The resolution was passed on a morning which saw education feature heavily in its deliberations, when Members of Assembly from the all-Ireland denomination’s 500-plus congregations discussed the Report of the Council for Public Affairs.
Speaking on the subject, Dr Andrew Brown, chair of PCI’s State Education Committee, said, “To say that the last two academic years have been hard is an understatement! Never before in education have we experienced such uncertainty, anxiety and constant change than during Covid-19. March 2020 seems such a short time ago, yet, looking back, it seems and has felt like an eternity. So much has happened with so many twists and turns that it seems almost incomprehensible now.”
Dr Brown spoke of the impact off the upheaval of the pandemic which saw schools in Northern Ireland, for example, shut, reopen, shut again, then re-open once more. He said that across Ireland, “A generation of pupils have missed out on key elements of learning…school teachers and governors worked blind, getting information in a constant stream…worried, sick and stressed out about whether they were doing their best for their staff and pupils and communities…Support staff who took on additional roles, who stepped up, who minded the children of key workers...[and] parents who in the midst of their own fears…also had to worry about their children’s education…”
Dr Brown continued, “And the result? An education service which rose to the challenge, met the needs of our children, young people and communities. An education service that merits - that demands - our thanks.
“Let us thank God for the work of our educationalists, at every level. What they have done in the last two years has been Herculean. They have ensured, in spite of their fears and exhaustion, in a self-sacrificial way that some kind of normality reigned. Let us continue to pray for them as they navigate the difficult and uncertain days ahead,” said.
In a separate resolution regarding Northern Ireland’s schools, Assembly Members also commended ‘the non-denominational Christian ethos of controlled schools as a sound framework for developing the educational, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people.’
In his speech, Dr Brown said that of late there had been a distinct ‘raising of the temperature’ over the role of the churches in education and the place of faith in the system. He told the General Assembly that it was more than just the Church’s ‘historical rights’.
“…More than this - It is based on our knowledge that the cornerstone values of the Christian faith: honesty, truthfulness, kindness, consideration, concern for others, compassion, obedience, responsibility, respect, and duty, are those which develop our young people into citizens of a society which is more selfless, tolerant and inclusive. To dismiss our role as ‘inconsequential’ and to undermine an ethos which is Christian, risks exacerbating a culture of individualism and self-centredness.”
Dr Brown continued, “And so we need to continue to articulate this, to answer our detractors and to demonstrate clearly the positives of ensuring that our schools conduct their business under the banner of a non-denominational Christian ethos.”
In light of Northern Ireland’s forthcoming Indent Review of Education, PCI plans to hold a conference in early 2022 to reflect on, re-imagine, and re-envision the Churches role in education. This will not only help to inform the denomination’s response to the review, but also to re-invigorate its thinking and to address the educational challenges of the 21st century.
The General Assembly will conclude this afternoon, Wednesday, 6 October at 5.30pm. Business also took place on Monday and Tuesday evening. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here. As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.