Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s education department, shared updated statistics and information on Adventist education, especially in light of the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. . Beardsley-Hardy’s presentation on October 7, 2022 was part of the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) Conference at the denomination’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, and included church leaders of the whole world.
“During the 2017-2021 quinquennium, trends show a 10.06% increase in primary students in Adventist schools, 2.18% in secondary education, and 71.84% in worker training,” said said Beardsley-Hardy in a segment titled “Legacy in the Midst of Storms.” She explained that the latter includes training provided in nurse worker programs and vocational training programs. On the other hand, student enrollment higher grades in Adventist schools fell 4.91 percent, for an overall increase of 6.72 percent, she said.
The COVID Storm
Beardsley-Hardy acknowledged that “the COVID storm” had impacted registrations. “In 2020, in total, we lost 21,000 students. … But in 2021 the numbers at the secondary level have rebounded,” she said.
She added that on the positive side, during COVID, tremendous creativity has been unleashed. “Outdated teaching methods and mindsets have been thrown overboard to increase access to education and foster spiritual growth through technology,” she said.
COVID-19 has also changed teaching and learning, she said, as there has been an increase in online and blended courses, an increased need for digital and information skills, and a need for pedagogical innovation and active methodologies, including virtual libraries. Along with the expansion of distance learning programs, there was also a need for spiritual education, she said.
Beardsley-Hardy explained how this increased focus on spiritual education led the South American Division to close 2021 with 6,577 student baptisms. “These students were digitally trained,” she said. However, she added, “for baptism, you just have to get wet. [Church leaders] were able to nurture these students online, digitally, while leading them into spiritual engagement. We praise God for the way some schools have responded,” she said.
The proper use of technology saved some, but Beardsley-Hardy also recognized that the use of technology increased the digital divide and disproportionately affected the poor, rural dwellers 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 the students to complete 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 in college students displaced by war. “Kettering College in Ohio [United States] said, “We’ll take 50 students for free if you can get them here,” Beardsley-Hardy said. In the end, more than 20 students have already been admitted under a tuition-free initiative at Kettering College.
The storm of challenges to the Bible
Another storm facing Adventist education centers on the challenges of the Bible as a 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 president of the Adventist Credentialing Association (AAA), discussed how the impact of media and civil law on marriage and marriage gender identity leads to a sexual and moral crisis. and conflicts between religious freedom and civil rights. She indicated that in response, the AAA is working to develop criteria to address this challenge.
A global survey of church members in 2017-2018 found that a substantial percentage of Adventists believe in the unbiblical idea of the immortality of the soul. That’s another challenge Adventist educational leaders face, Beardsley-Hardy said.
General Conference President Ted NC Wilson emphasized the key role Adventist education plays in the church. “One of the great basic elements of [the Seventh-day Adventist] movement is the huge network and education system across the world,” he said. “We are doing very well in many cases, but in many cases we are facing a crisis. As some of our schools become so large…we run the risk that the very character of the school which has attracted people may be changed unless [we] are proactive in making sure, by the grace of God, it doesn’t happen that way,” Wilson said.
Wilson explained that in addition, there are other places where schools have been around for a long time, “where somehow our church members can’t find a good reason to spend a little more of their money to send their children to an educational institution that is operated by Seventh-day Adventists because maybe they don’t see the difference, or maybe because they don’t have the funds. We see 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 education system is a reason to praise God. “But unless we keep the Bible fully focused and in view of all students, and [unless] we hold Christ and his Word, [we] will see a slippage,” Wilson said.
Principles that endure
In this sense, Wilson called on Adventist educational leaders to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. “I want to encourage all presidents of educational institutions to take responsibility [very] seriously,” Wilson said. “You must feel part of [the institution you chair] and have a spiritual burden for that institution, so that the educational institution will achieve the highest academic, physical, and spiritual standards. On your shoulders rests an enormous load, but the Lord will help you lift it. Jesus is the Master Teacher; He is also the senior chairman,” he said.
Beardsley-Hardy agreed, as she closed her presentation by reminding church leaders that in a changing world, the principles of Seventh-day Adventist education endure. These principles, she said, include the redemptive purpose of Adventist education; balanced and holistic 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 to develop practical skills for life.
“I thank you on behalf of the General Conference Educational Department for what you do and your part in the vineyard of the Lord,” Beardsley-Hardy told church leaders. “God bless you.”