After-hours schooling

After-hours schooling: an alternate strategy for Adventist education

When high costs are keeping Adventist education out of reach for many, must we not look for an alternative that will provide Adventist essentials to all young people?

Robert Surridge pastors the Chatham Seventh-day Adventist church in England.

Seventh-day Adventists have long felt that they have a God-given role to play in the equipping of the young. We define that role as Adventist education. But education to day is a costly affair and demands a vast and continual outlay of time, human resources, and money. The church, how ever, has its limitations, and it has many other demands on its resources.

The problem is global in nature. Whether or not we can find a unitary global solution is not the issue here. Although I have had experience in Adventism in the Third World and in North America, I write this from primarily a European perspective. The perceived problem and possible solution are European (perhaps also "Western") and may not be as relevant to the rest of the world church. I suspect, however, that wherever the world becomes more materialistic and wealthy, and hence less spiritual, or wherever Adventist education is out of reach for ordinary church members, this educational problem will soon arise.

In Western Europe the state provides good, comprehensive, and usually free education. This makes Adventist education in Europe less attractive than it is elsewhere. In addition, there is a constituency problem: there are relatively few places in Europe where Adventists live in sufficient numbers to support even an elementary school. Also, most European countries have strict regulations governing every aspect of education: building standards, heating, class size, curriculum, teaching qualifications, and teachers' pay.

Theoretically, in order to establish even an elementary school that has any hope of a sustained future, we need a membership base of 200 plus (preferably with an adjacent Adventist institution), producing a regular supply of at least 20 children. For enrollment to be kept up and standards to remain within government guidelines, the local church needs to be large and rich. Such situations are uncommon in Europe.

The problem

Practically, however, a far greater membership base and potential enrollment are looked for. The establishment of the school in Birmingham, England, is a good example. Birmingham is England's second largest city, with a population of one million and an Adventist population of more than 1,500. Until 1988 the city did not have an Adventist school. The school that was started placed a massive drain on the North British Conference's finances. It struggled to find teachers, and despite interest from local parents, and total commitment from conference officials, it began with a much lower first-year enrollment than was needed to keep it solvent.

What was the problem? Lack of faith? Lack of money? Lack of members? All of these did contribute to the downward spiral. But there are other factors. State education is of such a standard that matching it at the church level is prohibitively costly. Staffing levels and teachers' pay push fees sky-high, and the membership is small and scattered. We cannot just command our members to banish their children to a distant boarding school. So an alternative has to be found for two types of Adventist children: those whose parents cannot afford our schools, and those who do not live near enough to our schools.

Who can deny the educational needs of 15 children in a church or five children, or one, for that matter? For tens of thousands of Adventist children the re sources of the local conference or union cannot possibly offer an affordable Adventist education that will be on a par with state education. Is there an alternative, perhaps something we can do locally?

An alternative

Living as I do in a multiracial society, I have found that there are lessons to be learned from the practices of other cultures. Many of the ethnic communities that have come into Britain and other Northern European countries in the past few decades have struggled to maintain their cultural and religious identity. This is particularly true of the various Asian communities and religious groups. The way in which they have sought to tackle the task of holding on to their youth is relatively cheap. It is efficient in its use of existing resources, and reasonably effective in its primary goal of preventing the youth from abandoning the faith of their parents.

I take as an example the Muslim community in Britain (although the Jewish and Far Eastern communities would serve equally as well). The 900,000 strong British Muslim community runs a network of after-hours schools for their children. Five thousand such Qur'an schools, as they are called, exist in Britain. It is a very flexible system. In some cases the religious teacher comes around to individual families. In larger communities they have classes in the mosque on Sundays or during the week. In the huge Bengali community of impoverished east London, Muslim boys go to the Qur'an school for two hours, three days a week, right after normal school. Here they learn the Koran and Arabic, and they are steeped in the strict morality and customs of Islam. This system runs on a voluntary basis, costs next to nothing, and takes full advantage of the free education offered by the state.

Recently I spoke with Aziz, a Muslim boy in an Adventist school. For him, our school was a culturally and religiously hostile environment. But his parents sent him there because they recognized the benefits of Western private education. Aziz told me that his training and education in the after-hours school at his mosque had kept him in touch with his culture and religion. This school had given him that vital bit more than what he received at normal mosque services, or at home, where both his parents were too busy earning a living to give him much spiritual guidance. (Sound familiar?) It was the after-hours school, he said, that had given him what he needed to resist Christianity, but it had been a struggle.

Part-time Adventist schools?

As Adventists we could do something for our own children along similar lines. Why must we think of an Adventist church school as one that operates only full-time? In areas where there are too few children for the church to form and pay for a good full-time school, or where a school would cripple the resources of the conference, why not establish local afterhours schools?

For instance, one could have a weekly program of six hours of education held in the local Adventist church. This could be comprised of two afternoon or evening sessions of two hours and two hours on a Sunday afternoon. (The evening sessions could begin at the end of normal school hours, lasting from 3:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.) This type of Adventist education could take many forms. Younger children could have a type of year-round Vacation Bible School. For the older ones classes could concentrate on those things that are missing in state school education: creationist science, Adventist morals, career orientation, Adventist heritage, fundamentals of the Bible, Adventist lifestyles, and so on.

We have the resources in our midst.Our church buildings are nearly always underused, and there are parents and older folk who could give their time to such a project. Obviously each situation would have to fit in with the availability of children, "teachers," space, and equipment. But there is no reason why this could not be thought of, and officially recognized as, an "Adventist school" fulfilling the prime directives of the Spirit of Prophecy on our educational responsibilities.

By doing this, a relatively poor church could take advantage of the 70 percent or so of the state school curriculum that is good (and free), while providing its children with the moral and spiritual fiber that they would otherwise be denied.

Why am I writing about this in an Adventist ministers' magazine? It is because the prime mover and initiator in such a project would be the local minister, as indeed it is in the Muslim situation. The concept, by its very nature, is a local one. It is the minister who knows what local resources are available. He knows and controls the church buildings, he knows who could teach, he knows what equipment and funds are available, and he should know the needs of the local children.

Many pastors in Europe, and I suspect in North America, are in a similar situation to my own: more than a hundred miles from the nearest Adventist school; not enough Adventist children within a 40-mile radius to form one class, let alone a school; parents not well off enough to pay; but as a minister desperately sensing the spiritual and educational needs of our few precious children.

The Muslim model is so appropriate. The Muslims in England see themselves as the faithful, and want to uphold their standards of faith and morality before their children. They accomplish this through after-hours school, utilizing the services of their clergy, parents, and when available, qualified teachers who give their time freely. Using only limited local resources, this model achieves a double goal. While the children get a good education in the state system, they also learn of the essentials of their own faith and values.

Adventist ministers could do the same in many situations, saving conference resources and preserving souls for the kingdom. I imagine, as I write this, that others may have had the same idea. Perhaps in isolated situations such experiments are being carried out. What such a program needs is global promotion, for in hundreds of situations I believe it could provide a solution to one of the church's greatest dilemmas. Just as important, the very concept of Adventist education and schooling should not be limited to full-time institutions, but should be extended, as the Muslims have done, to after-hours schools. If we did this, then with very modest expenditure we could save many that otherwise slip through, or are passed by, our educational system through reasons of finance or geography.

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Robert Surridge pastors the Chatham Seventh-day Adventist church in England.

February 1992

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