UNITED NATIONS — Providing children access to schools and basic education is essential but “for children to grow into flourishing adults, much more is needed,” the Vatican’s nuncio to the United Nations said Jan. 24.
“Education is far more than instruction. As the Latin word ‘educere’ indicates, it means leading people out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, from immaturity to true maturity,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said in a statement on the inaugural International Day of Education.
“Its aim is not just at helping people become smarter, but wiser and genuinely good persons. It involves not just imparting information but formation. Its aim is not only to develop the brain, but, more importantly, the character,” he added.
The archbishop, who is the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, noted that the United Nations has many different international days, including a recognition of teachers and a literacy day but said it was important to have “a day dedicated to the work of education as a whole.”
He recalled that Pope Francis, in addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 2015, “spoke three times about the importance of education and stressed that this means education for all.”
“To enable men and women to escape from extreme poverty, he said, we must allow and assist them to be dignified agents of their own destiny,” Auza said.
The resolution establishing the International Day of Education “extended an explicit invitation for faith-based organizations to observe today in a fitting manner,” he said.
“The Catholic Church is very proud that over the course of its 2,000-year history, it has played a major role in the rise of schools, universities and other forms of institutions of learning in so many places,” the archbishop noted. “Thousands of Catholic religious orders were founded with the explicit purpose and charism to educate children at a time when none but the richest families with private tutors received any formal education at all.”
He pointed out that the Catholic Church runs approximately 220,000 elementary and secondary schools in all regions of the world, educating more than 65 million children and youth, “and millions more at its thousands of technical schools and universities.”
“More than half of these students are girls, and many of them are not Catholic and or even Christian; they belong to other religions or no religion,” Auza said.
The church-run schools do not seek “to supplant” either parents or the state, he added. “They assist parents, who are the first teachers of their children in the irreplaceable school called home, giving them the opportunity to choose the education of their children; and they help the state to provide far greater educational opportunities for its young citizens.”
The U.S. Catholic Church was to open its annual National Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27. The observance, ending Feb. 2, is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association.
For the United Nations, education is “a fundamental enabler and key to the achievement” of its Sustainable Development Goals.
Under these goals, by 2030 all girls and boys are to “have access to early childhood development, care and preprimary education; to free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education; and to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education.”
Currently, 120 million children in the world have no access to primary or secondary schooling and another 130 million go to schools “that are of such poor quality that they don’t acquire even the basics of literacy or numeracy,” Auza said.
In his statement he also recalled “the haunting words of Haim Ginnott, who after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust became an educational psychologist and wrote to teachers about the indispensable place of proper ethical formation in education.”
Ginnott described what he had witnessed in a concentration camp, including “gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, and women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.”
“So, I am suspicious of education,” he wrote. “My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.” Adolf Eichmann was the architect of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” to kill the Jews.
“Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane,” said Ginnott.