ATESEA after 60 years
According to the Chinese tradition, a person who reaches the age of 60 is given recognition not simply for reason of years, but more significantly for having completed the full cycle of years. If we follow that custom, ATESEA has also completed its first cycle of life when it turned 60 last year. It was a time to thank the Lord and remember those who have prepared the ground and the future of ATESEA 60 years ago. Through its various programs conducted in 2017, the story of ATESEA’s past was retold to the young seminary educators and leaders to keep them rooted in the ATESEA heritage.
The contexts of Asia have changed a lot since ATESEA’s founding. Asia’s demography, religio-socio and political environment are no longer the same. These changes are described in the ATESEA’s Guidelines for Doing Theologies in Asia (GDTA). These guidelines, however, are not final. They are subject for revision, when needed, to answer the evolving concerns and issues that arise from every new situation. For instance, among the recent developments is the government regulation on theological schools. Some Asian countries require theological schools to register under their Ministry of Education. With this regulation, seminaries have no choice but to comply with the requirements to avoid conflict with the government or threats of possible closure. On the one hand, the regulation attempts to deter the proliferation of theological schools that minimizes the value of institutional and academic standards. On the other hand, some seminaries established by the churches look at this regulation as a form of intrusion in religious matters. This tension between the government educational policies and religious freedom is an example on how change can affect our understanding of higher education and church mission.
Another area of rapid change is the technological advancement that has increasingly radicalized higher education. The offering of on-line degree programs has compelled many seminaries in the West to work for innovation not just for the sake of survival, but also to seek for doable ways to remain relevant to the churches and society. According to the report of the Association of Theological Schools in the US and Canada, many of its accredited member schools that offer on-line degree programs have increased their enrolment considerably in the recent years.
Correlated with on-line learning is access to information resources. Information technology has transformed many libraries into libraries without walls. It has made learning accessible to everyone anywhere, thus, contributing to the democratization of knowledge and education. However, this unprecedented speed of access to knowledge remains a persistent challenge in most countries in Asia. Last year, ATESEA conducted a simple random survey on the speed of internet connectivity of its member schools. The result varies significantly not only from country to country but also from school to school. For instance, there are schools whose internet speed ranges from 500 megabits per second (mbps) to 1000 mbps, while others have only 5 mbps and below. This disparity of internet speed indicates how the resources of schools are unevenly distributed in the region which has a considerable relation to the accessibility to information.
There are other changes and challenges that are posed to theological education. It is ATESEA’s mandate to keep up with the recent developments. As the Association enters this year into another cycle of its existence, it stays committed to the schools through its five programmatic areas: Accreditation, Faculty Development, Leadership Development, Library Development, and Publication. These initiatives provide access to resources and opportunities to all.
ATESEA’s engagement for quality seminary education is a demonstration of its commitment to honor the legacy of its forebears who envisioned this Association from being simply an Association of Theological Schools to truly an Association for Theological Education.