by William J. Kornfield
Is extension education more culturally relevant than residence education? This anthropologist exposes the “myth” that it necessarily is, while making observations that will serve to strengthen both extension and residence education.
Is extension education more culturally relevant than residence education? This anthropologist exposes the "myth" that it necessarily is, while making observations that will serve to strengthen both extension and residence education.
There is a triple challenge facing present-day theological education in Latin America and the world: the need for more in-depth evaluation, the need to avoid cultural overhang, and the need to tie in educational procedures with the felt needs of local churches. These challenges were indirectly touched on in Edwin Brainerd’s excellent, though somewhat controversial article on "The ‘Myth’ of Programmed Texts."1 The type of openness shown in Brainerd’s article is also being demonstrated in Bolivia, at least as far as the Union Christiana Evangelica2 is concerned, one of the country’s largest denominations.
As a result of the first workshop on extension education in South America held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1968 (Savage, Wagner, Winter), a number of deficiencies were pointed out regarding residence education: The relatively small number of mature students enrolled in most Bible institutes and seminaries in Latin America; the high cost of maintaining residential institutes; the 60,000 or so functional leaders of small but growing churches, who because of family responsibilities and limited education would not be in a position to attend a residence seminary; and finally, the problem of taking the students out of their own cultural milieu and transplanting them to the somewhat artificial atmosphere of most residence institutes.
Extension education was presented in that first South American workshop as, almost a kind of panacea or miracle cure for the more effective training of national leaders within their own cultural context, thus avoiding many of the pitfalls associated with residence institutes. Yet even as it was being presented there was a certain uneasiness and apprehension on the part of some delegates, who realized that, the concept and program of extension education being projected was decidedly Western in origin. Would this new skin graft of theological education take in our part of the world? As a result of that 1968 workshop, one of the groups that most enthusiastically embraced theological education by extension was the Union Cristiana Evangelica working in close association with the Andes Evangelical Mission and the Evangelical Union of South America.3
A NEED FOR IN-DEPTH EVALUATION
After six years’ experience and experimentation, what are some of the results of extension as practiced by the U.C.E., one of Bolivia’s major denominations? In its sixth theological education workshop, held in Cochabamba last year, the first two days were given over exclusively to extension education. Unfortunately, partly because of financial considerations, a number of national teachers involved in extension education were not able to attend the workshop, and thus several extension centers were unreported. After the national director of extension education pointed out several advantages of extension education,4 he then asked the delegates for an enumeration of the weaknesses of our present program, which are indicated accordingly:
1. Failure of students to complete assignments. It was noted that the students often lacked sufficient motivation or were too tired to concentrate on their programmed studies after a strenuous day in the field.
2. Inadequate programmed materials. The lack of textbooks in the indigenous languages of Bolivia’s two largest evangelical groups–the Quechua and Aymara churchwas singled out.5
3. Lack of programmed textbooks prepared by nationals. Most textbooks are still written by missionaries, thus continuing to reflect a cultural transplant at times foreign to the thought patterns and norms of the recipient6 culture.
4. Lack of a sufficient number of trained teachers in programmed learning.
5. Lack of culturally adapted materials. While not stressed, one wonders whether the process of programming is not a reflection of a more specialized urban mentality transferred out to the country; this is partly seen in those teaching materials oriented toward filling in the blanks– thus toward academic or cognitive input instead of toward the felt needs of the students.
6. Lack of cultural tit between teacher and student. Because of the shortage of qualified instructors, some key national extension teachers would travel at times to unfamiliar areas, which were culturally different from their own background, experience, preparation and understanding.
7. Lack of identification of the extension teacher with his students. In some cases because of the brevity of time spent in any one center (in some unusual instances, a matter of hours), a discipling relationship was difficult-if not impossible to establish.7
8. Lack of time of the extension teacher with his family. By the nature of his work, the amount of time the instructor has to be away from his family and children often seems detrimental to family solidarity, thus producing potential tension and conflict.
9. Lack of sufficient theological preparation at the higher levels. Since the extension teacher must cover the whole gamut of theology, he may be ill-equipped to handle8 those areas with which he is less familiar.
10. Lack of funds from local churches. While income from national sources amounted to just 20 percent of the total expenses involved last year, it should be noted that much of that expense was from one region; on the other hand several extension centers, such as in the Beni, Carangas and Potosi areas, were practically self-supporting.
11. Lack of being able to graduate in a relatively short period of time, as most extension students under our present program will take from seven to ten years to graduate. In today’s fast moving, changing world, it was noted that few students are willing to wait that long; on the other hand, it should be mentioned that this particular observation is probably a reflection of an urban mentality, as this does not yet appear to be a significant problem among Quechua and Aymara believers.
While a total of 231 students were involved last year in extension education, only 138 students finished the courses they were taking.9 Nevertheless, it is encouraging to note that in certain key areas, such as in the highlands of Carangas and Potosi, the dropout. rate was relatively low– approximately 10 percent. In another place, in the lowlands, the results were less than encouraging: Out of eleven students registered, only four were still attending classes and just one of that number was from our own denomination. As one result of the above considerations, the airplane phase of extension education has been eliminated from the unproductive centers and is currently serving only the Potosi area. In order to cut back on foreign subsidy and thus to place a greater value on the courses being taught, it has also been decided to double the price of extension studies.10
It is my opinion that the cultural overhang so frequently characteristic of residence seminaries is also applicable to extension education, though the matter of length of time, timing and terms may be different. Instead of "extraction" from his natural home environment to a residence center, there is what may be termed "infusion" of the cultural transplant through both the extension teacher and his programmed materials. This extension of a prefabricated or predetermined program out to the country may not only be inadequate to the task but detrimental. As Ross Kinsler, a leading exponent of extension education in Latin America, has observed, "It is true that some extension programs have simply extended the old system of theological education in a way that imposes itself upon the people."11 A similar process can be seen in the Spanish "culture of conquest" of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and South America, where the "donor" culture consistently superimposed its norms and standards upon the recipient communities.12
The stereotype of the missionary– which often curtails effective communication and hinders identification– whether he be national or foreign, tends to be reinforced by the circumstances surrounding extension education.13 Because of the limitations often imposed by a time oriented schedule, the extension teacher generally spends only a few days in any one place. Therefore, the seeming effectiveness of his ministry may be sometimes seen to be in direct proportion to the time available. Such goal-oriented intensity is at times perceived to be superimposing and may have the direct opposite effect of the kind of identification essential to true learning and effective discipleship.
In contrast to the three years that Christ spent with his disciples in an intimate, natural and unstructured relationship, the average extension teacher spends relatively little time with his students, and one suspects that at least some of that time is rather highly structured– and on occasion somewhat hurried. As has been previously pointed out, "A few moments reflection leads to the unsettling suspicion that most teaching and teachers fall into patterns that increase rather than decrease the barriers to communication across cultural and social lines…The teacher is caught in the trap of being exactly what he is: a relatively educated, sophisticated, and dedicated outsider, trying to work with people who live and think differently than he does."14
Western values and perspectives such as a dichotomistic-time- crisis orientation stand "in contrast to the holistic-event-non-crisis orientation of the peasant believer, which comprises the bulk of our extension students in Bolivia.15 Thus the cultural transplant may not only be present but magnified when carried out to the country, not only through the value orientation of the teacher himself but often through the use of programmed materials. In this regard it is encouraging to note that a number of our extension teachers have adapted their programs to fit the peasant believer’s value system, thus presenting biblical truth in an unstructured, unhurried and "unprogrammed" manner.
TUNING INTO FELT NEEDS?
I suspect that like residence training, the teacher himself is the key to effective ministry. Is he teaching primarily people or programs? This touches on one of the most critical areas of extension education–the use of programmed materials–which, by their very nature, are seldom tuned into the felt needs of the students. As has been indicated in a recent publication, "The usual approach is to begin with a concept of what is needed, based on Western experience, and then to implement that strategy regardless. This is referred to as program orientation, and it is a major cause of failure of many mission societies."16
Does the teacher really start where the students are? Is he communicating through the students’ "felt" needs-the indispensable road to real needs-or are the "filters" closed, the invisible roadblocks up as he teaches directly in terms of his own appraisal of their "real" needs? Unfortunately, most instructors base their teaching experience on observed needs, which are easily misconstrued with both felt and real needs.17
As noted anthropologist Ward Goodenough indicates in his excellent treatise on this subject, "A change agent and his clients do not usually want the same things or have the same view of the development situation and its requirements. This, as we have seen, is at the root of the problem of cooperation in change…achieving cooperation among individuals and groups of individuals–each with different purposes and values and each with different customs and traditions."18 In other words, does the extension teacher truly identify with the wants, aspirations and values of his students? Is he also a disciple as well as a discipler? These questions must be given much more serious consideration than heretofore, as they are vital to correctly evaluating the effectiveness of any teaching program-whether it be via extension or residence-since learners learn in response to their needs and perceptions, rather than to those of their professors.19
FULFILLING CHURCH NEEDS?
To what extent is extension education filling the needs of the church?20 Actually at the workshop there was little concrete information as to new churches started, more effective witnessing and church growth. Nevertheless, it would appear that in certain rural areas such as Carangas, Potosi and parts of the Beni, extension education is strengthening the local church in Bolivia. It does not seem likely, however, that the question of meeting the church’s needs can be adequately answered at this time, since there are too many variables involved-such as the kind of teacher, type of student and the specific cultural context, as well as the timing and the time alloted to any given program. Even in those centers where new churches have been formed, how much has been a result of theological education by extension? Unfortunately, we have not yet developed in-depth evaluative criteria to answer this type of question here in Bolivia.
There seems little doubt, however, that good has come out of extension education in several areas. As has already been mentioned, it has been helpful in encouraging those believers and functional leaders in rural areas with limited education and means–in our own denomination 89 percent of the students are on the "lower" certificate level.
Extension education has also been a help to residence seminaries in the selection of more mature students, and partly as a result an increasing number of today’s third world seminaries are looking for older students who have learned in the crucible of life the meaning of discipleship.21
The greater emphasis in recent years on extension education has also served as a catalyst and challenge to traditional residence seminaries, which have been made more aware of the need for cultural adaptation and the avoidance of "evangelical convents" or ghettoes that in the past have tended to isolate the student from the real world outside.
A COMPLEX CHALLENGE
Thus, in spite of the seeming lack of evaluative criteria, it would appear that in our denomination extension education has a valid contribution to make to the complex task of an education that not only imparts doctrine but changes lives, produces disciples and church growth. I question, however, the assumption in some circles that extension education should always be tied into residence programs. Extension education cannot meet-nor should it attempt to-the needs of theological education in the same way as an urban residence seminary. The reason is that we are dealing with a different people -generally from a rural peasant background with different values, customs and traditions. As a principle, only in those cases where there is close cultural fit should extension and residence programs have coequal or similar programs as to courses given and academic credit received; at present this tie-in between residence and extension is being implemented in just one of our theological institutions, the Quechua Bible Institute in Sucre.22
It would seem that George Patterson’s Honduras example of an "obedience – growth- functionally" oriented curriculum meets the peasant or "campesino" more on his own level and hence more in terms of his own cultural setting, which is decidedly non-academic: "The less educated the campesino, the more necessary we found it to orient the curriculum to Christ’s commandments rather than to doctrine….Our new, obedience- oriented churches have learned doctrine faster, and avoided error more stringently, than our doctrine -oriented churches…his (the student’s) progress is measured almost entirely by his activity: new converts, baptisms and church organization. Examinations are used mainly to verify that he has understood his lessons….Units deal with specific needs rather than certain areas of content or doctrine…23 It is encouraging to note that the U.C.E.’s extension program among the Quechuas and Aymaras has also been nonacademic, where the matter of giving academic credit is not emphasized.24
Paraphrasing Claude Levi-Strauss, a renowned social scientist, helps us to understand better their world-and-life view: "What the peasant seeks above all else is not truth but coherence, not the scientific distinction between the true and the false but a vision of the world that will satisfy his soul." This is a most important consideration when one realizes that approximately half the world’s population–and two-thirds of Bolivia’s–is composed of peasants.
Extension education has in our area – of Bolivia certain limitations-as well as advantages -which must be taken into consideration in any future implementation. Cultural weaknesses in the structure and methodology of extension education as currently conceived and practiced are, apparently, not limited to Bolivia. Thus, there is no "one answer" for theological education at all academic levels, and those who perhaps have tended to think so are beginning to have second thoughts, if not some rather serious reservations.
This article has sought to show that the educational challenges facing theological education today are fundamentally cultural in nature and therefore just as applicable to extension as to residence.25 The so-called advantages of extension education over residence education are really not significant–it is just that the cultural problems found in residence education are of a different order than those of extension. There has been and at times there still is the tendency to oversimplify these issues in thinking that they relate more to one form of theological education than to another. This has been complicated by the assumption that mass media tools of communication, along with rapidly expanding Western educational technology and values, including programmed materials, will somehow more effectively communicate proper theological concepts to third world Christians. While some of these tools can generally be more easily adapted to an urban residence situation, it is fallacious reasoning to assume that they can be universally applied to extension education where it touches rural, peasant or tribal churches.
1. Brainerd, Edwin, "The ‘Myth’ of Programmed Texts," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 1974.
2. The Union Christiana Evangelica (U.C.E.) has more than 10,000 members.
3. The Evangelical Union of South America (U.S.A.) has recently merged with the Gospel Missionary Union.
4. For a fuller treatment of the advantages of extension education, see Theological Education by Extension, ed. by Ralph Winter, Wm. Carey Library.
5. More recently the putting of materials in the indigenous languages on cassette tapes has seemed advantageous, as it circumvents the problem of functional illiteracy.
6. Today the missionary is much more sensitive to the problem of the cultural transplant than he was a few years ago; thus as much as possible present materials are culturally relevant.
7. Unusual brevity of time was probably the exception and not the rule, as most teachers spent an average of three or four days per month with their students.
8. More advanced theological preparation at the higher levels is not yet a significant problem within the U.C.E., as the great bulk of students are rural and studying at the lower certificate level.
9. Twenty-six extension centers were attended last year by fifteen national teachers and two foreign missionaries.
10. To the equivalent of approximately $1.50 per course per month.
11. Kinsler, Ross, trans. from "Educacion Teologica Abierta," Boletin Informativo de Teologia Seminario de Extension, No. 4, Guatemala, 1974.
12. Foster, George, The Culture of Conquest, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1960.
13. Kraft, Charles, "God’s Model of Cross-Cultural Communication- The Incarnation," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Summer, 1973.
14. Hickman, John, "Linguistic and Sociocultural Barriers to Communication", Practical Anthropology, March-April, 1968.
15. Kornfield, William, "Looking at Missions From an Anthropological Point of View, " Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Summer, 1973. For an extended treatment of Western values vs. other cultures see Christianity Confronts Culture by Marvin Mayers, Zondervan, 1974.
16. Engel, James; Kornfield, William; Oliver, Victor. "What’s Gone Wrong With Our Harvesting?" Missiology, July, 1974.
17. For an excellent treatment of the difference between felt, observed and real needs, see chap. 3 of Cooperation in Change by Ward, H. Goodenough, Random House, New York, 1966.
19. Defined here as any positive change in behavior.
20. This same question can equally be applied to residence training, or any other program for that matter.
21. Kornfield, William, "A New Day for Residence Seminaries in Latin America?" The Andean Outlook, Plainfield, New Jersey, Fall, 1974.
22. 1nstituto Biblico de San Juanillo, Casilla 201, Sucre, Bolivia.
23. Patterson, George. "Modifications of the Extension Method for Areas of Limited Educational Opportunity", Teologia Extension Seminary, Guatemala, 1972.
24. The matter of giving academic credit to peasant or tribal peoples-unless this is the specific desire of the believers themselves-is at best a questionable assumption and generally is a reflection of an urban Western mentality.
25. This is not to negate the fact that the most important issues are spiritual and therefore culturally relevant programs must be tuned in spiritually, as only a spiritual man can communicate spiritual truth.
William Kornfield is a member of the Andes Evangelical Mission with eighteen years of field experience in church planting, theological education and university teaching. He is president of Seminario Biblico, Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and Columbia Bible College. He holds a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in anthropology from the Universidad Catolica del Peru.
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