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from issue no. 12 - 2006

Increasing enrolment, accounts in the red

Close-up of a case

by Gianni Valente

The figures of a phenomenon. The Christian educational institutes in Jordan number 93: 44 infant schools and 49 schools. Of the latter, 44 are Catholic schools: 24 schools of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (whose jurisdiction includes Israel, Palestine and Jordan), 10 of the Melkite Patriarchate, one of the Catholic Armenians, 8 directed and managed by Latin religious Congregations (Franciscan, La Sallian, Nuns of Saint Joseph and Sisters of the Rosary, the female Congregation founded in Palestine that manages all of 5 institutes). The oldest school in Jordan is that one in Salt, founded in 1869 in an abandoned house by Jean Morétain, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate. The most recent is the secondary school inaugurated in 2000 in Wassieh, in the depressed south of the country: 36 classrooms, laboratories, halls, theatre, gyms.
In 2005-2006 the Catholic schools were attended by 23,670 pupils, of whom 12,502 Christians (52 percent of the total) and 11,168 Muslims. As for the teaching and administrative staff, the last data available, relating to the year 2002, showed 1,842 employed in the Christian schools overall, of whom 1,280 were Christian and 562 Muslim, to which are to be added the clergymen, the nuns and the religious. The director of the single institutes enjoys full freedom in the selection and employment of his own staff, when the professional requirements for the various posts are assured.
The data from the schools of the Latin Patriarchate are emblematic: of the 58 patriarchal educational institutes – schools and infant schools – all of 40 are in Jordan (in Palestine there are 13 and 5 in Israel).
If instead one looks at the whole Middle East and North Africa, even the comparison with other Arab countries reserves some surprises. Compared to the 93 Christian educational institutes in Jordan, Lebanon (341) and Egypt (130) host a greater number. But those are countries inhabited by native Christian communities with millions of believers. In Jordan the baptized number less than 120,000, and represent less than 4 percent of the country’s population.
The school population of the Jordan Catholic schools (in 2006) was fairly evenly divided between males (11,944) and females (11,726). When one looks at age groups, the majority of pupils (12,537) were concentrated in the first six years of the fourteen of the national scholastic curriculum (corresponding to the elementary school). The classes of the intermediate cycle were attended by 5,911 pupils (from seventh to tenth grade), while 2,249 attended courses in the two final biennia, before the final examination (tawjihi) which also acts as selection test for the university faculties with limited numbers. An average of 90 percent of the pupils of the Catholic schools qualify for university entrance.

Vocations among the benches. In the Jordanian schools a consistent part of the priestly vocations of the Church in the Holy Land flower. At present in Beit Jala, in the minor seminary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, 38 of the 51 students come from Jordan. Among those, 28 attended Catholic schools and 10 come from State schools. In the major seminary, on the other hand, among the actual 23 seminarians, 16 are of Jordanian nationality. Of these, 12 studied in Catholic schools of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Relations with the government. An agreement between the Ministry of Education and the General Secretariat for Christian Educational Institutions in Jordan has established the feasts of Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter and the Ascension as holidays for all Christian schools. The Christian schools, like the other private schools (including Muslim ones) do not receive direct financial support from the government. The possibility of introducing the teaching of the Christian religion in State schools, set out in principle by the government in 1996, has not so far had practical outcome on the technico-administrative level.

Collateral effects. The chaos in Iraq and the chronic Israel-Palestinian crisis has had negative influence on the existence of Christian schools in Jordan. The cost of petrol (which before came practically gratis from Iraq) has trebled in the last year alone, and the soar in real estate prices (unsettled by the massive financial investment diverted to Jordan by the Iraqi élite) are only some of the factors causing the progressive unstoppable erosion of the literate middle class, traditional «user» of the Christian educational institutions. The annual fees of the schools of the Latin Patriarchate, which are the lowest, hover between 150 and 200 dinars, equal to half the real cost borne for every single student. But the number of families who cannot manage this, even partial, contribution to the school budgets is growing exponentially. The increasing deficit of Jordanian schools (2 million dollars in 2006) constitutes half the debt accumulated by the patriarchate schools. A hole covered every single year thanks to the help from the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher and other friendly donors, such as the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation, Cambridge Nazareth Trust and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who in 2003 put together a network of solidarity that brought 64,000 dollars into the coffers of the patriarchate school institutions.
In spite of the difficulties, over the last ten years the Secretariat for Christian Educational Institutes in Jordan has managed to ensure the introduction of health insurance for its staff.

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