Charting Course: Adventist Education in the 21st Century?

How do we align our history, vision and mission with the demands of the here and now?

By Leanne Entermann
Principal's Charting Course article

If I had asked for a physical expression of Adventist educational philosophy, there it was on the last Friday of South Queensland’s Annual Adventist Convention (Big Camp).

On tables in a sunlit courtyard, each Adventist school in Queensland’s southeast had set up an exhibit featuring some of their current learning projects. Gold Coast Christian College displayed their hi-tech F1 project, which drew on teamwork and learning across science and technology. Early Learning Centres showed examples of nature-focused, play-based learning. Northpine Christian College featured their commitment to community service with a STORMCo exhibit. Darling Downs Christian School displayed their flourishing kitchen gardens, and Noosa Christian College exhibited billycarts from their annual competition which attracts participation from their local community and focuses on engagement and connection.

For the Brisbane Adventist College exhibit, we chose design and technology projects. This included quadcopters designed to carry loads over a certain distance, a Tiny Shed project commissioned by a client to match an existing Tiny House, and two different speakers—acoustic and upcycled digital speakers. These projects drew on a range of hard skills but also promoted problem-solving, innovation, work ethic, communication and teamwork, and focused on the principles of sustainability and entrepreneurship.

The expo was set against the perfect backdrop of the Adventist convention, a symbol for the spiritual underpinning and foundation of all of our schools. In what I would describe as God-designed synchronicity, each school aligned to present a piece of the overall picture of Adventist education.

Learning what matters most about Adventist education

As an Adventist educator, the purpose and mission of our brand of education has long been of interest to me. The oldest and largest international protestant education system in the world, the more I learn about our education history the more certain I am that being faithful to our original vision will ensure we remain relevant now and into the future. 

Our education system is a deep, broad learning tradition, spanning early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education. Early founder and enthusiastic proponent of Adventist education Ellen White spoke at length about what this should look like. It involves three distinct pillars that support each other, which together offer a unique value proposition: 

  • Adventist education prepares students for the future demands of the world of work. According to White, education should be robust: it “should tax the mental powers; every faculty should reach the highest possible development.”[1] Today, this demands a broad, future-focused, inclusive form of education that includes the intellectual, professional, practical and entrepreneurial. It includes both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, work ethic and adaptability.
  • Adventist education prepares the whole person for “the whole period of existence possible”. According to our founders, this includes spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social dimensions ‘developed in harmony’. The purpose? To help young people mature with strong character and a heart for service to others.[2] This sounds somewhat countercultural to modern education, which is largely about giving the individual the best possible advantage in life. Education at Adventist schools transforms young people into individuals God can use as a “positive force for the stability and uplifting of society” now—and for eternity.[3] This is in line with Jesus’ life and teachings, which transformed people into crew rather than passengers, players rather than spectators, contributors rather than mere consumers. This gives individuals a singular advantage, unlike at many other schools.
  • Adventist education offers a bold faith. Without this third pillar, Faith, Adventist education falls out of balance. We may be living in a time in history when people are more sceptical than ever before, but if there is one thing that my travels have shown me, it’s that people the world over are still deeply spiritual and searching for meaning. Christianity explains all of human nature—without, as author and Christian apologist Nancey Pearcey says, "internal division or contradiction.”[4] Our students crave good, logical, academic reasons for their faith. They are looking for a faith that engages their intellect and stands up to examination with historical, reasoned evidence. They are seeking a faith that makes sense in and of their lives.  
Adventist education: more relevant than ever

Is it possible that Adventist education is now even more significant and relevant than ever? I believe so.

Our VUCA world, characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, comes at a cost to individuals in society (especially young people) and finds expression in a rising tide of anxiety and depression. It results in confusion, uncertainty, and a growing sense of distrust within and between communities. Unpredictability and competition across every aspect of our lives can result in a vagueness of purpose and direction for both individuals and institutions.

We could get lost in this, too, but the expo at the South Queensland Big Camp was the perfect reminder to stay mission-true to the principles visioned for Adventist education; to protect our spiritual underpinnings, and to alter others with our culture instead of allowing competing beliefs and philosophies to alter ours’. Instead of feeling untethered and floundering in response to a VUCA world, I have confidence in the original vision that has now sustained us for over 150 years. This is a special kind of education, offering something uniquely valuable for people facing a complex and uncertain 21st century.

[1] White, E., Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1923), p. 373.
[2] White, E., Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1952), p. 13
[3] Ibid., pp. 29-30.
[4] Entermann, L., Charting Course to a Bold Faith