Friday 4 June 2021

The Gift of Education

Education is the means by which young people encounter their future. Narrowly, it implies the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will be instrumental in professional careers that are pursued beyond the years of school, which in the New South Wales context are in the aftermath of the consuming challenges of the HSC. Success in this area brings with it access to cultural capital – that is, entry to social connections, employment and opportunities that are in due proportion to respective income streams and through them, arguably, happiness and well-being. The latter is anything but a linear equation. It has been challenged over recent times: as one insightful literary figure so eloquently stated, “Money equates to the value of x in the moral calculus of our time”. The connection between income, happiness and a moral life is at best tenuous, at worst entirely invalid. A balanced education enables us to see that.

Education, in the broadest and richest sense of the word, brings with it much more. It enables an understanding of and a capacity to appropriate values that lie at the heartland of human formation and endeavour – human excellence. The latter is a feature of the most recent scholarship and discernment of the Society of Jesus, one which has been captured by in the publication Jesuit Schools: A Living Tradition in the 21st Century. It is where the fusion of knowledge and competence, conscience and compassion come together to form young men and women of faith, substance and character, of integrity and resolve, whose aspirations are fully cognisant of, and responsive to, the needs of the other – particularly the most marginalised and most disadvantaged. This kind of education provides a refractive lens to see the world critically, above and beyond the existential trappings of personal wealth and career opportunity, which can be all too ephemeral when personal lives and value systems are arid and hollow. In the words of one of the greatest intellects in human history, Albert Einstein, “Education is what remains, after all that has been learned is forgotten“.

The gift of education is not to be assumed or ever underestimated. A recent report released by UNESCO indicated that over a quarter of a billion children throughout the world have access to no education at all, with countless others having rudimentary levels of education that may provide the basis of literacy and numeracy, but little beyond. These children and their communities are consigned to impoverishment – materially, spiritually and socially. The essence of human development and higher order understanding of life is denied, creating a vicious cycle of dependence that is so difficult to break free of. Education is the circuit breaker for individuals and communities.

In Australia, we do not have the crushing burden of poverty that afflicts so many countries across the globe. We do, however, have significant numbers whose life circumstance prevents them from access to high quality education. For many, entry to schools that have such a broad, dynamic and engaging educational program as Riverview is little more than an elusive hope. That accepted, through the agencies of the Bursary Program the College has over 70 boys whose life circumstance is being changed through the generosity of benefactors who give freely to those who would otherwise be denied such opportunity. It was the compelling vision of St Ignatius that schools established in his name would provide an education in faith and values for all. They would deliver the best in scholarship, in human formation and human excellence to enable young men and women to realise their potential and be armed with an impulse for change through social agency. It was and remains a remarkable vision, one which has become established in countries throughout the world over the last 500 years. We inherit a very distinctive and proud tradition.

To our benefactors who support our young men, I say thank you – sincerely. The opportunities that are provided to these boys will not only change their lives but will flow on to their families and generations yet to come. We have some Old Boys who were beneficiaries of the gift of education over past generations who are now benefactors – the life cycle continues. We have parents who are new to the College who believe in the gift of education and contribute generously to the formation of others. To them, I say thank you. We have a number of past parents and wider members of the community who respond with great generosity to this cause, and to them I offer a sincere statement of gratitude.

To each and every one who donates, you are assisting young men to encounter their future and to have a better life because of it. To all, I say two heartfelt words on behalf of those who are the recipients of your generosity – thank you.

The scholastic fruits of education were on extravagant display last Friday evening at the official launch of The Kircher Collection: Class of 2020. These are the finest works of the graduates of 2020 and represent the high point of academic achievement in chosen fields – Literature, History, Art, Drama, Music and TAS. I commend the young men whose works have been chosen in this publication, works of extraordinary sophistication and complexity that drive the culture of learning and achievement in the College. You are invited to view The Kircher Collection here.

Dr Paul Hine