural areas of the country. It is their education that is most affected. Though they are our first priority, yet it is a huge challenge to move into peripheries without a strong center. The Jesuits in India have being able to move into peripheries in the rural areas successfully because of their strong-centers. God so planed that Moses was closely connected with the Center of the Pharos and it is only by doing so that the former could liberate those in the periphery. Hence, the Jesuits venturing into formal education in Sri Lanka is indeed one such effort of creating strong centers in view of benefiting the peripheries.
Teachers and recruitments: Teachers play a vital role in the development of a school. Our staff is expected to look not only into the intellectual growth of our students but also their holistic development. Therefore, we recruit teachers of high competence, commitment and passion for teaching. All secondary teachers are required to have a basic degree while the primary teachers are chosen on the basis of relevant experience and qualifications. The Loyola Campus with the Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) and the Tertiary Vocation Education Commission (TVEC) conduct training programs for the teachers to get their necessary qualification to be in service in the educational field in the school. The Loyola Campus has a good number of skilled candidates, who have degree qualifications and advanced knowledge of English, teaching at it various branches in the country. Every year, a considerable number of competent students graduate from those campuses and they can be easily recruited for teaching in our schools as well as in our vocational educational centers in the country.
Our Schools & Educational Centers
- Mount Calvary High School, Galle (Visit)
- Loyola Campuses
- Jesuit Academy, Trincomalee
- Jesuit Academy, Galle
- Cholankande Youth Traning Cente (CYTC), Nawalapitiya (Visit)
- Eastern Technical Institute, Batticaloa
- Tulana Research Centre for Encounter and Dialogue, Kelaniya (Visit)
St. Xavier's Jesuit College of Education and Technology, Trincomalee
Arrupe College of Education and Technology, Batticaloa
We are convinced of the many beneficial effects that these proposed Jesuit schools will bear in Trincomalee and Batticaloa. As a religious congregation we are endowed with gifted men and collaborators who are able to form children with certain charisma and pedagogy. With a renewed commitment to education in the light of the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, we Jesuits are convinced that we can fulfill spiritual, social, ecological and formative goals in our service for the most in need.
Prepared by Rashmi Fernando SJ on behalf of the Education Team