Russia and America (and the Western world in general) are quite different from each other, but both of them are part of the same global world. This applies to education as much as to anything else: in both Russia and the USA about half of the population have completed tertiary education.
Proliferation of academic degrees continues unabated as more and more people obtain their Master’s degrees and complete their PhD work. It is becoming so common that a degree by itself does not carry as much weight as it used to. In some ways this is an inevitable feature of the mass society that has become commonplace in the last half a century.
I will be honest with you: I think that the real problem these days is that people going through their college and university studies have not had a chance to get a decent secondary education to begin with. Exceptions exist, but they prove the rule.
Our problem is not that we have too many (or too few, for that matter) people with higher education, but that we have almost no people with a decent school education. Compare the curricula of the older schools with the present ones. Compare the textbooks. Chances are this comparison will not be in favor of the system currently in place.
One can fool around with numbers and statistics, but the harsh reality is that the percentage of people who are educated – whether through formal training or self-education – in the true sense of what higher education is supposed to mean stays about the same at 3-5%, and that percentage is not going to change, no matter how many diplomas all the rest are going to get to boost their egos.
I believe that it is very important to have universal literacy standards in society. People must be able to read, write, and know arithmetic on an elementary level. High school and especially higher education is a different thing, though. Making college and University education quasi-ubiquitous would not further people’s competence, but rather make this education less valuable. What is the point of having a college graduate who doesn’t know things that a school graduate is supposed to know? Why confer Master degrees on those who lack some basic skills in argumentation, research, and writing?
If it were up to me, I would not make people feel forced to get a degree just for the sake of the degree itself. But it is not up to me. If we can’t change the system now in place, we need to try to work around it to make up for its deficiencies in any way we can.
It used to be that school students studied and perhaps mastered the classical languages long before they came to the seminary. A working knowledge of ancient Greek and classical Latin was to be expected. Such is no longer the case.
So we have to deal with people who come to the seminary lacking some basic skills. While I don’t believe that everybody must line up to get a higher education, I am of the opinion that a future pastor must be trained well. In past time, in a rural setting, a priest (pastor) was one of the educated people in a small town or village along with the doctor and a couple of others. In the present setting it is imperative that the real educational standard of the pastor is no worse than that of his parishioners or the people around him, whether or not they carry formal degrees in their fields.
This is why education at our seminary takes 5 years. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how one can train a competent preacher, teacher of God’s Word, spiritual caretaker, and liturgist in less time.
Sometimes people who come to the seminary have had a break from their former education. I would say this is common. So we need to teach them how to study, how to think, and we need to quickly bring them back to the academic setting.
This is why, in the first year of studies, we offer such general courses as World History, History of Philosophy, and Logic. This is why we make every effort to impart to our students a working knowledge of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages so that they can study the Bible in the original languages in their seminary program.
From the beginning of the seminary, the major emphasis was not so much on the name of the program or on the degree that the program would confer, but rather on the content and sheer level of instruction.
At present our seminary provides higher education. It corresponds to the earlier Soviet standard of a specialist degree and may be viewed as being in the middle between the Bachelor’s and the Master’s degrees. Formally it would be more like the Bachelor of Theology degree. Our seminary is not accredited by the government (very few seminaries are, such as the Orthodox Seminary in Moscow, for example), but it operates with an official license from the Ministry of Science and Education, and so it had to conform to certain academic standards to obtain this status.
I know that our data do not look too impressive on paper. However, we would much rather provide a solid Bachelor-level training than organize a Master’s or PhD program that would be such in name only. It would run contrary to all our principles.
At present, the best recognition of our education comes when people refer to the theological education of the Seminary in Novosibirsk as the best in the country. We have not competed and are not competing with others, but I’ve heard this evaluation a number of times, including cases when it came from representatives of other schools.
This is worth living for. It is all about what happens in the classroom and what theological competency and skills a graduate acquires, whether he will preach Law and Gospel clearly, whether he will present Christ through exposition of the biblical text, whether he will be able to recognize and confront error when the Church faces such a challenge. This is what matters, and we are determined to keep such priorities straight.