1 August 2022
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
One of the most important duties that the present generation must discharge for the sake of the next is to enable them to contribute positively to society. In a papal document on Christian Education promulgated in 1965, Pope Paul VI puts it this way:
[C]hildren and young people must be helped … [to] acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy.
One way in which this can be done is through a robust public education, whose positive role in society is largely undisputed.
According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in December 1948, education is a basic and inalienable human right.
And yet, 80 years on, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) revealed in its 2018 report that about 258 million children and youth are out of school and only 99 countries guarantee at least 12 years of free education. Surely more must be done to address this.
The Church has always understood the importance of public education. Even a quick and cursory glance at the history of public education in Singapore would show the indelible role that the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches have played in its development and flourishing.
Christians support and promote general public education because of the good it makes possible and the benefit it brings to both individuals and society. As Pope Paul VI puts it, “a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share”.
But the Church has also always insisted on the importance of Christian education for its members. The purpose of Christian education is spiritual formation and discipleship. It is to enable the believer to deepen their faith in God and to make their love for God manifest in humble service to their neighbour.
The inspiration for this can be traced to the pages of the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, we read:
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Christian education is important for children because they must be nurtured in the faith from a very young age. For it is only when they are firmly grounded in the doctrines and values of the Christian faith will they be able discern truth from error, and successfully navigate the marketplace of ideas that is our contemporary society.
It is impossible to overemphasise just how important this is.
That said, it must also be pointed out that while general public education has an indispensable role to play in society, it has its limitations and even dangers for the Christian. This is because public education, being an inextricable part of an ever-changing culture, is constantly shaped by the moods and fancies of the prevailing zeitgeist.
Here, Christian education often performs the necessary function of re-education. It teaches the child never to passively acquiesce to the dictates of culture, but to interrogate it from the standpoint of the truth-claims of their faith. In other words, it enables the child to think counter-culturally by looking at the world through a profoundly different lens which Scripture provides.
Needless to say, the Church and its leaders play an indispensable role in the education of its members (Eph 4:11–12). Pastors must teach the faith (Titus 2:1) to the whole congregation and demonstrate what it means to follow Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
No reflection on the education of Christian children will be complete without emphasising the role of parents. Unfortunately, it is quite common today to see schools functioning in lieu of the parents or the family.
While public education is important, parents can contribute to the child’s formation in ways that schools cannot, especially in the inculcation of the biblical worldview and values.
As Pope Paul VI has once again put it so clearly: “Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which a well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered.”
 Pope Paul VI, ‘Declaration on Christian Education. Gravissimum Educationis,” 28 Oct 1965, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html.
 United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
 UNESCO, “Say No to Discrimination in Education!” https://en.unesco.org/news/what-you-need-know-about-right-education.