On Monday next week, approximately 4000 children return to their schools for another year.
Their teachers, numbering about 270, have been at work already for two weeks preparing themselves and their classrooms for this beginning.
The few children I have met during the last couple of weeks have had enjoyable holidays; but now are ready to return to school. They want to meet their friends again. Start new adventures. Meet their new teacher for the year and get on with their learning.
For some though it might be a nervous season, full of anxiety about new beginnings. Back to school is a timely reminder that whatever we do, the festive season of Christmas is over. The Christmas tree has come down. The decorations are no longer on display. And it is down to business, once again.
Whatever our work, which may be in the private sector or working as a civil servant, we are beginning a new year.
And it is true too for the multitude of groups and institutions that make up our society such as our sporting organisations, Miss World competitions, the Red Cross, the Over 60s club and more.
Whatever we are involved in, it would be unwise to presume that this year 2020 will be like last year. We need to sharpen up on our goals. Those of us who have mission statements need to give them a good dusting and reread them and perhaps rewrite them.
That’s so we clearly know our goals and strategies so 2020 has our operation going forward and not backwards.
Before we go forward into the New Year it would be advisable to look back over the last year and realistically evaluate it. Presumably for a business this is relatively easy. The business has either made a profit or loss. For our schools, whether exam results measure up to parents’ expectations. For sports teams, have they done well or not?
I personally appreciate Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message as she sums up how the monarchy has done in the past year, including references to those helping her like the members of her family.
In the messages that have just been presented, the Queen hinted that 2019 was not the perfect year for her. The Queen said it had been a turbulent year, bumpy at times.
What I admire about her address is that the Queen admits difficulties during the course of the year. She says: “The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.”
Many governments around the world, too, would accept those words. It has not been a perfect year.
New Zealand had 51 killed in the Christchurch massacre in March. Australia had its bush fires to battle. Samoa the measles epidemic. Great Britain struggled with Brexit. President Trump of the USA faces impeachment.
There has been plenty of turbulence around us to provide the bumps. Again, Cook Islands has been spared from any major disastrous event or tragedy.
Fortunately, this means our school children can expect to carry out their studies in relative peace. That their year will not be interrupted.
We can but wish our teachers well as they face the academic year. As school begins it is timely to spare a thought to our teachers. Many of them have been in the classroom for years. Others are just beginning.
While there are plenty of scriptural texts one might use this to inspire our teachers, it is one from Luke’s Gospel that appeals to me at the moment: “Jesus also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” – Luke 6, 39-40
Luke here is warning that no teacher can lead their scholars beyond the stage he or she has achieved.
This is a double warning to us. In our learning we must seek only the best teacher for only he or she can lead us further on; in our teaching we cannot teach what we do not know.
This is a great responsibility for any teacher.
PARENTS AND GUARDIANS.
It is timely, too, to think of our parents and guardians who are supporting their children in school. The history of education in the Cook Islands is underpinned by the great dedication and commitment of generations of parents, which continues today.
“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb…” Nelson Mandela’s words are very apt as challenges have abounded for every generation.
In considering the challenges of the present day it is important to give thanks for the people who have done, and are doing, the work of supporting our schools such as parents, guardians and the Parents Teachers Association.
There has never been any room for complacency in education as our world is rapidly changing. Identifying the present challenges does not throw a shadow over the work of dedicated people. It is simply a means of keeping the approach to education attuned to the needs of the times, a process which can be invigorating if the overall objective is clearly before all those who play a role in this great work.
Pope Benedict XVI marked the 2011 World Day of Peace by saying: “Education is the most interesting and difficult adventure in life. Educating – from the Latin educere – means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth. This process is fostered by the encounter of two freedoms, that of adults and that of the young.
“It calls for responsibility on the part of the learners, who must be open to being led to the knowledge of reality, and on the part of educators, who must be ready to give of themselves. For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader.
“A witness is someone who first lives the life that he or she proposes to others.”
Bishop Paul Donoghue