The impact of Coronavirus is felt across different sectors. Theological Institutions/Seminaries are no exception. Therefore, I intend to briefly highlight some of the challenges facing Theological Education in the Post-Covid period.
Challenges facing theological education are multifaceted as they relate to economy, pedagogy, and theology. Since the Pandemic, students have lost their ability to pay the fees as their families/sponsors are affected by the harsh economic impact.
Besides, financial support to theological institutes/seminaries has significantly reduced or completely lost. Some institutes/seminaries are unable to pay salaries to faculty members and staff. Some colleges have not paid salaries for months together.
Many theological institutes have quickly adapted to some form of online learning (i.e., through video conferencing apps), partly due to the imposed SOP and the existential necessity for finances during the lockdown. However, with depleting financial resources, many Institutions do not have the means to upgrade their digital resources and skills. Sadly, most, if not all, cannot afford a learning management system (e.g., Moodle) to facilitate a richer online experience and effective learning. Besides, poor internet connectivity continues to be a hurdle for many students living in rural parts of the country.
Generally, online learning is considered to be a temporary solution rather than an effective pedagogical tool. Most Institutions are still accustomed to classroom learning; as a result, their understanding of the pedagogy of theological education is limited to the classroom learning experience. Online theological education, then, is a challenge to the existing educational philosophy and approach.
Despite making theological learning accessible, many theological colleges struggle to move beyond classroom lectures to online learning. The struggle is at the practical as well as the conceptual level.
In my interaction with students, faculty members and administrators, I have also found that the challenges faced are multi-perspectival. The challenge is not the same for everyone.
While many students find it hard to cope with online learning, some prefer online learning to the classroom. For example, Soror Asai, a doctoral student in Bangalore, finds online learning intuitive. However, others struggle with the lack of “self-discipline” and “self-motivation” needed to study online. So, perhaps, online learning is more helpful as a self-study tool.
Some students find the sudden shift to learning in isolation challenging. Robinson, an MDiv student in Coimbatore, shared his struggle to deal with the absence of “community gathering”. Many faculty members point to the lack of opportunity to engage in the weekend ministry. Dr Shimreingam Shimray, the vice-principal of a College in Assam, points to the absence of spiritual formation in online learning. He says: (Spiritual formation) “requires people to have a direct fellowship, teaching-learning dynamic, observation, discussion and debate with others.”
Some observe that online teaching has its own limitations. The most significant challenge for Dr Balu Savarikannu, a college principal, is the inability “to develop the kind of pastoral leaders they (the Institution) want them to be.” Yet, he and his team see themselves doing their best to “develop missional leaders” in the givenness of the situation.
Since the Pandemic, faculty members (and even fresh graduates) face job insecurity as Institutes and organizations are either downsizing or stalling new vacancies. Dr Etala Solomon, a lecturer, finds himself “a toddler to the new academic ethos” in light of his personal struggles of shifting locations, engaging in a different cultural setting and separation from family. Besides, many others share concerns about content creation, digital delivery, skill development and redundancy due to a lack of digital skills.
The challenges, then, faced by students, faculty members, and administrators are very different. Besides, there are specific contexts that pose distinct challenges as well.
The challenges facing Theological Education in the Post Covid period are multifaceted and multi-perspectival. As stated earlier, this reflection simply highlights the present challenges so that we can begin thinking about coping strategies. Answers to these challenges are not straightforward. They require careful reflection and collective action. The quicker, the better!
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