The 2011/2012 Academic Year is just round the corner and parents are already making, or will soon make up their minds which schools their children will attend, especially at the primary level. This choice is becoming increasingly difficult within the context of what Pope Benedict XVI has described as, "---a certain contemporary culture that casts doubt upon any kind of absolute value, even the possibility of recognising truth and goodness."
While Canon 797 gives parents real freedom in the choice of schools for their children, Canon 793 sets out the boundaries as it states that Catholic parents also have the duty and the right to choose the institutions that can best ensure the Catholic education of the children. In a situation where Catholic institutions are available, or exist side by side other competing institutions, what better alternative can there be than Catholic schools themselves?
Before schools resumed for the 2007/2008 Academic Year, the bishops of Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province in their different pastoral letters pointed out to parents the importance of sending their children to Catholic schools. The reasons range from the need to swell enrolment in Catholic schools, through countering what Bishop Bushu described as government's undisclosed secularist agenda, to parents' concerns for the quality of studies dispensed in Catholic schools.
Drawing attention to the threat Catholic Education is facing, especially with regard to dwindling numbers in Catholic primary schools, the Archbishop of Bamenda, Mgr. Cornelius Esua unequivocally pointed out that, "If this situation is allowed to continue, then we would have no Catholic schools in the Bamenda Archdiocese."
Decreasing enrolment in Catholic primary schools within the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province has not only pushed the Bishop of Mamfe Diocese, where the problem is most acute, to ask what we can do as concerned Catholics, to salvage the situation, but has also forced Mgr. Cornelius Esua to prescribe measures that have to be taken to halt low enrolment in Catholic primary schools.
Part of the way out, he has pinpointed, is that Catholic parents should send their children to Catholic schools so that they may be assured of their Catholic upbringing. "The obligation of Catholic parents to send their children to Catholic schools flows from the fact that when parents present their children for baptism, they solemnly promise and commit themselves to bring them up and educate them as Catholics."
This standpoint reflects what Bishop Bushu considers "a matter of faith," as he underlines that, "it is the duty and responsibility of each Catholic parent to support Catholic education by ensuring that their children receive a befitting Christian education." Similar calls have been made by Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo who has called on Christians of his diocese to consider Catholic schools as their property and manage them as such. Despite his call, enrolment remains low in Catholic schools in Kumbo Diocese.
To carve out, maintain and protect an acceptable Catholic Education niche within a highly competitive education marketplace, Catholic education officials have to look beyond the above-cited evangelical-pastoral obligations and put in place measures that will ensure quality education in all Catholic schools. This will constitute, and has constituted, the force of Catholic schools in different parts of the country over the years.
Commenting on the nature and identity of Catholic education while on an apostolic journey to the US a few years back, Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic Educators that education is integral to the mission of the Church, stressing that its long term sustainability must be assured. One of the ways of ensuring that sustainability is for parents to send their children to Catholic schools. The Catholic Church recognises parents' freedom to send their children to schools of their choice, but as the Holy Father points out, that freedom does not mean "Opting out" of Catholic education. He says freedom of education really means, "Opting in", what he further describes as "--- a participation in Being itself."
So, Catholic parents, send your children to Catholic schools!