Lecture II: Curriculum Revision: An introspection
Serampore College maintained a vision about the theological education, which has been contextual and ecumenical. Scientific rationalism, Western liberalism and the tenets of enlightenment shaped the intellectual fervent of the time of Carey and Bengal. Carey’s model of theological education was a response to this situation. As situations and contexts changed, as new challenges emerged, Serampore responded to meet them and adjust its education programmes.
In the discussion that followed the presentation, a few points were raised with regards to the oversight in working out syllabuses in the early part of the formation of the University and the seminaries, in responding to the context prevailing in that period. The neglect in incorporating a few of the context, such as of famine, hunger and poverty, nationalistic fervor, is quite evident; so also the various modes of Indian spirituality is missing from the ministerial formation of the candidates. We can just leave the matter, for the present, with the suggestion that a detailed study of the curriculum and syllabuses of the time, at a later date, will surely provide some answers to such a criticism.
There was some general agreement to the view that Serampore needed some kind of transformation in its curricula, if necessary, radical transformation. Institutional form of the church, irrelevant and unsupportable structures, colonial and western-oriented mind-set, adopted western concepts and missiological paradigms, certainly warrant critical examination as they impede the authentic expression of faith and communication of Gospel to the people of our nation. It was also contended that the current structure of theological education did not make any effort to engage with the ‘other’ either in their crisis situations, movements of bewilderment or confusion. So there was a veil of suspicion and the veil of secrecy surrounds the ‘others’ motivation, generated from a self-constructed vision of cultural superiority-inferiority. This veil, it was felt, needs to be removed.
There is still some element in our theological education system that reflects the Western orientation; it is more cognitive, intellectual and denominational. It is becoming an instrument of global empire, giving helping hand to the process of globalization and market culture. There is a criticism that the Serampore is ignoring the voices of ‘others’ who are now within its ‘circle’ and is not prepared to express the spirit of inclusivism and ecumenism within. A definition of the church needs to include the ‘main-line’ churches and also emerging churches, like ‘para-churches’, ‘independent’ churches, ‘house’ churches,, numerous evangelical missions, church based charity projects, large number of small and big, ordinary and prestigious institutions, vast amount of financial resources and numerous workers.
In such a context, curriculum revision exercise, which the Senate began with a discussion at the Board and Senate meetings in 2006, has been unique in many ways. It was a path breaking event that changed much of the previous thinking and principles of theological education in India. It involved almost all the cross-section of people who are actively engaged in theological education- church leaders, theological colleges, teaching staff, students, activists and secular educationists. The papers presented at various consultations, and discussions that followed at various levels in decision making, had greatly helped the Senate to plan for the future course of direction for theological education in Indian sub-continent.
A few of the guiding principles, applied for the revision can be highlighted here.
a. The novelty of the new curriculum as evolved is in its recognition of the importance of the context in which we live, and providing skills and tools to the student in understanding the same with a view to be an efficient minister to the people among whom he/she lives and witness. This recognition requires that our syllabus should be relevant to the context and it should be able to provide answers to the questions raised, and demands exerted, in such a context.
b. Consequently, it expects a new kind of pedagogy which involves new methodology in learning process, and a refreshing departure from the old pattern of examination and evaluation. It is expected that inter-disciplinary and integrated approach will be extensively used as a teaching method in our seminaries. Practical work though, has been an integral part of ministerial formation; it was not, so far, given any credit. Now it is not the case; it has been given 4 credits under new curriculum.
c. There is a conscious effort in freeing the students from the clutches of departmental/branch-wise studies and a new concept of cluster is applied to make use of inter-dependence and inter-relatedness of the courses in theological discipline. The departmental and branch-wise studies are left for higher theological studies. We now need to revise our post-graduate programme as well in due course of time.
d. New areas of studies and concern which were added as new courses were incorporated as major contents in the concerned courses.
e. Repetition of course/contents was conscious avoided.
f. Serampore is an affiliating university, and has to be distinguished from accrediting institutions. As such, it has to take necessary steps to maintain some control over syllabus and examination. It has granted semi-autonomy to its affiliated colleges where-by they can conduct examination and evaluation for 50% of courses. It is one of the first universities which granted autonomy to one of its affiliated colleges and is planning to extend the same privilege to many more. In its new programme, it has also provided enough scope for colleges to offer a few extra courses in fields they would like to specialize and have special concern. These courses, if requested, can be recognized by the Senate, and can run concurrently as certificate of diploma courses.
g. There is an attempt in infusing and integrating new area of studies such as gender justice, peace education, disability discourse, HIV/AIDS, globalization, poverty and environment concerns within the contents of main courses.
f. Several perspectives- mission/tribal/women/dalit were incorporated in all branches of theological studies so that they are not left to the specialist alone.
h. Theological training programme give attention to the emotional, experiential and motivational aspect of the trainees and is geared to inspire them to a deep commitment to their call to the ministry. The colleges are expected to monitor the personal aspect of their pastor-in-making.
i. High pressure learning under Serampore system frustrates the possibility of sustained and gradual formation, harnessing and integrating the trainees’ faculties. For a strong ministerial formation, a number and variety of subjects are to be reduced.
j. Seminaries are to be preparing ministers and theologians who are competent and articulate in many discourses except perhaps in Christian discourses and in Christian spirituality when it comes to its core expressions like discipleship, transformed life-style, prayer, preaching, sharing the hope that we have in Christ, pastoral care and counseling. They are encouraged to instill and imbibe good moral values and life-style while students are in the seminary.
Emphasis is given to the spirituality and human growth of the person-in-training. Character-building is accepted to be a part of theological education. Theological training programme is to inculcate in a student a sense of commitment and honest.
k. Theological education is a life-long process; colleges are recommended to make provision for the continuation of such a process.
Towards Contextual Theological Education
Relevant theological education should have to take the contextual concern seriously and should have to include them in its curricula. One may, however, observe and say that our theological institutions are generally divorced from the context- context of religious fundamentalism, cultural nationalism, caste-class-gender divide, communalism, racial conflicts and neo-spiritualism. Context of economic poverty, social injustice, religious and cultural plurality, political oppression etc. needs be addressed in theological education and ministerial formation. Certainly each region, perhaps even each state, would have issues peculiar to their contexts which should find space in a theological curriculum offered by institutions in that area. However, it should not be necessary for issues that are clearly confined to a region/state to be a part of our curriculum.
The present structures, curricula, pedagogy, content and process employed in our institutions, if need be reconceived and reformulated, should be taken up on priority basis, so that ministers-to-be have a pedagogy to respond critically and creatively to the challenges faced by the church and society. The complaints of some that our curriculum and admission procedures are urban-oriented, thus serving the interests of the dominant caste-class groups, should be taken seriously. The rural and subaltern categories should have to be given accessibility in power structures and systems.
The expansion of scientific knowledge, impact of information technology and technology-in-our-backyard phenomena is the characteristics of our era. These are affecting the lives of the people to the core of their being, raising many questions that are supposed to be in the realm of religion and theology. We need to focus our attention upon the relation between the natural sciences including physics, cosmology, evolutionary and molecular biology, as well as technology and the environment, and Christian theology and ethics. Moreover, scientific discoveries of last century, and the new outlooks they have produced, bring many scientists and theologians into new, sympathetic, and productive discussions. We should not miss any opportunity in collaborating, and entering into a dialogue, with our fellow seekers for the truth of the Real.
The purpose of theological education, as noted above, is not just to train functionaries for the church; instead, theological education is a missiological exercise. There is a wish to mobilize people towards their obligation for the mission. One way of doing this to penetrate and spread the subjects dealing with mission over all branches of study in the basic and essential study of ministerial formation at BD level so that it may reach the congregation through the minister. Of course, courses in specialized branch of Missiology continue to be offered at Master and doctoral level.
Church, from the very beginning of its existence, has been a movement of spirit among the people of God. As such, it is not supposed to be static or just a monument; it must move on. It must respond to the issues that emerge from social, economic, political, cultural and religious forces. Church and its institutions, more often, maintain silence over these issues, vital to the lives of its people. If the church is expected to respond to the prophetic call, its theological education must provide adequate skills to analyse the society and skills to apply hermeneutical principles to the ministers-in-making. The role of theological education is to equip and sensitise the ministerial candidates for a Christian vocation in such a way that they can aptly respond to the challenges of life-situation.
One of the most alarming and widespread problems in the higher structures and hierarchy is lack of personal and public morality among those who are entrusted with responsibilities. Personal and spiritual formation needs special attention. With the introduction of multiple of degree programmes and courses, we often miss our priorities. A trained Christian theologian is expected to be professionally competent person in his/her respective field of training. We seem to produce ministers and theologians not competent enough in Christian discourses and spirituality. This may be contributing towards alienation of major segment of our community.
The pattern of theological studies:
There is no difficulty in accepting the fact that certain courses are integral, and basic, to a well developed and accepted form of theological education all through the ages: biblical courses, courses on doctrines, history of Christianity, and introduction to religions and course in Pastoralia. Generally all candidates that are sent to theological institution for preparation for ministry are expected to have the basic foundation over these courses in order to exercise ministerial authority. This pattern will continue to stay with us as a few theological institutions will continue to serve the classical and basic purpose of the seminaries in producing, and of providing to churches their traditional priests, and pastoral functionaries of the church. It is highly uncertain that some churches would agree to a curriculum revision which in any way curtails these basic concerns.
This pattern can be left intact for those – individuals and churches, who would like to limit theological education for strengthening, and preserving ‘churchianity’ in its sectarian and denominational form. There are many such cases in our constituencies whose interest and need we cater through the services of our degree programme; they need not be disturbed.
This sensitivity, however, should not prevent us not to be helpful, and flexible enough, in incorporating courses dealing with the concerns of present day in their curriculum, such as issues of marginalized ( Dalits, for examples in India), women, indigenous groups; socio-cultural, political and religious movements; rise of communalism, fundamentalism, terrorism and globalization; threat to environment, eco-system, global warming, nuclearization etc. Our task is to equip the students with enough critical tools to be able to relate and integrate class-room theory, practical pastoral situations, and present day socio-religio-economic-political context including sensitivity to the needs and feelings of other people, gender, groups etc.
The curriculum ought to strive for cultivating academic excellence, practical skills and personal formation. Theological colleges should not be mere degree-oriented institutions but disciple training centers. Personal formation should be extended beyond individual formation to community formation.
It is often pointed out the theological education is primarily urban-oriented where the needs of the rural churches are side lined. The same is true of the ministry of churches. Pastors and ministers needs to be prepared for the rural churches and courses with specialization in rural ministry should be introduced in our theological curricula.
Secularization of theological education, in the sense that theological education can be given to secular students, is another aspect we have to look into. There are a few courses at MTh level, such as MTh in Communication, Social Analysis, Women’s Studies, which can easily be offered to secular students.
There should have to be a paradigm shift from disciplines to issue-oriented learning. Such a structure would address the contemporary issues, problems and concerns of the church and society from biblical, theological, ethical, sociological and other perspectives would facilitate dynamic relevance. The introduction of inter-disciplinary and integrated is a conscious effort on the part of Senate towards that shift. Group and team teaching within our system can deliver desired result.
This also involves another shift, from class–room to out-of-class learning, from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning. The courses and teaching method applied needs to be radically changed in order to establish new form of understanding and relationship between the teacher and pupil. Another shift that is required concerns with reducing the load of the students: from unwieldy to the manageable curriculum. Most of the desired aspects and effects from the study of variety of subjects that are now included in our curricula can be tapped by means of offering a few courses. Course that are inter-disciplinary in nature may be more helpful; so also preparing more integrated courses that can be taught by a few teachers from different branches.
Theological education is becoming more and more inclusive in nature and there is a tendency towards dilution of exclusivism in our system. Some complain that there is a strong prejudice against certain segments and strands of Christianity (conservatives, fundamentalists, evangelist, charismatic, Pentecostal etc.) within our family. It reminds us of those who do not belong to our tradition but have now become a part of our family. As staff and students from other traditions, regions and language groups, are now joining our systems, we are called upon to be inclusive and ecumenical enough within us.
Teaching element, pedagogical aspect was never included in our structure of curriculum. Christian education does have content on it but it is not sufficient to help our graduate to be skillful as a teacher. Whether we have a course in pedagogy in curriculum or not, the college should evolve its own way in preparing its students to be an efficient teacher wherever they are.
Context oriented teaching methodology has to be preferred than the content based. It means that the ministerial needs of the church and society should be given freedom to determine the nature of theological education. It calls upon the seminaries to participate in the ministry of liberation of the oppressed and marginalized, exploited and the weaker section of the society and working towards its transformation into the reign of God.
Theological education and ministerial formation is a life-long process, and it does not end at the conclusion of first-degree programme. We need to work out a programme that supports the process even after student leaves the seminary.
Some Regional Concerns
I cannot say how many concerns of churches and institutions from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Nepal have been taken into consideration while evolving new curriculum. It is often heard that Serampore is not sensitive enough to the needs and situation of their churches and institutions; it forces Indian specific subjects and courses upon their students; there are not enough and relevant courses for their students. Moreover bureaucratic administration at the Senate is too hard upon their students; its academic and other requirements are too rigid and unsympathetic to their context. These need to be addressed. I am sure, we will take some of them during our discussion and responses.
Serampore, I may say, did try to make some amendments. It has now provided, in its new regulations, sufficient freedom to regional seminary to devise courses most suitable and relevant to their situation and concern. Colleges can now introduce a diploma courses of their own which can be recognized by the Senate once their curriculum and syllabus is approved
In the consultations for the curriculum, it was strongly felt that the courses and degree programme in mission studies, under Senate of Serampore College, should be introduced. The missionary zeal of the nascent churches and theological institutions in certain region are moving towards establishing mission fields. Senate has already taken a decision for the introduction of a degree programme in missions.
Christian education programme has now become every weak everywhere in Indian subcontinent. There is a growing concern for the children and teens’ ministry. If a degree or diploma course in Christian education dealing with such concerns is offered through the college, many may be attracted to pursue the course, and our theological colleges will be able to admit student well informed of their faith and theological education. The colleges here can develop suitable courses and curriculum out of the experiences of those involved in this adventure of the church.
Drug addiction and the cases of HIV has become a concern of theological education in many countries of the world. We need to introduce courses in our theological curricula and make our pastors-in-making, and society, aware of the problem. The ethico-theological moral issues involved needs to be dealt with sympathetic understanding and Christian concern, for which our theological colleges and church should take a leading role.
There is a dire need for the development of authentic, genuine and acceptable theologies in our context. My humble observation is that we are still groping in dark in search of that theology in spite of long orchestrated hype over regional Christian theologies. I may be a part of Brahmanic stream. But others are sprouting forth- womanist/feminist, Dalit, Tribal, Eco, subaltern, post-colonist etc. Theological institutions should take up the challenge and encourage every effort towards indigenization/inculturation of different Christian expressions in art, architecture, poetry, prose and theology through its journal. It can be done through a specified department of studies in the college.
There has been a strong criticism of Serampore system that it has compromised spiritual formation of the ministers-in-training through it enthusiasm for excellence in academics and demands for better grades and divisions. This may not entirely be true, though it has some truth in it. The Anglican-Catholic spirituality, for example, which was the characteristic of Bishop College, Kolkata is nowhere to be seen now. I am told that the Syrian affiliates in our system are continuing their traditional worship pattern. Some time ago, I suggested to a Charismatic theological college in north India to continue with their Charismatic-Pentecostal spiritual formation of this college, but not as a bitter pill; students who cannot adjust to this form of formation, should be politely advised to transfer as per Senate rules. I would like to see that specific Regional/local spirituality is encouraged and developed in our theological institutions.
Introducing New BD Curriculum
The BD degree programme is the basic theological programme offered by the Senate of Serampore College (University) since 1910. It is meant to prepare theological graduates who are competent and articulate in theological discourses, as well as mature in Christian spirituality when it comes to its core expressions like discipleship, transformed life-style, prayer, preaching, sharing the hope that we have in Christ, pastoral care and counseling. It is intended to instill and cultivate good moral values and life-style in the lives of the students. Character building is also an essential part of theological education; an endeavor is made to inculcate a sense of commitment and integrity in the students. The degree programme is a ministerial training programme for social transformation.
Serampore BD, as it is pursued after a basic degree in any faculty from secular university, has //been a postgraduate degree programme, though the nomenclature of the degree suggests that it is a graduate degree. It is now almost forgotten that BD degree, when introduced in 1910, was of the same level as that of research degree from London and Oxford universities with the same nomenclature. Introduction of higher theological degrees in Serampore system did break the reputation and hallow that was created around BD degree. Serampore tried to fill in the gap with a proper graduate degree by up-grading its Licentiate in Theology (L.Th diploma) to Bachelor of Theology (BTh) degree, but it failed to solve the problem it created, perhaps unconsciously, and there remained a confusion between two bachelor degrees in theology at graduate level. Some did suggest abandoning BD degree in favor of a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or something like that, but old tradition refused to change. The rationale of such a continuance is the argument that BD is the first degree in the faculty of theology, and as such, it should continue to remain a bachelor’s degree. This anomaly is now apparently resolved with the initiation of new programme, and the phasing out of BTh in favor of BD degree.
We need to clarify here that ‘phasing out’ does not mean that BTh is immediately withdrawn. Senate is aware of the fact that a few colleges, mostly church sponsored ones, are not in a position to up-grade themselves to BD colleges; they need more time. For the benefit for these institutions, BTh course will have to be continued for some more time, perhaps through additional provisions. Further, the provision for under-graduate to get admission into BD course is being provided, so that they do not have to wait for another degree. BD programme now is a five years programme with provision for entry at two points: first year for under-graduates, and second year for graduates. BTh graduate will have two entry points as indicated below.
Admission to New BD Degree
In the process of rationalization of our degree programme, the Senate has applied the same rule as that which is universally followed in secular university system. Any one who is eligible for admission to degree course can be admitted to BD programme. As BD degree is a professional degree course, the colleges are supposed to take an entrance test which also includes an aptitude test through interview of perspective candidates. The B.D degree course continues to be an internal (residential) study programme, available only through the colleges affiliated to Serampore College (University). The medium of study and examination for the degree course is English or regional languages as approved by the Senate.
Holders of Bachelor Degree of a recognized Indian University or its recognized equivalent degree shall be admitted into Second year of degree programme. BTh degree holders of Serampore College (University) in first or second class shall be admitted in the fourth year of degree programme; whereas BTh degree holders in third class shall be admitted in the third year of degree programme. BTh from non-Serampore institution may also be admitted provided they pass an entrance examination conducted by the Senate.
Senate has made a provision for mature people who are more than 24 years of age, have passed HSLC but could not study further. If they can provide some evidence to that effect, and submit a certificate showing that they have been in full time vocation/profession/employment for two years, they are allowed to sit in an entrance examination. Successful candidates shall be admitted to the second year of the degree programme.
The novelty of the new curriculum as evolved is in its recognition of the importance of the context in which we live, and providing skills and tools to the student in understanding the same with a view to be an efficient minister to the people among whom he/she lives and witnesses. This recognition requires that our syllabus should be relevant to the context and it should be able to provide answers to the questions raised, and demands exerted, in such a context. It is for this reason courses in social analysis, disciplinary methodologies, personal and vocational formation, study methods, remedial language course are offered to the students as they commence their theological studies.
There is a conscious effort in freeing the students from the clutches of departmental/branch-wise studies and a new concept of cluster is applied to make use of inter-dependence and inter-relatedness of the courses in theological discipline. The inter-related branches of studies used earlier are clubbed together in one cluster. Some courses are meant to be in Inter-Disciplinary, hence they are suggested to be taught by a team of teachers. Where two or three clusters are clubbed together, they are meant to be integrated courses and to be taught through seminars and panel discussions. In the new curriculum, following clusters are formed;
Cluster I Old and New Testament studies with languages
Cluster II Studies in Theology, Social Analysis and Ethics
Cluster III Historical-Missional Studies
Cluster IV Religion, culture and Society
Cluster V Ministerial-communicative studies
The importance of knowledge of biblical languages for the ministers is rightly recognized and they are made compulsory. Alternate courses will be offered for those students who discontinue Biblical language study in the course of their studies. So also thesis/project writing is being made compulsory to encourage student towards research and independent thinking. Thesis/project writers will be exempted from eight/four credit hours courses from the first semesters of fourth and fifth years. Thesis/project writers should preferably submit their thesis/project by the end of the first semester of the fifth year.
As far as possible, it is consciously attempted that the curriculum reduces the risk of proliferation of subjects/courses and branches and departments at the first degree level of the university. The concerns and issues of new branches of studies, as far as possible, have been included into the existing clusters of subjects and courses. Wherever it is felt that few subjects and courses are important, and should be taught at BD level, they are either offered as half courses or incorporated as integrated and inter-disciplinary courses. This is the case in the ministry-communication cluster where the importance of BD programme as basic ministerial programme has not been over-looked. Some courses, such as PLHIV/AIDS, Children at Risk, Disability Perspectives shall be taught as integrated course in three years circle. Students are encouraged to audit the course so that they are made aware of the concerns towards forming an Inclusive Community.
It is to be noted that the departmental and branch-wise studies are left for higher theological studies. The revision of post-graduate programme will be taken in due course of time.
All affiliated colleges will uniformly follow semester system during the academic year. A semester shall be of 16-17 weeks, at the end of which examinations are held. Semester system will help colleges to arrange student-staff exchange programmes and accepting credits for the courses completed elsewhere. The study load of a student per week will not be more than is 20 hours. He/she is also expected to spend consideration time of his daily activities in personal studies, practical exposure and spiritual exercise. A total of forty courses will be required of students of the completion of BD degree, excluding courses for the first year meant for under-graduate students. The under-graduates have one year of extensive study in foundation courses necessary for, and foundational to, theological studies, such as English, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology. Each course has a credit of 50 class hours. Some papers however are divided into half courses, and will be taught for 30 hours. This was necessitated as we wish to offer more courses in the ministerial and pastoral fields. Thesis/project writing is being compulsory. Faculty, however, may grant exemption to certain candidates from writing a thesis/project. Such persons would have to write a stipulated number of papers in lieu of thesis/project.
Importance of Field Education
Field education (practical work) has now been made an integral part of ministerial training in which faculty and students will be actively involved. Two kinds of field education are envisaged: concurrent and intensive. As far as the concurrent field education is concerned, besides the regular weekly practical ministry programme, candidates may be required to have meaningful practical exposure and reflection in relation to some of the subjects they study during the academic year. The Boards of Study/College Faculty shall recommend appropriate field education and exposure programmes in their respective disciplines. The intensive field education shall be meaningfully worked out by different colleges.
Field education shall be given credit, not merely in terms of number of hours, but in terms of the different kinds of practical work done: rural, urban, church-related, inter-faith, social action/reform movements, etc. As far as intensive filed education is concerned, it should be of the length of 20 days for each year. Such intensive practical work could be conducted between the semester break, or during the winter (Christmas) vacation, or during the summer vacation (after the annual examination). Out of the 20 days set aside for intensive field work, about 25% to 33% of the days would be given to orientation (introductory theoretical inputs etc.), and concluding reflection segments.
As far evaluation of the entire field education work for the year is concerned, 25% of the marks should be set aside concurrent practical work and 75% for intensive practical work. Put of 75% for the intensive practical work, 25% should be given for the reflective report written by the student and 50% for the actual practical work done. The mode of evaluation of the field education would be decided by each college.
From the second year onwards field education will be credited. It is suggested that the Dean of field education and faculty member-in-charge of each team spend a reasonable time with the students in their field placements. The manner of reporting on the intensive field education programme (whether it would be an inter-disciplinary colloquium, or group reporting, or individual reflective and critical reports etc.) is left to the discretion of the college.
There are so many new ideas that have been introduced through new curriculum. It is expected that a new kind of pedagogy, some innovative and refreshing methodology in learning process will be used by the teachers. Some stimulating and inspiring departure from the old pattern of examination and evaluation is anticipated to take place. It is expected that inter-disciplinary and integrated approach will be extensively used as a teaching method in our seminaries.
The purpose behind the new thinking is to enable the student to do theology in an integrated and holistic manner. In this process fieldwork involvement, even if it meant an experience of the negativities of life, has been made integral to theological learning; learning by observing or learning by doing.
Teacher-centered teaching is being replaced by the student-centered teaching. It is expected that student will be given more time to spend in libraries for research and self study; 40% of total course is supposed to be learned by this method, to which proper credit will be given to the student.
Banking model of education still dominates the teaching-learning process in our colleges. There is hardly any scope for developing a critical engagement in learning process. The need is to develop pedagogical methods which allow staff and students critically engage in theological articulation and to develop relationship of partnership, interactive and mutuality between students and teachers in the learning process. Participatory and interactive methods must be applied in teaching-learning process rather than sticking to traditional lecture, examination and degree-oriented method of education. Issue centered approach will help develop an inter-disciplinary form of learning. Tools for social analysis should be provided, and there should be provision for direct exposure to concrete situation and struggles of the marginalized.
Practical work though, has been an integral part of ministerial formation; it was not, so far, given any credit. It has been given four credits under new curriculum. New ways of involvement in the ministerial training and evaluation through reflection has to be worked out.
We are arranging to provide a copy containing the reports of the consultations and the Boards of Studies, together with the reports of the Core Groups and the decisions of the Senate and its Committees, to all the teaching staff of our affiliated colleges. It will help them to understand all the processes that have gone through in preparing new curriculum. It will prepare them for the task of implementation of the new curriculum. We are planning to conduct a few pedagogical institutions every year for the benefit of our staff. It is expected that all the staff in affiliated colleges will have an opportunity to attend pedagogical institutes conducted by the Senate in order to equip them with new insights in teaching methodology. These institutes will also provide an opportunity to take an overview of the revision exercise.
Freedom to Initiate New Courses
The Serampore system is unique in many ways; it is ecumenical in true sense of the word. The new programme provides enough scope for colleges to offer a few extra courses in fields they would like to specialize and have special concern. Denominational colleges can now develop, and offer courses, which deal with their theology, liturgy, history and other concerns. There are some colleges who are interested in developing courses for the specified ministry of the church and society, they will have freedom to do so and established themselves as professional centers in their own right. These courses, if requested, can be recognized by the Senate, and can run concurrently as certificate or diploma courses.
Autonomy to Institutions
Serampore is an affiliating university, and has to be distinguished from accrediting institutions. As such, it has to take necessary steps in maintaining control over syllabus and examination. It has granted semi-autonomy to its affiliated colleges where-by they can conduct examination and evaluation for half of the total courses offered for the degree programme. It is one of the first universities in India that granted autonomy to one of its affiliated colleges and is planning to extend the same privilege to many more in future.
Yet the question of autonomy needs to be carefully considered. Senate has the delegated powers of the Council which is granted to it by the Serampore College Act-1918. This power is restricted to academic exercises only; conducting examinations for the degrees and diplomas to be conferred upon the successful candidates by the Council. Unless and until the Act is modified/amended, and Senate is further granted powers to grant autonomy to the affiliated colleges, as it was done in the cases of other universities in India, any grant of autonomy, and degrees granted under such system, can be set aside by the judicious consideration, and Senate can be charged of betraying the trust by the Council and the Bengal Legislative Assembly.
Random reflections can be helpful to look at the progress of the implementation of the new venture
a. I notice very late that the preliminary consultations for curriculum revision, which I considered were wide enough, were not so wide. During the discussions in pedagogical institutes, it became clear that the issues and concerned that were discussed in consultations and board of studies were not shared with the wider faculty of the affiliated institution. Thus much misinformation, misunderstanding and prejudices continued to remain with many staff-members. Some kind of mechanism needs to be evolved by the Senate where consultations with all concerned – staff, administrators, church leaders and students- may be made possible.
b. One can easily note that the Senate did try to incorporate many subjects/courses that were taken to be new areas of studies and concerns. But in doing so it drove away a few important and essential ones. The balancing act seems to be missing. This resulted in introducing many courses, overburdening students with half courses and increase in number of courses, depriving colleges to have their own courses. The number of courses necessary for the degree should not be more than 10 courses per year, leaving enough scope for colleges to introduce regional/denominational/professional courses/diploma-oriented programmes.
c. There is no doubt that the courses and teaching should have to be contextual, yet there remains much dissatisfaction with regards to the definition, scope and understanding of the context. With the overwhelming representation of the group committed to social analysis, the pan south-Asian context was focused only upon the Dalit/Women/Tribal/subaltern/deprived ones within the society, leaving out the privileged and other section of the church/denomination/society. This left many to complain that their views/contexts was marginalized. Just before I retire, a representation from the Orthodox Synod met the Executive Committee of the Senate to highlight their concerns with some suggestion for incorporation. I am also conscious of the mistake of not taking quite seriously the context of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Concerns of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Independent churches/institutions too cannot be ignored.
c. It is a matter of much satisfaction that the Senate took seriously the issue to pedagogy and organized a number of institutes. I did not have time to have a critical review of the outcome of these institutes. We do have some publications which need to be analyzed. Personally speaking I was disappointed as the organizers often failed to take advantage of the specialist available in secular colleges and universities. The expectation of colleges taking lead in organizing their own pedagogical institutions could not be materialized, perhaps the failure of the Senate to provide funds to the colleges. Moreover, no college took lead in establish a permanent centre for training in emerging pedagogy and present any plan for devising a course in teaching for theological teachers. The suggestion to include a course in teaching at MTh level can only be included at the expense of driving away a course in the main branch of study. In the age of specialization, Senate should devise a teaching degree/diploma course for those who wish to be teachers in theological institutions. It may also think to re-introduce pedagogical institutions like the ones conducted in the eighties.
d. The cluster arrangement that was introduced under the new curriculum does not seem to be taken seriously, certainly not the team teaching. It is not clear whether the concept is non-applicable or colleges/staff are not in a position to implement the idea. Basically the concept was put forth to help the college to get over the staff problem, and the students to have different perspectives of the subject taught.
e. it is generally observed the pattern of examination system is the same and new avenues have not been searched. Senate has its own limitations as it follows examination-system that is centralized in nature, affiliated institutions, on the other hand, have greater freedom and opportunity for experimentation to adopt alternative forms of examination system. Open examination, take home examination, viva voce type of examination, comprehensive examination, or combination of many systems can be tried. Sadly enough, nothing could be heard so far.
f. I have pointed out, during my term in the office, to the Senate and the Council that the concept of autonomy is contrary to the provision of the Serampore College Act (1918), and it can only be applied if this provision is included in the present Serampore College Act through an amendment to be sought from the West Bengal Assembly. The semi-autonomy, granted to the colleges, allowing them to evaluate half of the prescribed courses, is also contrary to the provisions of the Bengal Act. Senate has been delegated the power of examination, which originally bestowed upon the Council under the Royal Danish Charter (1827), as such Senate has no legal authority to delegate the same delegated power to colleges. Senate, however, can accept the courses so examined by the colleges as the fulfilling the requirements for a particular degree/diploma. It is to be noted that the Senate did comply for some years to the wishes, and direction, of the Council, and awarded degree on the basis of the Senate-examined courses only. It, however, relented under the pressure of the Senate. This aspect needs to be carefully considered as Senate and colleges may find themselves legal tangle, leading to the repulsion of the Act by the Bengal Legislative Assembly.
The new curriculum does envisage freedom to colleges to introduce courses of their choice/concern/denominational interest, and granting special diplomas to their students which can be recognized by the Senate. This is the step in the right direction where curriculum/syllabus of Serampore degree will be universally offered and examined, and college will be free to offer courses of their special interest/concern. This situation will provide impetus to colleges to develop themselves into a specialized centre of ministerial formation.
g. Senate is conscious of the fact that there are many (more than 2000, as one estimate reporteed) theological college/institutions/seminaries other that Serampore which are granting degrees/diplomas to their students. There is a need to bring them together in the interest of the church and its mission in India. Serampore does have criteria to recognize a few institutions and their courses under its equivalency system which can be discussed and applied to other institutions as well. Senate did have contacts with ATESEA and ATA, and is working out a system to help their graduates to pursue Serampore degrees.
h. Question of internal assessment was not clearly spelled out during the making of the curriculum, syllabus, however, provides 40% marks for it without any guidelines. This was taken care of by the Academic Council which has provided a detailed guideline that does not seem to have reached to the students.
There was often a voice complaining about the heavy syllabus without realizing that the new curriculum envisage more than 30% of course to be in the form of self/library study, attendance, spot examination, term papers etc. Ten percent of marks can be utilized for attendance and class participation. Thus, syllabus has 30-40% less burden on the teacher, and that burden is now passed on to the student under internal assessment. There is freedom to the staff and student to sit together at the commencement of the course, and decide which part the teacher will teach, and which portion student will take for personal/library/internet studies.
i. It seems that proper editing work within the clusters and syllabus as whole has to be under-taken so the repetitions can be removed. So also, there is a need to prune the syllabus in order to make it manageable.
j. The main concern of the new curriculum was to reduce the burden of too many courses by limiting them to ten courses per year; paving way to colleges to offer enough courses of their own to offer a diploma courses in their specific areas of concern/denomination/regional interest. This was hampered by the inability of the Boards of study to check half-courses. Solution lies in the clubbing half courses into full courses; some serious and purposeful consideration may be helpful.
New BD programme is the first initiative Senate has taken in revitalizing its programmes for strengthening the diversified ministries of Church of Christ in the service of people of God. There is a need to move faster to revise other programmes as well, and introduce new ones as per the need and demands of the church and society. Senate has already introduced a new graduate programme (Bachelor of Missiology) for those who wish to serve and witness in the world through their involvement in missionary activities; others are expected to be evolved as per the needs and demands of the churches and society in India.