N.E.S.T. Newsletter – June 2020
From the Near East School of Theology President, Dr. George Sabra:
Hard Times…and the Worst is Yet to Come?
This has been a most unusual and difficult academic year. It began against the background of wide popular protests in Lebanon against political corruption of the ruling class, witnessed the collapse of Lebanon’s economy and its currency, and suffered the COVID-19 pandemic and its further disastrous consequences on the economy, as well as its negative impact on social and educational life. And all of this continues with no end in sight.
N.E.S.T. was able to carry on some of its normal activities, but many activities had to be cancelled or indefinitely postponed. We managed to salvage the academic year by turning to distance learning very early in the second semester. Although unprepared for it, our faculty devised various means to continue teaching. Only one or two classes continued physically on campus, but they were also being shared online with students who could not attend. Much is to be learnt from this experience of online education, and much is to be improved, but one thing it taught us is that distance learning is in no way a substitute for actual personal encounters, especially in an area of learning such as theology. No doubt we will be making use of online education more frequently now, and as soon as the Ministry of Education approves online education for the accredited degrees of Lebanese institutions of higher learning, we will work towards developing such programs. But we are not under the illusion that virtual teaching and learning is more fitting and more appropriate for theological education, ministerial training and spiritual formation than face to face encounters and the experience of being together in class and in a community life.
Meanwhile, the biggest challenge is the economic situation in Lebanon that is going from bad to worse. Many educational institutions, whether schools or universities, are facing extremely serious and existence-threatening conditions. Inability to pay tuition and other educational costs, severe restrictions on accessing money in banks, exorbitant rises in prices of food and all goods, the loss of value of the Lebanese lira towards the dollar and the dramatic decline in the purchasing power of the Lebanese currency – all these and other consequences of the crisis are affecting us at N.E.S.T. and encroaching on us in serious ways. N.E.S.T. has faced many crises in the past, but this is definitely one of the biggest.
We hope and trust in God above all to guide us and see us through, and we also rely on our friends, partners and supporters who have stood with us in various difficult times throughout our 151 years of existence to continue to do so.