The Concordat challenge

Vijay Maharaj -
Vijay Maharaj -

Maha Sabha secretary general Vijay Maharaj made it clear on Thursday with a pre-action protocol letter that he was willing to go to court over any change in the way teachers are screened by denominational schools.

The school boards of other faiths are also concerned by the new system, which provides schools seeking to fill vacancies with a list of qualified teachers available under the Education Ministry.

Under the Concordat, a document of agreement between the State and a collective of school boards representing schools founded by Presbyterian, Muslim, Hindu, Anglican and Catholic churches have the final say in accepting teachers based on an assessment of their moral and religious alignment with their schools.

The Concordat was created to mollify the conflict between churches that wanted their schools retain their moral and religious character and the State's creation of standard, bureaucratic uniformity in the school system.

The Concordat specifically noted that unless allowed by the relevant church board, "The religion of the particular denomination which owns the school will be taught exclusively and by teachers professing to belong to that domination."

As recently as 2019, Archbishop Jason Gordon described Catholic school principals and teachers as "missionary disciples."

There have been running tensions between the State and denominational boards since the Concordat was signed into effect by the education minister in December 1960.

In January 2012, Justice Sebastien Ventour ruled in favour of the provisions of the Concordat in a case brought by Kamla Jagessar against the Teaching Service Commission.

Ms Jagessar had acted as principal of Penal Presbyterian School and was passed over for the job because she was "not a communicant in good standing for 15 years as required by the Synod."

It's clear that 63 years has brought little change in the Concordat debate.

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, now UWI's principal, bluntly noted, in 2021, the inequities that persist in local education at a national consultation on the Concordat.

"The State has abdicated its responsibility to provide good education," Ms Antoine said. "If we had good schools all over TT there wouldn't be a problem. People want to go to denominational schools because they are seen as being better quality."

For eight decades, the Concordat has only become more of a blockade to education cross-pollination and both sides are the poorer for it.

The State's dogged insistence on certification as the guiding measure of education's value only compounds the challenges facing teachers preparing their students for a modern world.

To prepare today's children for an increasingly uncertain employment future, there is an urgent need for comprehensive re-engineering of pedagogy to build the skills needed in this new century.

Denominational and government schools should be working together to define and refine best practices in educating the nation's children and doing so with the kind of discipline and mutual respect they hope to teach their charges.


"The Concordat challenge"

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