Saturday, December 16, 2017

Think of the children and revisit Concordat

Express editorial logo351

Mark Fraser

 It is hardly a credit to the cherished Concordat, which from 1960 has regulated co-operation in education between the State and religious boards, that 48 Anglican schools are short of teachers. 

This situation has stirred a placard protest by parents and pupils at the Sixth Company Anglican Primary School, with the secretary of the Anglican Education Board of Management bluntly telling the Express, “We do not have teachers.” 

At the Sixth Company school, one parent complained that a single teacher was obliged to teach two classes. The parents made clear their preference for one teacher to a class and, indeed, logistics alone makes this arrangement far from satisfactory. At other Anglican schools, principals, appointed to manage their institutions, were themselves having to teach classes. 

With the Anglican board looking to the Education Ministry to supply teachers, both sides appear to be blaming each other for bureaucratic foot-dragging. The ministry, claiming to provide “qualified and competent applicants”, argues the board insists on having Anglican teachers, who may not be in adequate supply. If this is so, then the Anglican school board is being somewhat disingenuous. 

Additionally, the Anglican Church can hardly complain about a shortage of professionally qualified Anglicans to teach in its schools when, over the past 30 years, the proportion of the population identifying themselves as Anglican has fallen from 14 per cent to a mere five per cent. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which has the largest percentage of the population by religion, does not insist all the teachers in its schools be of the Catholic faith.

If, however, the Education Ministry wanted to appoint qualified teachers on the basis of merit only, it would run afoul of the Concordat, which states: “A teacher shall not be appointed to a school if the denominational board objects to such an appointment on moral or religious grounds.” 

This means a qualified teacher can be rejected not only on the basis of being the wrong religion, but also because he or she is a divorcee, a non-believer, a homosexual, or whatever the denominational board classifies as morally or theologically objectionable.

In this particular contretemps with the Anglican schools, if teachers satisfactory to the board and to the ministry cannot be found, the Concordat-based collaboration is clearly failing. If only for this reason, operation of the agreement needs to be revisited.

This, however, will be no easy task. Even the suggestion of a revised Concordat, whether bruited by People’s National Movement or United National Congress administrations, has always met with vehement opposition from all the religious bodies involved. That attitude must change if the nation’s children, Anglican and others, are to have their universal right to an education.