A new report on the state of Catholic education throughout the world says the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the existence of Catholic schools, even though they have greatly expanded in recent decades.
According to the Global Catholic Education Report 2021, 62 million children worldwide are enrolled in Catholic schools from pre-K through secondary schools, and more than 6 million students are enrolled in Catholic higher education. Catholic schools are especially present in nations ranked by the World Bank as low-income countries. In those countries, one in seven students in primary school is in a Catholic school.
“Yet the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the sustainability of some schools and universities, especially when they do not benefit from state support, said the report, released Monday.
Each year, the Global Catholic Education Report provides analysis of major trends affecting Catholic schools and universities. It is co-sponsored by the four organizations that represent Catholic education at the international level. The theme for the 2021 report is education pluralism, learning poverty, and the right to education.
Among key findings, the statement reports that over the last four decades, enrollment in Catholic schools has been growing especially rapidly on the African continent, which now accounts for 55.3% of all students in Catholic primary schools in the world. Globally, according to the World Bank classification of countries, seven in 10 students in Catholic primary schools live in low and lower-middle income countries (40.9% in low income and 29.7% in lower-middle income countries). By contrast, Catholic higher education remains concentrated in upper-middle and high income countries, as is the case for other universities.
The report points out that the Catholic Church is responding to the rising demand for education in the global south. In sub-Saharan Africa, 11.0% of all primary school students are in a Catholic school. In low income countries, the proportion is 13.7%.
“The fact that Catholic primary schools serve proportionally more students in low income countries is good news for the mission of the Church to serve the poor,” the report says.
Regarding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the report says that in the United States, the crisis has led to the largest reduction in enrollment in Catholic K-12 schools in close to 50 years.
Some jurisdictions have held their own, however. After an initial drop in enrollment, schools of the Archdiocese of Boston saw a rebound, fueled by parents who were frustrated by the public schools’ inability or unwillingness to reopen.
“Supporting Catholic education in times of crisis is essential to protect education pluralism. It also makes economic sense,” the report says. “Estimates for 38 countries suggest that Catholic schools and universities generate annual budget savings for these states of more than $100 billion (in purchasing power parity). The long-term cost of not supporting Catholic schools and universities when they need support may be larger than the cost of providing support.”
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