More than 40 scholars and educators from around the world took part last month in a conference in Rome on Catholic education, marking the first major initiative of the Kellogg Institute’s research cluster on international education.

Global Catholic Education and Integral Human Development: Setting a Social Science Research Agenda, held April 25-27, included practitioners and researchers from East Africa, India, Bangladesh, Australia, Latin America, Europe, and the US.

“The idea was to set a research agenda – what is the current state of knowledge in the field, what are the questions we should be examining, and who we might be partnering with in doing the research on the ground,” said Paolo Carozza, the Kellogg Institute’s director.  

The conference was sponsored by Kellogg and the Institute for Educational Initiatives, and was supported by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Congregation for Catholic Education, whose prefect, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, delivered opening remarks on the importance of the new research initiative.

Topics addressed during the conference included the accessibility and impact of Catholic education in the developing world and – something that varied from country to country – state support for those schools. Attendees included political scientists and researchers in educational policy.

“We looked at policy and governance structures, to understand ways in which states are providing the right context for Catholic education to flourish, and ways in which policy and governance and structures might be impeding or restricting Catholic education,” Carozza said.

Kellogg Faculty Fellow Rev. Robert Dowd, CSC, a principal investigator in the research cluster, said the number of Catholic schools, and the number of children attending them, has expanded dramatically in recent decades in the global south, particularly in Africa. But there is little research on their impact or quality, or how they affect civic participation and attitudes of tolerance.

That data is particularly important for societies that face the challenges of economic inequality, environmental degradation, human migration, and social conflict.

“We want to know whether Catholic schools are doing more than promoting high academic achievement, as important as that is,” he said. “We’re interested in whether, how, and why they make a difference in society, and if they’re producing civically active and socially responsible citizens.”

Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, another principal investigator in the research cluster, said conversations among those at the conference “underscored the critical importance of the role context plays in the ways faith-based schools engage their educational mission. Degrees of school autonomy and accountability varied widely. 

“This is an important area for further research,” he added.

Two regional workshops with local collaborators will be held this year: one in June in Kenya and another in December in Chile.

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