Will the future of theological education be online?

Aug 6, 2020 by

from CEN:

Two online three day zoominars for theological educators in South Asia and Africa in July  set out the possibilities and challenges for theological education for the immediate and medium term future. These workshops in South Asia and in Africa were facilitated and organised by GILD team (Global Institute for Leadership Development),  led by Dr Prasad Phillips. GILD is a network of Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life and Barnabas Fund. Over two hundred and fifty educators took part in the African conference which was translated into French and Portuguese.

The challenges to the current seminary and university models were powerfully presented by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, the director of OCRPL. He urged those residential institutions that wished to survive the challenge of COVID lockdown to adopt the worship, work and study approach with residential students working on an associated farm to provide food and income.

Outlining the financial and contextual challenges to theological education in Africa and Myanmar and Fiji ( who ‘sent’ participants), he stressed the uncertainty about what would happen next, the resurgence of the locust plague in East Africa and the nationalism of the USA and China which would catch these countries in the middle.  China’s policies are built around resources for which Africa and Myanmar are the source. China is engaged in massive building projects on the continent, swapping debt on the projects for equity in the countries. Information technology flow between the US and China and resulting sanctions will affect the academic world and scholarship. Since finance will be in short supply for the forseeaable future, Theological Education would need to become more self-sufficient and self sustaining within Africa. The experience of suffering needs a coherent doctrine of suffering, and a theology that addresses the world of today which can engage Muslim people with understanding.

In the changed COVID world information is the strongest form of power. Dr Jurgen Hendricks of NETACT noted that “The most important information is the information in the gospel about God who created and formed everything. Are we training fruit bearing pastors who can lead the world according to the gospel or health and prosperity preachers who are merely copies of the companies and politicians of our time?” he asked.  Online theological education is information to the world.

Learner driven

Major discussion took place on whether online education could match the residential model in quality and become mainstream. The advantages were clear of access to online libraries all over the world, input of scholars from all five continents, and availability to those with vocations to ministry who already had an income from their current employment. Online education will entail some educators relinquishing their control of place, space, time and content. It means the death of the sage. Some resistance appears to come from those wanting to preserve their buildings through the income from residential students.

OCRPL founder Dr Vinay Samuel notes that “the  current theological education/training market is not driven by theological educators or Institutions. It is being driven by believers eager to learn, get skilled and credentialled. The training of people selected by churches to be trained and equipped for ministry is now a fraction of the theological education industry.

The seeker /learner is now aware that learning can take place through different platforms and take different forms. So he/she has many choices and wants the most appropriate for their needs which include resources of time and finances. So in many ways the learner/seeker is now in the driving seat.”

Technology the servant

Dr Ruth Samuel D’Monte, with a decade of experience in online teaching stressed that technology should not lead this process, but be its servant as it was bound to change every six months. Current educators were challenged that a new and inter-active way of teaching would be required – online education is not just a matter of videoing classroom lectures.

Those unfamiliar with technology need not seek retraining but call in younger people who have grown up with it to develop their IT. With internet access so uncertain in some places, some participants came in and out of the zoominars. Regional internet hubs need to be created to which participants can travel.

Partners in the conference were the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa represented by their Secretary General Ven. J.W. Kofi deGraft-Johnson, Overseas Council for Theological Education and the Network for Congregational Theology with fifty members from all denominations which is networked with other Networks like the Oxford Centre for Religion in Public Life (OCRPL) and the Barnabas Fund (BF) that help with training at research at African theological schools.

Dr Sas Conradie, Theology and Networking Manager for Tear Fund which was also a conference partner wrote that he had never experienced such a conference which combined the intellectual, theoretical and practical aspects of ministry education.

Church of England Newspaper August 7










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