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Catholic education – the proof is in the pudding

Hundreds of Catholic educators from around the nation gathered in Melbourne from 4-7 September for the National Catholic Education Conference. Among those addressing them was Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who spoke on the essential ingredients in the recipe for successful Catholic education

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP talks to the Nation’s Catholic educators about the the most important ingredients for successful Catholic education. Photos: NCEC

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has called on Catholic school leaders to first reflect on the profound impact Catholic faith-based education has imprinted on Australian life over the past two-hundred years at a gathering to discuss the future of Catholic education.

The Chair of the Bishop’s Commission for Catholic Education marveled crowds in Melbourne at the 2022 National Catholic Education Conference, using his culinary prowess alongside Year 12 Catholic Regional College Sydenham student Lucas Piraina to create the perfect chocolate souffle on stage as a live example of the need to invest not only in academic excellence, but more practical, vocation based options for young people, such as the Southern Cross Catholic College at Burwood.

The cooking showcase not only demonstrated how our Catholic schools were setting up young people to follow their passions; it also provided the perfect metaphor to explain how a faith-based education has helped more than half of all Australians ‘rise’ from poverty over the past two centuries.

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The genius of Catholic education

“The genius of Catholic education from its earliest days in the colonies was its egalitarianism. It was there for everyone. Especially to raise up the poorest kids,” Archbishop Fisher said.

Like creating a good souffle, a well-rounded Catholic education shows that with time, care and patience, you can achieve success. Just like how Catholics, once excluded from society, can now rise as leaders at home, in community life and across all professional sectors.

“That was hugely successful, the Catholic community are now very middle class in Australia, from having been at the bottom of the pile and that was a great achievement.”

As the conversation shifted to the next century, our ‘Education Archbishop’ used his time at the conference to warn Catholic educators not to be complacent when using the old model to plan for tomorrow, and that a new, individual student-focused approach must be adopted to ensure that Catholic students continue to thrive in the future.

Hundreds of teachers from around the nation gathered in Melbourne for the NCEC conference from 4-7 September. Photo: NCEC

Adaptability ensures continuity

“With that kind of egalitarian mindset you neglect the people who have been gifted in one way or another, because you really focus in bringing people along”.

One example of how this is being enacted is the hugely successful Newman Selective Gifted Education Program founded in Sydney Catholic Schools, which sees students remain with their primary and secondary peers for most subjects, while joining special classes for areas where they excel. This has been noted as preferable to ‘high stakes’ selective schools which place pressure on students across the board, when they may only excel in one or two subjects.

However, Catholic Regional College Sydenham hospitality teacher Richard McGuire added even in dioceses without the system-wide Newman model, our hard-working and dedicated Catholic teachers can already start making a difference by adapting the rate at which they teach their state syllabus based on individual student learning needs.

A positive response

“I have some students who have learning difficulties and some at the top of their game, and setting separate tasks and criteria for them challenges each and every one of them in a different way to succeed,” Mr McGuire said.

As for young MasterChef, Year 12 Student Lucas, he perhaps provided the strongest endorsement of the day for the benefits of a well-rounded, faith based education.

“I don’t have to just be a good student, I can be myself. The Catholic faith has taught me not only to respect myself, but other people around me, the environment and stuff like that,” Lucas said.

For more information about Sydney’s Newman Gifted Education Program go here.

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