Presentation at Annual Council 2022 highlights schools’ potential for mission.
Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of the Education Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, shared statistics and updated information about Adventist education, especially in light of the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Beardsley-Hardy’s presentation October 7, 2022, was part of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEAD) Conference at the denomination headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and included church leaders from around the world.
“During the 2017-2021 quinquennium, trends show a 10.06 percent increase in primary level students in Adventist schools, 2.18 percent in secondary level, and 71.84 percent in workers training,” Beardsley-Hardy said in a segment titled “Legacy in the Midst of Storms.” She explained that the latter includes the training provided in nursing workers programs and vocational programs. On the other hand, enrollment of tertiary level students at Adventist schools decreased by 4.91 percent, for an overall increase of 6.72 percent, she said.
The Storm of COVID
Beardsley-Hardy acknowledged that “the storm of COVID” impacted enrollments. “In 2020, overall, we lost 21,000 students. … But in 2021, numbers at secondary level have rebounded,” she said.
She added that on the plus side, during COVID, tremendous creativity was unleashed. “Outmoded teaching methods and mindsets were thrown overboard to increase access to education and nurture spiritual growth through technology,” she said.
COVID-19 also changed teaching and learning, she reported, as there was an increase in online and hybrid classes, a greater need for digital and information competence, and a need for pedagogical innovation and active methodologies, including virtual libraries. Along with an expansion of distance education programs, there was also a need for spiritual nurture, she said.
Beardsley-Hardy explained how this increased focus on spiritual nurturing led the South American Division to close 2021 with 6,577 student baptisms. “Those students were nurtured digitally,” she said. However, she added, “for baptism, you have just to get wet. [Church leaders] were able to nurture those students online, digitally, but still bring them to spiritual commitment. We praise God for how some schools responded,” she said.
The right use of technology saved some, but Beardsley-Hardy also acknowledged that the use of technology increased the digital divide and disproportionately affected the poor, those in rural areas, and those with special needs.
The Storm of War
Another storm that Adventist education has had to weather lately is the war in Ukraine, where there are 24 Adventist educational institutions, including the Ukrainian Center for Higher Education (UCHE) in Bucha. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) “enabled students to finish the school year, and we salute and thank ADRA for their response,” Beardsley-Hardy said.
She also mentioned that Adventist schools in Europe, the Philippines, and even North America have taken tertiary students displaced by the war. “Kettering College in Ohio [United States] said, ‘We will take 50 students for free if you manage to get them here,’” Beardsley-Hardy said. In the end, more than 20 students have already been admitted under a free-tuition initiative at Kettering College.
The Storm of Challenges to the Bible
Another storm facing Adventist education centers on challenges to the Bible as revelation of truth, God’s love, and the plan of salvation, Beardsley-Hardy said. Beardsley-Hardy, who is also secretary of the International Board of Education (IBE) and chair of the Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA), shared how the impact of media and civil legislation on marriage and gender identity is leading to a sexual-moral crisis and conflicts between religious liberty and civil rights. She reported that in response, the AAA is working to develop criteria to face this challenge.
A global survey of church members in 2017-18 revealed that a substantial percentage of Adventists believe in the unbiblical idea of the immortality of the soul. It is a another challenge that Adventist educational leaders must tackle, Beardsley-Hardy said.
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson emphasized the key role that Adventist education plays in the church. “One of the great foundational building blocks of [the Seventh-day Adventist] movement is the enormous educational network and system across this globe,” he said. “We are doing great in many cases, but in many cases, we are facing a crisis. As some of our school become so large … we run the risk that the very character of the school that attracted people can be changed unless [we] are proactive in making sure by God’s grace that doesn’t happen that way,” Wilson said.
Wilson explained that in addition, there are other places where schools have existed for a long time, “where somehow our church members are not finding a good reason to expend a little more of their money to send their children to an educational institution that is operated by Seventh-day Adventists because they maybe don’t see the difference, or perhaps because they don’t have the funds. We are seeing some of our schools slowly dying,” he said. “It costs a lot of money to run a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution.”
He added that the Adventist educational system is a reason to praise God. “But unless we keep the Bible fully focused and in view of all the students, and [unless] we hold Christ and His Word, [we] will see slippage,” Wilson said.
Principles that Endure
In that sense, Wilson called Adventist educational leaders to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. “I want to encourage all chairs of educational institutions to take your responsibility [very] seriously,” Wilson said. “You must feel intricately part of [the institution you chair] and have a spiritual burden for that institution, so that educational institution will reach the highest academic, physical, and spiritual standards. Upon your shoulders rests an enormous load, but the Lord will help you lift it. Jesus is the Master Teacher; He’s also the Master Chair,” he said.
Beardsley-Hardy agreed, as she closed her presentation reminding church leaders that in a world of change, the principles of Seventh-day Adventist education endure. These principles, she said, include the redemptive purpose of Adventist education; a balanced, wholistic development; and the centrality of the Bible in all learning. It also seeks, among other things, to restore the image of God in students and develop practical skills for life.
“I thank you on behalf of the General Conference Department of Education for what you are doing and your part in the Lord’s vineyard,” Beardsley-Hardy told church leaders. “God bless you.”