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Rev Dr Philip Manghan - How important is a spiritual dimension in our children’s education?

Rev Dr Phillip Mangham For 150 years, the Catholic Church has worked in partnership with the State to provide education in Wales, and, today, together with the Church in Wales, now accounts for 15% of the country’s schools. Currently, there are 71 Catholic primary schools and 16 secondary schools, spread throughout Wales, with a total school population of over 29,000 and a teaching workforce of more than 2,500.

This partnership has been a source of great richness in Welsh society as, together, the Catholic Church and, today, the Welsh Government, work to build a just, inclusive and cohesive society. One of the primary functions of a Catholic school, as with any educational facility in Wales, is to be of service to society. The Catholic Church provides schools and colleges which contribute to the creation of a society that is inclusive, just, highly educated, skilled and cultured. Catholic schools throughout Wales serve a diverse range of communities: rural and urban. According to the Digest of 2016 Census Data for Schools and Colleges in Wales, over 25% of pupils in Catholic schools are from Black and Minority Ethnic communities in Wales, compared to 10% nationally (p. 20).

minority ethnic pupils in maintained schools 2011 to 16

One aspect of the nature and purpose of a Catholic school is the commitment to the formation of the whole child, ensuring that every child receives a holistic education incorporating all aspects of his or her academic, moral and spiritual education. For this reason, the Catholic Church fully supports the development of the Successful Futures national curriculum, recognising in it a cohesive and holistic understanding of how all aspects of human knowledge and understanding are intrinsically interrelated and how children learn best through experience. The core purposes of the new curriculum in Wales are that children in our schools will be:

  • ambitious, capable learners ready to learn throughout their lives;
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work;
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world; and,
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society,

Such a vision coheres well with the Catholic Church’s understanding of the ‘Catholic Curriculum’ for Catholic schools in Wales.

Central to the Catholic understanding of human nature, is the spiritual dimension. Currently, in the National Curriculum in Wales, the requirement for all schools to provide opportunities for moral, spiritual and cultural development sits within the curriculum areas ‘Personal and Social Education’ and ‘Religious Education’. The spiritual dimension of the human person is referenced in the ‘Core Purposes’ of Successful Future. Our hope is that in the developing ‘Areas of Learning Experience’, this dimension receives the emphasis it deserves.

Leading educational researchers such as Dr Marian de Souza ((2016), Spirituality in education in a global pluralised world, London and New York: Routledge); David Hay ((2006), Something there: The biology of the human spirit, London: Dartman, Longman & Todd Ltd), and many others (see, for example, the International Journal of Children's Spirituality , have argued that spirituality is an innate element in the human person, implicit in the relational dimension of life. For de Souza, it is found in a person’s ‘deep-seated connection to the Other’. ‘For some,’ she writes, ‘this connectedness is grounded in the human world but for others, it stretches beyond to a non-human world where they may encounter a transcendent reality, which brings the experience of oneness; that is, being a part of the whole’ (M de Souza, ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Education: Addressing Issues of Identity and Belonging’ in Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, vol. 7, no. 1, p 127).

As de Souza notes, this begins with a recognition that ‘the child is a multidimensional being; an individual with a rational mind that thinks, an emotional mind that feels and a spiritual mind that intuits, imagines, wonders and creates. And this multidimensional mind is encased in the physical body which allows the individual child to engage, mediate and interact with the world around them through their perceptions and senses.’ (de Souza, 2016, p. 123). If a child is a rational, emotional and spiritual individual, then all three of these elements must be present in an effective educational provision: ‘The connectedness that may be seen in an individual’s response to Other is reflected in levels of empathy the individual experiences towards Other and may be expressed through joy, happiness, peace, justice, freedom, liberation, awe, wonder, wisdom, compassion and so on. Spiritual growth occurs when positive experiences of connectedness are nurtured’ (ibid).

In addition, Patricia A. Alexander, Michael J. Furlong, Rich Gilman, E. Scott Huebner in Measuring and Promoting Hope in Schoolchildren (2014, p. 39); and Leslie Gutman and Ingrid Schoon’s, The impact of non-cognitive skills on outcomes for young people and others (2014), amongst others, have explored how elements of what can be found in spiritual formation have a positive impact on both personal academic achievement and community cohesion.

What is meant by the ‘spiritual dimension’ of the human person, and by ‘spiritual formation’ in education, is a rich, and immensely enriching, area of debate and discussion. The spiritual development of our young people is, we believe, an essential part of their formation and a responsibility of the whole school, whatever type of school that is. It might be worth considering whether the ‘spiritual’ dimension and development of the human person might possibly be just as important as his or her intellectual, physical, emotional and social development.

Rev Dr Philip Manghan
Catholic Education Service, Adviser for Wales

Rev Dr Philip Manghan has taught in secondary schools in Wales for over thirty years, most recently as Headteacher of the Catholic secondary school in Bridgend. In 2015, Philip became the first Adviser for Wales for the Catholic Education Service (CES). The CES is the education agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The Bishops’ Conference is the permanent assembly of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales and the CES, as an agency of the Bishops’ Conference, is charged with promoting and securing education on behalf of the bishops. Philip, as an officer of the CES, represents the Catholic sector at the National Assembly for Wales, with Welsh Government and with other national education agencies.