by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1998-04
The Four Year Plan calls for a significant advance in the process of entry by troops to be supported and sustained by the systematic development of human resources. In the messages of the Universal House of Justice on the Plan, the training institute is envisaged as an instrument crucial to this development.
1. AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING
In the two years since the launching of the Four Year Plan, considerable progress has been made in raising the friends' awareness of the need for training. As a result, the rigorous and methodical study of the writings, a habit that required reinforcement in many communities, has assumed prominence. This is a welcome development, but more has to be accomplished before the implications of systematic training are fully grasped. The Universal House of Justice explains:
In many parts of the world, attention is focused largely on gaining an understanding of the fundamental verities of the Faith. The corresponding institute programmes cover a wide range of subjects aimed at deepening the friends' knowledge of various aspects of the teachings. To be effective in developing human resources, these programmes need to impart knowledge, provide spiritual insights, and endow the participants with skills and abilities of service. In the messages on the Four Year Plan, the House of Justice has made a number of statements on the nature of training, and the variations in wording lend perspective on this complex matter:
Passages such as these define a clear purpose for training institutes. The experience of the past two years indicates that when institute programmes fulfil this purpose through curricula that properly integrate the various components of training, the number of those who dedicate themselves to the work of the Faith increases dramatically.
2. ENHANCEMENT OF INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY
Most national communities have taken the necessary initial steps to establish one or more training institutes in their countries. Boards or committees to oversee the operation of the institutes have been appointed. Patterns of cooperation between the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies in this vital area of activity have been adopted. Working relationships between Auxiliary Board members and the institutes have not proven difficult to build. By now, institutes in almost all countries have success- fully conducted a few training sessions. Some are at the stage of offering regular courses to relatively small groups, while others have gone further to establish elaborate systems to reach large numbers. To significantly enhance the institutional capacity of each national community so as to impart spiritual education to ever-increasing contingents of believers is a challenge that requires persistent attention. In a memorandum to the International Teaching Centre, the House of Justice explains:
The greatest progress in this direction has been made in those national communities which have concentrated on the execution of programmes, not allowing themselves to be diverted from action by lengthy discussions of theoretical matters. Their institutes have expeditiously chosen a series of courses with the best methods and materials available to them, trained teachers, and set out to build their systems of delivery in the process of implementation:
The following extract from a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer also addresses this point:
Three patterns can be discerned according to which institutional capacity for training seems to be developing in the Bahá'í world.
2.1 Small communities with a large percentage of knowledgeable believers
One pattern is generally associated with countries where the number of knowledgeable believers in a rather small Bahá'í population is relatively high. Most of the communities in Western Europe fall into this category. The approach adopted by their institutes is for the boards to determine what courses should be offered and call upon individuals to design and deliver them. Depending on the size of the country, courses are held in a central place or repeated in various localities.
There is no doubt that this pattern, if carefully applied, will lead to a significant increase in human resources. To gradually develop an educational organization which offers a variety of courses to a larger and larger student body clearly enhances institutional capacity in any national community. Like institutes everywhere, those in this category will become strengthened as they learn how to motivate, guide and assist their teachers; to attract a steadily growing number of students; and to administer their courses with efficiency. For this development to be meaningful, however, a great deal of work has to be done on programme content. The purpose of training, as outlined in the messages of the House of Justice, is not realized by simply making it possible for some of the friends to offer courses on their favourite subjects to groups of interested believers.
Teacher training programmes
What is required of these institutes, then, is to identify in consultation with a group of collaborators the real needs of their national communities and address these in well-designed programmes. Given the aim of the Plan, such needs are intimately related to opportunities for growth in the country. A letter written on behalf of the House of Justice underscores the role of such institutes in the promotion of teaching:
As they strive to work in this way, these institutes face a difficulty inherent in their communities' lack of experience in large-scale expansion, experience upon which they could draw to design appropriate curricular elements. While their present strength enables them to formulate with relative ease courses which impart knowledge of the Faith or examine spiritual and social issues, they struggle with the content of teacher training programmes that would offer practical advice and insights. Utilizing materials developed in other parts of the world, where such experience exists, helps overcome this difficulty. The long-term solution, however, is for the appropriate institutions to establish systematic teaching plans that are approached with an attitude of learning. Training and teaching, then, become two parallel processes that fuel each other: Training courses raise the enthusiasm of the friends for teaching and help them acquire the necessary skills. Increased experience in the teaching field is reflected in the constantly improving content of training courses.
Instruments of teaching
Another dimension of institutional capacity that needs to be explored more vigorously by these institutes is their role as direct instruments of teaching:
Since your community is relatively small, the board may wish to consider, as it continues to learn from experience, designing some courses which could be open to Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike. In addition to attracting thoughtful people to the Cause, such courses could also be a means of confirming them in the Faith and increasing the number of Bahá'u'lláh's faithful followers in your country.12 Given the growing interest among the public in social and spiritual issues, courses open to non-Bahá'ís could easily address such topics as the meaning of spirituality in a modern world, moral leadership, the spiritual education of children and youth, the dynamics of prayer, the nature of the soul and the afterlife.
2.2 Communities of large-scale expansion with extremely limited human resources
A second pattern is emerging mostly in countries which witnessed large-scale expansion prior to the Four Year Plan, but whose human resources remained exceedingly low. Here, the focus of institutes is on conducting courses of fixed duration, running from a few days up to several weeks, covering a set of basic deepening topics and assisting the participants in acquiring some skills. Groups of 20 to 30 are usually brought to a central place and trained, in the hope that they will return and strengthen their local communities. For these institutes, learning how to offer a course to group after group and to keep them enthusiastic day after day is in itself a significant step. It is heartening to see that a number of them are rapidly acquiring the capacity to accomplish this task.
In the context of entry by troops, however, institutes that conduct courses only at a central location have clear limitations. In a country of several thousand believers where a small group carries much of the weight of the work of the Faith, an institute course of a few weeks' duration, repeated four or five times a year, may double or triple the number of workers in the field. But this does not provide the human resources to set in motion a sustainable process of accelerated growth. Once an institute passes through such a first stage, then, it must face the challenge of reaching a greater number of believers. In several countries in this category, the friends are already aware of this need, but for them to acquire the necessary level of institutional capacity is not proving to be easy. In this connection, the following guidance was offered by the Universal House of Justice to the International Teaching Centre:
Since bringing a very large number of believers to one central location for the purpose of training would be unmanageable, other alternatives have to be found. One option is for the institute to establish branches in different regions, a possibility mentioned in the messages on the Four Year Plan. For some institutes, the creation of one or two branches is feasible at this stage. To operate many such centres, each with its own facilities and administrative structure, however, would be beyond the financial means of most communities:
It is becoming clear, then, that these institutes need to find more innovative ways to expand their coverage.
2.3 Communities of large-scale expansion with some prior capacity for training
A third notable pattern is unfolding in several national communities which, having experienced large-scale expansion, had already acquired some capacity for training prior to the Four Year Plan. The system being established in these communities, either by a national institute or a nationally coordinated network of regional institutes, has four components: a sequence of courses with well-prepared material distributed to every student, a small study circle usually composed of eight to ten people, a facilitator or tutor trained to teach the courses, and some scheme of coordination, both at the national and regional levels.
Sequence of courses
As experience is gained worldwide, various sequences of courses will undoubtedly be developed responding to the requirements of divers sectors of society. No one should underestimate the complexity of the task of defining each sequence and elaborating the materials. These have to adhere to some logic, if they are to succeed in raising up the needed human resources. Simply to compile a list of topics the friends should study, in the light of the guidance available in the writings, is not difficult. The order in which these topics should be presented, their correlation with the acquisition of skills to perform acts of service, and the way their study should be combined with the cultivation of inner perfection are matters of pedagogy that can best be discovered through systematic educational experience. For example, understanding the principles that govern the establishment and functioning of the Local Spiritual Assembly is of the utmost importance for every Bahá'í. One must ask, however, whether a course on this subject is effective when offered to believers whose knowledge of the Faith is extremely limited and who have not yet studied those spiritual truths that shape Bahá'í identity. It is noteworthy that, in practice, when institutes ignore the relevant pedagogical principles they fail to maintain the interest of the students, and the level of attendance in their courses falls.
Before the second component of the system, namely, the study circle, is examined, it should be noted that training institutes are not in charge of deepening the entire community; their task is to focus on a percentage of the believers who are eager to learn and willing to teach and deepen others. In response to an institute proposal which included goals aimed at reaching the majority of the believers, the following was stated in a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice:
Institutes in this category try to identify in each locality eight to ten of the more capable believers, usually young people with some formal education, and then to help them progress through the selected sequence of courses. This has proven possible, even when the generality of the believers are illiterate. In working with such groups, institutes have learned to avoid two extremes: underestimating the abilities of the friends and sacrificing depth to an inordinate desire for simplicity, on the one hand, and, on the other, expecting too much and overlooking the need to adjust the pace of the courses to the educational level of the participants.
In those countries where the system described here is taking shape, much is being learnt about how to motivate and maintain study circles over an extended period of time. It is becoming clear, for example, that they must undertake extra-curricular activities, particularly in the realm of cultural enrichment. Further, although a group may continue to study with the same tutor through the entire sequence of courses, it seems best for each course to have an official beginning and an event celebrating its successful completion. Some formality is proving to be essential, but the degree of it varies from country to country. In some parts of the world, for instance, the culture seems to respond to, and even demand, examinations and grades.
An important point to bear in mind is that these study groups are not local deepening classes or local institutes, but elements of a system of distance-education administered by a national or regional institute. The concept of "local institutes" created some confusion at the beginning of the Four Year Plan, and the House of Justice offered the following clarification:
As a study group advances through the sequence of courses, the capacity of each member to serve the Faith increases, and various institutions and agencies step in and help the participants to put into practice what they have learned. The following passage from a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice commends one such effort:
The third component of the system under consideration is the tutor (or facilitator). Such institutes begin their programmes by training several believers, already knowledgeable in the Faith, as tutors. This makes it possible for them to form study groups and establish their programmes on a firm foundation. Yet the expansion of the system depends on raising up an ever- growing number of tutors from among the participants themselves. Here again, the challenge is to strike the right balance. It is counter-productive to demand so high a quality of work from tutors that only a few are able to meet the standard, resulting in a system with inadequate coverage. On the other hand, an indiscriminate selection of tutors, in which everyone is asked to form a study group the moment he or she finishes one or two courses, also proves to be ineffective and leads to the collapse of the system:
The fourth component, namely, efficient coordination, is developed at two levels. At the national level, concern is for the efficacy of the courses, the fostering of enthusiasm for training in the country, and the compilation and dissemination of information regarding the institute, including the number of participants in the system and the record of their achievements. At the regional level, closer to the study groups themselves, the duties of the coordinators include training tutors, following their progress in the villages and towns, ensuring the availability of materials, and organizing conferences and seminars for the exchange of experience. With respect to coordination at the national level, the House of Justice states:
Integrating the system
It should be noted at this point that such a system is not necessarily put into place at the outset in the way it is described here. In several countries, the initial strategy has been to deploy a band of institute teachers in a particular region, assigning to each a number of towns and villages. The first course of the institute programme is, then, conducted with a group of interested believers over a period of four or five consecutive days. Upon its completion, the teacher moves to another locality and repeats the course with a new group. When the number of those who have completed the first course is significant, the teachers go back again to help them study the second course. As the process advances, capable believers arise from the towns and villages themselves to act as tutors and form study groups of more permanence which meet regularly over an extended period.
These four components, methodically developed and properly integrated, create a system which has proven able to reach a large number of people at an affordable cost per student. The following statement from a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice provides a vision of the growth of such a system:
The House of Justice was heartened to note that by the month of October 1997, over 900 believers in Tamil Nadu had gone through the first course of the national institute programme, and some 200 had succeeded in completing the second one. It is assumed that a percentage of these will go on to study the third course, while the number entering the programme will continue to grow. This is indeed a most promising process of human resource development for a rapidly expanding community. For the development of human resources in India may be likened to the building of an ever-expanding pyramid, whose base must be constantly broadened. An increasing number of friends are recruited to enter the first basic course, and relatively significant percentages are then helped to reach higher and higher courses, acquiring thereby the needed capabilities of service.20
2.4 Social and economic development
It is worth mentioning that, in keeping with the directives of the House of Justice, the Office of Social and Economic Development is helping some institutes to add another dimension to their operations, namely, training in the area of development and even the administration of development projects. For the present, this assistance is limited to a few countries. It entails raising the institutional capacity of an institute to a new level, one at which it has a much greater degree of autonomy:
The addition of this new dimension to the work of institutes is being carried out with great care. Since development-related activities often involve funds from non-Bahá'í sources, a financial system has to be in place to meticulously track various lines of expenditure. Further, once an institute becomes engaged in development, it needs to interact with government agencies and organizations of civil society, often entering into collaborative relation- ships with them. All of this demands a degree of maturity that is achieved only through consistent effort and experience. In those places where the work is moving in this direction, the profile of an institution capable of pursuing a highly complex set of activities is beginning to emerge, and an exciting vision of a dynamic centre of learning is taking shape.
3. ADVANCING THE PROCESS OF ENTRY BY TROOPS
A pressing question at the mid-point of the Four Year Plan is what effect this impressive and rapid development of institutional capacity for the spiritual education of the friends will have on the process of entry by troops worldwide. Ultimately, the efficacy of an institute programme has to be measured by the growth of the community being served. But expectations should remain within reason while the potential of the institute is being systematically realized. If national communities set their sights too low and are content with offering a few courses to a limited number of believers year after year, the required dynamics of growth will not develop. Yet placing unreasonable demands on training institutes and those who participate in their programmes, especially at the early stage, would be counter-productive. What is needed is unrelenting resolve to steadily multiply human resources, combined with determination to take advantage of every opportunity for expansion.
3.1 Increasing human resources
Clearly measurable results will be achieved only as institutes succeed in training teachers of the Cause and active workers in large numbers. What constitutes a significant increase in human resources, of course, will vary from country to country. In the largest Bahá'í community, India, already more than 10,000 believers have studied the first course in the national institute programme. Although this is an extraordinary accomplishment, the institutions of the Faith in the country are well aware that to train even ten per cent of the total Bahá'í population will require involving some 200,000 people. While not comparable to India in size, many national communities throughout the world have tens of thousands of Bahá'ís, of whom only a small fraction can at present be counted among the active promoters of the Faith. For each community to help a relatively significant number of believers progress through a sequence of courses represents an enormous challenge. The House of Justice makes the important point that meeting this challenge -- and thus increasing the number of believers who have a strong Bahá'í identity and a commitment to teaching the Cause -- in itself constitutes an advance in the process of entry by troops:
3.2 Accelerating expansion
An extraordinary opportunity to multiply its human resources on a vast scale is now clearly within the grasp of the Bahá'í community. Seizing it will call for added vigilance on the part of the institutions -- the National Spiritual Assemblies and their agencies, on the one hand, and the Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the other -- to ensure that the energies of the friends are channelled into some form of active service to the Faith:
The immediate result of this multiplication of human resources will undoubtedly be an increase in teaching activity undertaken at the initiative of the individual believer, initiative that needs to be nurtured by the institutions:
Local teaching projects constitute yet another channel into which the energies of the friends benefiting from institute programmes can be directed:
Essential as local teaching projects are, however, it should be realized that, at this point in the history of the Faith, most believers reside in communities in which the Local Spiritual Assemblies are but nascent institutions. Therefore, emphasis has now to be placed, in many countries, on implementing projects that concentrate on a small region, usually a cluster of villages with one or two towns. Even though most institutes have barely begun their work, in more than a few regions the effects of human resource development are already noticeable in the enthusiasm for service of groups who have been attending courses. Without doubt, the number of such regions will multiply rapidly in the months ahead, and it is crucial that teaching projects be promptly established in any region where the institute is exerting influence.
For a number of years, the International Teaching Centre has promoted projects of this kind under the designation "Long-Term Teaching Project." As a result, there is now ample experience in the Bahá'í world which can be readily shared among national communities through the Counsellors. While such projects aim at bringing large numbers into the Faith at an accelerating pace, they are not concerned merely with enrolments; nor is teaching carried out superficially. These projects involve a complex set of interrelated activities for expansion and consolidation which, together, result in a steady influx of new believers. Specifically, every effort is made to incorporate a significant percentage of the newly enrolled friends immediately into the institute programme, extending thereby the human resource base in the region.
The tasks before the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies are multiple and urgent. On the one hand, they will continue to strengthen the institutes and ensure that an increasing number of believers benefit from their programmes. On the other, they will support and encourage the friends in their individual teaching endeavours, assist Local Spiritual Assemblies in executing teaching plans, and establish long-term teaching projects in region after region. All the necessary elements are in place. The stage is set. There is every reason to believe that the combined effect of all these efforts will lead to the fulfilment of the major thrust of the Four Year Plan.