Thursday, February 9, 2017

The time is now

We've always known that to see education that helps transform a whole society, the biggest part will be the primary-level education. For years, though, that wasn't even on the table for us. We knew of a lot of things that were wrong with primary school education, both in the US and in Africa, but we just didn't have the right opening, or the right background, to do anything about it. We'd rather assumed that of the adults we've been training in transformational education, eventually some of them would be called to reform primary school.

Yet at the same time, we knew we've been racing a clock. If we're reading the trends correctly, the web is quickly advancing a new educational system that will make college degrees obsolete, and make secondary school all about becoming able to compete in global exams for certifications in the student's intended field. It will also largely eliminate in-person teachers in favor of everyone learning from webinars, with just a supervisor/assistant in the classroom. This largely depersonalized system will reduce much discipleship opportunities, creativity, and community strength unless we can offer something better before it takes over. It will also subject young minds around the world to the agenda of a few.

Then in 2013, we got our first request for transformational education at the primary school level. It was by teachers interested in our program in Zambia, and so we planned for me to go over there and work with the teachers on it. Well, it didn't work out for me to go, but that was because God had better plans, both for me and the ministry. For me, it meant getting to be in the US to court and marry Kenneth. For the ministry, it allowed more pieces to be put into place. We refined our teacher training to disciple teachers of any discipline, not just computers. We developed aids for running a school with a networked lab so that, with a little more development, teachers can hopefully work with us easily. I got training on relating cross-culturally and on effective church planting. Anthony and I encountered books we worked through that change the paradigm of children's education (particularly, Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald, "Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment" by L.P. Benezet, "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy Sayers, and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

In early 2015 we got our first request for a specific curriculum for primary school students: Christian computer education. I wrote about that here. We developed a year's worth (there's more that can be done), and it has so far been very well-received in Nigeria, as something excellent, fun, and useful to a wide variety of students.

Soon before I left for Nigeria, our Zambia director, Collins Sakalunda, expressed how he was excited about our vision and tactics for transformational education, but was disappointed that it didn't really reach his children's greatest needs. He and his wife had tried several different schools and were not impressed with the academic or spiritual progress their children gained. Couldn't TEN3 help give their children a better education in the core subjects, not just computers?

Well, we told him, we've had an aim to reach that area for a long time, but would need their help to make it happen. So we developed a strategy. We are gathering textbooks from before 1926, both because that makes them public domain, and because that puts them before the era of Dewey and Rockefeller's radical disfiguring of education. I choose the books, Anthony and three other volunteers convert them to a usable format, two of Collins' daughters edit any mistakes in the conversions and make notes of references unfamiliar to them. Then I format them for publishing, and Mrs. Sakalunda uses it to teach their youngest boy, and sends me feedback about how it went. Collins then starts sharing it with fellow pastors and educators, who we hope will work with us to contextualize it more for present-day Africa.

Interestingly, just as we started to make these plans with Collins, partners in Nigeria started telling us that the reading books would greatly help them as well. So many in Africa, even after attending whatever schools are available in their area, are still illiterate but longing to be able to read their Bibles and improve their lives with access to education.

The time is now. Please pray for us as we now tackle the challenge of teaching at the most fundamental level. May we raise up a truly powerful generation that can discern and reason, and that builds all their reasoning on the truth of Christ.