The power of education

Learning is the key to transforming lives. In parallel with academia,
it also helps to create a more enlightened and just society.


By Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector, Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide

Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist and dramatist, famously said, “Those who open a school door, close a prison,” highlighting the transformative power of education in alleviating struggle and fostering a more enlightened and just society. Hugo, the author of ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’, addressed social justice, human rights and the plight of the poor in 19th-century France.   

I recall visiting a prison in the Philippines, where I saw this quote on the wall of the prison school. The New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa in Metro Manila is the country’s largest. Built to house about 6,000 inmates, it actually houses nearly 30,000. With the overcrowding come problems with hygiene, sewage and social order. 

According to a March 2023 report by Rebecca Ratcliffe in The Guardian, “To prevent disorder from breaking out, prison officers and inmates develop their own structures to manage day-to-day life. An inmate hierarchy exists across the prison, with prisoners taking on various roles and positions.” 

The maximum-security section has the largest number of inmates. The medium-security zone houses those serving less than 20 years and has some rehabilitation facilities. The minimum-security area, for the aged or people completing their sentence, has more freedom. The complex has its own morgue and prison, while a hospital on site provides elementary care to inmates. 

The prisoners pass their time playing basketball and producing handicrafts. There is a daily Mass in the Chapel, which is looked after by the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service Foundation. There is also a range of educational opportunities, and these are greatly appreciated by the prisoners. The inmates were eager to learn and hopeful for the opportunities that education could provide upon their release.   

In 335 BC, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and polymath, who was unable to own property as a non-Athenian, founded a school that prioritised people over buildings. This method, known as peripatetic learning, involved deep discussions and reflection while walking. The term “peripatetic” means roaming around, suggesting that walking can enhance our understanding and perception. A Jesuit friend once described this process of developing ideas as “taking an idea for a walk”. He was a poet who referred to his craft as “worded silence”. 

While tools like ChatGPT and others can aid our work, they are only part of the journey. True learning requires deep reflection, discernment and good decision-making. This approach will develop both our hearts and our minds. We must take our time, fill our minds with what is good and noble, and open our hearts to compassion and love.  

At our recent Mass of the Sacred Heart, we reflected on the phrase, “The heart of education is the education of the heart”. This reminds us of the need to connect with our hearts, clear away the clutter and come to our senses. In the face of contemporary pressures, it may be necessary to detox from devices and enjoy the beauty of nature. We need to roam, think and listen. 

The education of the heart emphasises the importance of character development in learning. While we aim for our students to excel academically, we also want them to become good people. Jesuit education goes beyond academics to include value formation, empathy and emotional intelligence. This holistic approach is central to Jesuit pedagogy, as developing compassionate, well-rounded individuals is crucial for creating a more just and caring society.  

This article is an updated version of one that was originally published in a recent edition of ‘The Ignatian’, the newsletter of Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide. 

Banner image by harishs, Canva.

To enquire about becoming a Jesuit in Australia, contact and for more info, visit our Vocations page.

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