The core of Jesuit education lies in Magis- “striving for the more”- a constant search for greater service to God by serving His people, especially the poor, the Dalits and the marginalised and “those who are weakest”. As enshrined in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, the principal goal of Jesuits is of others. Jesuit education focuses on formation of character of its students who would become men and women for others. This is the foundational philosophy of Jesuit education. This forms, in spirit and in letter, the ways by which we teach and the ways students learn in Jesuit institutions of higher education. The Ignatian tradition guides a formative process in and through teaching, learning and governance that emphasises the awareness of God’s active presence in human life in positive and life affirming ways. This leads the learner to become socially conscious to care for the other, men and women for others. Self, God/nature and others altogether form a triadic locus in which the learner forms her/his personality that influences social change. The Jesuit tradition has a distinguished history of five centuries and has in every age, in every place, at every level, pursued and delivered educational excellence. In Jesuit higher education, this ‘striving for more’ is understood in terms of the quality of education, the excellence in education and the access and the inclusiveness to this education it gives to the poor and the marginalised. More sharply, the Jesuit education strives for more in the creation of knowledge, the quality of knowledge, application of knowledge, and access to knowledge for the poor and the marginalised. Students are called to do their very best and to always strive for personal excellence in all aspects of life - intellectual, emotional, moral and physical. This personal excellence leads to concern for others. It is a love in service to the people on the periphery. The guiding principle in this is service of faith through promotion of justice that is integral to every work of Jesuits. This service empowers the powerless to become competent.
This is Jesuit Excellence. Excellence in education is not just accumulation of knowledge by memory but deeper understanding that makes a student more wise than knowledgeable. This excellence is not only in the quality of education that Jesuits provide, but also in the ways in which the students from the marginalised sections of the society, in the mission context of Tamil Nadu, the Dalits, are given access to this quality education. The quality education, in the Jesuit sense, should not be understood in admitting meritorious students and making them more meritorious persons. Instead, it should be seen in the ways by which we admit students from the marginalised sections of the society and provide opportunities, facilities and intellectual atmosphere that help them become creative, competent, committed and competitive in the lives they would lead after their learning in the Jesuit institutions. The competence they build through the education gives them inner wisdom to make proper choices in their lives. This comes from the Spiritual Exercises whose objective is to free a person from inordinate attachments and biases, thus enabling one to make free choices. These Exercises are based on the premise that people who are free enough to say that reality is good will recognize their own goodness and will live happy and fulfilled live. The choice must be meant not only for empowering oneself but also other. Men and women for others. This other-centeredness is developed in the process of learning that ‘stresses community values such as equal opportunity for all, the principles of distributive and social justice, and the attitude of mind that sees service of others as more self-fulfilling than success or prosperity’. The Jesuit education aims at formation of character and inculcation of values that is based on the world view of “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam”, “for the Greater Glory of God”.
Jesuit education essentially looks at education, not merely in terms of quantity of knowledge, but in terms of quality of knowledge that helps form the character of students, ‘total formation of individual’. The knowledge here is seen holistically. Even the subjects a student learns should be interdisciplinary and integrated. The Society of Jesus from its origins unambiguously announced to the world that “the end of this Society is to devote itself with God’s grace to salvation and perfection of the members’ own souls, but also with great diligence to labour strenuously in giving aid toward the salvation and perfection of the souls of their fellow men [and women]. This kind of formation of character emphasises shaping of totality of personality, in Ignatian idiom, it is a ‘soul education’. Not only sharpening of mind, but equally also body, heart, and spirit. The Jesuit mission of education as seen from the interpretive prism of the Jesuits is the experience that places everyone involved in the mission with ‘Christ at the heart of the world’. The soul education begins with conversion of heart – conversion from and conversion for.
This soul education guides the teaching and learning not to gain information and knowledge, but appropriation - ‘an integration into the very activity of God within created reality’. Jesuit way of learning helps the student to assimilate and understand experiences by being attentive to ‘the reality about you, reverence what you encounter, and appreciate how this kind of presence leads to revelation, what Ignatius calls devotion’ which is the presence of God.
In the process of learning in the Jesuit way, this appropriation leads immediately to forming a social consciousness - ‘the care of those souls for whom either there is nobody to care or, if somebody ought to care, the care is negligent. This is the reason for the founding of the Society. This is its strength. This is its dignity in the Church’. In this sense, social justice forms a constitutive element of the Jesuit education. The type of education Jesuits provide should be one of empowering the poor and disadvantaged and should make them also as “empowers” themselves and to be discoverers of the joy of giving. Empowered and Empowering.
The Ignatian process in learning allows pluralism. There are many ways to reach God. One’s experience springs out of his/her individual histories, contextualised in a culture and communicated to others in concrete actions of faith service. Communication with others here in India leads to dialogue with cultures, religions and languages of India. The teaching and learning in Jesuit institutions in Madurai Province, must be understood in the context of multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual fabric of Indian society. In the learning process, students in Jesuit institutions should be helped to realise the importance of appreciation of other religions, cultures and languages. They should be formed into persons who can celebrate the dignity of differences and they must be able to voice against fundamentalism and anti-multicultural way of life. Ultimately, this naturally should lead the student to other-centred person.
Jesuit education evolves a process of learning based on The Exercises that begins with freeing of persons from biases and guides one to make life’s choices by discemment. The learning makes the student have inner freedom. This process enhances the person who learns to form his/her character with competencies that are measured in the ways by which it has contributed to society at large. The nature of freedom gained in this way breeds innovation. Innovation involves new ways of understanding social problems and creates new ways of solving them. Innovation is one of the key competencies that students build in the process in Jesuit institutions. Students are trained to gain insight that helps them apply new approaches and new inventions to solve social problems. Education should help students to look at society and its problems differently and provide solutions to them that promote equitable growth in every realm of society.
Our focus is on competence. Competence is a set of behaviours, attributes, and policies that enable people to become agents who work effectively in given situations. Being and becoming responsible for one’s life is the fundamental dimension of competency. Jesuit education is committed to making its students confident. When one is competent she becomes confident. Jesuits aim to train men and women to become ‘leaders of quality’ with corporate social responsibility. These leaders would play vital role in bringing about the desired change in society. More importantly, the education that Jesuits in Madurai province provide makes them become competent people with intellectual vigour and more rectitude. This intellectual vigour and moral rectitude combine the mind and heart to produce the competency.
Creativity is another important dimension of our commonness. This creativity lies in the ways we form our students to look at reality very differently and provide innovative solutions to problems. This is being creative in thinking and in action. In the corporate world and in society at large, this is read as innovation. Innovation refers to a process by which varying degrees f measurable value enhancement is planned an achieved, in any enterprise. To this end, Jesuit education facilitates an atmosphere of freedom. Creativity flourishes in a climate of freedom. Moe sharply, Jesuits believe in being a creative force as an institution in terms of its providing service of education, because when students are free - personal freedom - to conduct enquiry of knowledge they become creative in the way they live and in the way they act and interact in society.
Jesuit education insists on forming their students who are committed and responsible. Commitment involves the ways by which we make our choices. In fact, life hinges upon the choices we make. To do this, one needs to be responsible. One needs to make responsible choices. And one is committed to that choice. Jesuit education expects its students to become committed persons. In other words, Jesuit education wants always students to realise that learning is their responsibility and they should be committed to learning more than anything else. The colleges will teach and provide facilities for learning. But it is up to the students to learn and form themselves. Put simply, Jesuits view students, not just as clay to be moulded by someone, but as human persons who have the human agency to decide for themselves and adhere to the choices they have made. Students are responsible for either growth or non-growth and are not at all encouraged to shift responsibility.
Education should make a student become other-centred, not self-centred. Learning a skill is not merely to increase one’s own wealth and make only one’s individual life comfortable. But education should contribute to others and to the society while it enhances one’s growth. In fact, the real test of a learned person lies in the ways in which s/he is concerned about the welfare of the other who is in a disadvantaged position. Compassion is not just a feeling for the other, but feeling with and into the other. It is not just a feeling but it is a blend of feeling and action. If you are compassionate you feel with and into the other who suffers and do something to change that situation. Jesuits do not want the students in their colleges and institutes simply to succeed in their lives Instead, they want the students to succeed together. By studying in Jesuit institutions, one has to achieve greatness that contributes to the growth of the society, particularly, to the marginalised. Students in Jesuit education build competencies that promote growth at the individual level as well as at the societal level, and they become the agents of social change.