1] We have thousands of church facilities scattered all across the region, in every community of significance, and a long history of positive, indeed often foundational, contribution to education.In short, there is a major opportunity. As we have discussed previously, the fulness vision theme of Eph 1, 4 and the associated operational form of the church's mandate provides motivation enough, if we will listen. For, Christ came, descending and ascending "in order to fill all things," working through the leaders and members of the Church, "his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way." As to means, we have or have access to more than enough people and physical and financial as well as spiritual resources to make such an initiative succeed, if we are willing.
2] With a generation of wider access to tertiary education now being under our belts, we have a substantial pool of potential tutors, lecturers and developers for courses.
3] The rise of low cost high bandwidth access to the Internet allows for rapid multimedia communication, not just of text, image, voice and video, but also for low-cost acceptable grade teleconferencing. [Indeed, UWI's distance education system has more and more migrated to the Web in recent years.]
4] More and more, we need to be informed, articulate, winsome and effective, and are facing a world in which the Christian faith is under pressure from aggressive de-Christianisation and Islamisation.
5] A the same time, we have time-tested, powerful answers that can help rebuild the rapidly disintegrating moral, cultural and intellectual foundations of Western culture, of which we are a part.
6] The Caribbean is in desperate need for clear-sighted, high-integrity, effective community based leadership and service, if it is to find a path to truly sustainable development: "Except the Lord builds . . ."
7] Precisely because the Caribbean is the world's first cosmopolitan region, and one in which the gospel played a key role in liberation from oppression and empowerment, we have credibility and a message that can make a big and much needed difference to the world at large.
Overarching programme goals can be fairly easily and simply summarised, in light of the biblical framework and our evident needs:
Level I -- Consolidating Life-foundations and associated Commitments: helping people work through the basic issues, challenges, decisions, changes, healings and liberations, learning, perspectives, commitments, relationships, attitudes, skills and habits involved in taking up one's cross and following Jesus. [Matt 16:24 - 27.]
Level II -- Basic Service and Leadership, as the focus gradually shifts to basic ministry/service processes and skills, training can stress the church's mission, our part in it, handling of issues agendas and challenges, and basic leadership and ministry in dyad (one-to-one) and in the small groups oriented to outreach, nurture or specific ministry areas (such as drama or social welfare).
Level III -- Community Service and Leadership. The third phase stresses specific gifts, knowledge and skills for lifetime service and leadership in the family, church, workplace, community, region and world, as we work to fill each of its aspects with Christ. This last phase therefore prepares disciples for proactive, prophetic community, cultural, intellectual and institutional service and leadership under Christ. And, once the cross-cultural aspect is added, we will mobilise the whole church for global missions.
So, we would be looking at in the first instance, fairly general discipleship and life issues/challenges training and empowerment, at an age and life-stage appropriate level. [Much of this would be similar in level to what is often called continuing education, and would help transform what happens in Sunday schools and youth fellowships or the like..] The second is at a similar level, but bridges up to to what would be considered Associate Degree level training in many community colleges. The third bridges from that level, all the way up to graduate and professional level studies and skills. because of the nature of the subject matter and skills, mentoring support will be essential as well, thus the need to link network supported information with interpersonal interaction in a community of learning and growth.
In addition, given the vast pool of general needs and hunger for progress, well-chosen general programmes and courses in second chance secondary education, managerial skills, project management, entrepreneurship and business management, agriculture, financial management, education, degree completion and the like will find a ready market. The hosting or franchising of good quality masters programmes would also be attractive to many.
But, how could such a cyber college be created?
a] Recognise that on our TVs, in our DVD rental shops, in our libraries, in our bookstores and magazine stands, in our streets, on our computer screens, in our newspapers, in political meetings, in our offices, in our schools and on our college and university campuses -- and indeed in our churches -- an informal cyber college is already in full bloom, serving the cause of de-Christianisation. A second one is being created as we speak, serving the cause of islamisation. In short, we must recognise that we are now playing catch-up.So, what is holding this back?
b] So, we cannot afford to play delay games and further put off decisions. Time is not on our side.
c] Find a critical mass of people, content and leadership who see the need, are open to the vision and are willing to invest in and work towards it. [This post is in part an exercise to that end. Why not follow up to the Fulness Focus reference site and contact us?]
d] Create or adapt content to address the themes, levels and issues as outlined, using powerful, easily available multimedia and web technologies. By slotting into a framework as above, we can see how we can build up a comprehensive programme across time that really covers the bases. [This blog and associated reference web site are full of suitable content, and there is much moire out there across the internet and in the minds and hearts of many people all across the world. We do not want for "techie" talent, tutors and profs!]
e] One way to do this is to host targetted seminars or camps or conferences on key issues, filming, doing multimedia presentations etc, then transforming the results into a well-packaged cybercourse on a key theme with a proven ability to hold an audience. Such a course can easily be reduced to a set of DVDs and associated print materials etc that can be circulated as local course resources.
f] Then, say there is a church with a room suitable to turn into a mini seminar room, one with 6 - 12 PCs around the perimeter, a modular conference table in the middle, and arrangements for multimedia projection to the front. [Durable multimedia projectors of good performance can now be had for less than US$ 1,000. Excellent laptops go for the same sort of price range. Credible desktops are down to US$ 400 or in some cases less. Indeed, there is a serious "US$ 100 laptops for students in the third world" movement. (Cf. here, here, here, here and here.) Electronics and quite good multimedia equipment and software are now in general "throwaway cheap." It is more and more worth taking a look at Linux and open software, e.g the UBUNTU initiative.]
g] Toss in a broadband Internet connection. Bring on a local tutor and a techie or two. Use existing administrative talent and facilities. Mix in a class of interested students, and a course web site with an online forum and place for assignments etc, maybe using blog technologies much like this blog or many others do [Blogs allow for easy publishing to the internet for non-techies. You can be set up and publishing away in fifteen minutes or less . . . and as this series shows, a course can be presented online using such a blog fairly easily].
h] Presto: we have a mini-campus centre.
i] We can therefore create a network of integrated micro-campus centres across the region [and beyond it . . .], and tie these in with the existing network of Seminaries, Christian colleges and schools. [With the number of Christians working as educators, we do not want for academic talent and technical education support.]
Sadly: Us, in one word. And, time is not on our side.
So, again -- and, I daresay, in the name of our God: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END