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An interview with Fr. Jimmy Bartolo, President of the Jesuit Education Foundation

11 Institutions, 6.400 pupils, almost a thousand teaching and non-teaching staff. The Jesuit schools, that aim to train "men and women for others", can look back on a long tradition and a specific method, which is detailed in the Ratio Studiorum. Five stages that interact and connect with each other in a cyclical sequence: context, experience, reflection, action, evaluation. Schools of different order and grade are based in Turin, Milan, Naples, Rome, Palermo, Messina, but also Malta and Shkodër. They are networked together with other educational works of the Society in the Jesuit Education Foundation.
But which pupils are the most apt for this type of program? Fr. Jimmy Bartolo, President of the Foundation, explains:

Which students are suitable for Jesuit schools?

The eight schools that form part of Fondazione Gesuiti Educazione (FGE) are situated in countries and towns that have different contexts, languages, and national curriculum frameworks. The admissions processes in Italy, Malta, and Albania are also very different. Such processes also depend on the socio-political scenario of each country.

The motivations for joining a Jesuit school may be different. Entry criteria should be clear and transparent. Parents need to know what we stand for, i.e. that our vision is to form students who would become men and women for others. This is a long process which requires competence and patience. We need families and students who understand our vision and mission, and choose our schools because of the values we try to impart to students.

Which specific proposal do they encounter in their path?

The formation programme offered in our schools aims at achieving human excellence. What is meant by this is that students will become persons who are conscientious, committed, compassionate, and competent. It is not simply about grades; it is about human and spiritual growth and openness to God and to others. I would like to invite your readers to read the last document issued by the General Curia regarding our vision for education. It is called: Jesuit Schools: A living tradition in the 21st century – An ongoing exercise of discernment

How is the attempt to expand the number of students with scholarships proceeding?

We are working on a fundraising programme to offer students the possibility of receiving scholarships. There is a big challenge for schools in Italy to be accessible to all because of the lack of funds from Government. One very good example of inclusion in Italy is our school in Turin. Through the Fondazione Gallesio, there are about 60 students who receive financial aid. Malta has a very inclusive compulsory education because of the Holy See – Republic of Malta agreement which was ratified in 1991. Our school in Albania does not receive state financial aid but has a good number of students who come from a lower socio-economic background. We need to be constantly reminded of this vision, even during the very challenging Covid-19 period!

How are the enrolments going this year?

Some of our schools started this scholastic year with a lower number of students. To be honest, I expected a much worse scenario because of the enormous financial challenges linked to the Covid-19 crisis. Efforts were made by FGE to dialogue with politicians and bishops to support Catholic schools in Italy. Financial aid from the State remains minimal for Catholic schools in Italy; one of the biggest treats. Many schools are struggling, and a good number are closing down.

How are you experiencing the Covid period? What are the greatest challenges?

Our schools continued their formation programme virtually. All the schools are open again with physical presence and abiding by strict protocols. Our College in Malta will open with online teaching and learning, and will transition to having students psychically present. Nothing substitutes the personalised formation given at school. There are advantages of the online methodologies which I hope we will continue to be used post-Covid period. I am concerned about the mental health of many students and members of staff, particularly where familial relationships are dysfunctional. It is an opportunity for our schools to reach out to them. On the other hand, I was surprised by the generosity of heads and the senior management teams of our schools who rose to the challenges of the Covid period and are facilitating many initiatives of solidarity. I thank them for reaching out to those who are most in need.

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