International educators from 40 universities in the U.S. and other nations began two-days of plenary sessions and workshops at Samford University Thursday, Sept. 19.
The first presenters in the annual meeting of the Consortium for Global Education (CGE) represented higher education efforts in England and Lebanon.
Gerald Pillay, rector of Liverpool Hope University in northwest England, told how his school underscores the essence of "better together."
"No matter how good we are individually or separate, we are always better together," said Dr. Pillay.
The university, the result of the merger of colleges with Anglican and Catholic beginnings, takes its name in part from Hope Street, which connects cathedrals of both denominations in Liverpool.
The school's recent history traces to the appointment in the 1980s of Anglican bishop David Sheppard and Catholic archbishop Derek Worlock. The men's common commitment to historical Christianity and faith, and their unified stand against injustice fostered an ecumenical spirit, said Pillay.
Although Great Britain's beginnings of literacy and university trace to religious origins, Pillay said that in many ways the nation has lost that sense of its history. "It's up to places like Hope and yours to remind the world and the academy of the long view of how we came to be what we are," he told the audience of faith-based college representatives.
A university is the alma mater, "the nurturing mother," that creates the opportunity for students to be transformed, he said.
"Christian universities have an obligation to remind us of the long view, but also must give students the wide view. We must expose them to as much of the human family as possible," he said. "A culture or nation wrapped up in itself makes a small bundle."
Ian Cosh told how the Liverpool school had broadened the learning experience for students and faculty at Ouachita Baptist University, the Arkadelphia, Ark., school which he serves as vice president for community and international engagement.
OBU's first group of 17 students went to Liverpool in 2010. Since then, other students, academic leaders at all levels, professors on sabbatical leave and most of OBU's deans have been engaged in some way with Liverpool Hope.
In addition to Liverpool Hope's Christian tradition, its good cost structure and personable and competent faculty who operate with "a nimbleness that is attractive and a solution oriented attitude," the city of Liverpool itself is appealing, said Dr. Cosh.
Lebanon's National Effort
Lebanese education leader Nabil Costa told how a CGE-inspired center that addresses learning difficulties made Lebanon the first Arab nation to recognize equal education for all students.
He credited CGE institutions such as Samford with sending professors and students to assist educators in Lebanon. The visits have opened Lebanese teachers' eyes to many things, especially to students with special needs, said Dr. Costa, chief executive officer and president of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development in Beirut.
SKILD, Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences, provides assistance to public and private schools, including a large Suni school that outsources to SKILD therapists.
Tonia Crane, an Oklahoma Baptist University education professor who recently spent time in Lebanon, described a three-year SKILD project goal to identify the greatest needs, and train and mentor teachers of special needs students.
Where U.S. schools are mandated by law to integrate children with special needs into regular schools, such is not the case in the Middle East. "We are a small group of individuals trying to change the mind set there," said Crane, who challenged CGE members to identify a need they can help fill.
Costa noted that participating in the effort is a blessing to all involved. "It is a blessing to your students, and we are blessed as recipients when you come to encourage us, or tell us that you are praying for us in Lebanon," said Costa, a former vice president of the the Baptist World Alliance.
"Exploring and Engaging Globally: International Education, Service, and Sharing" is the theme of the CGE conference that continues through noon on Friday, Sept. 20. Samford president Andrew Westmoreland welcomed delegates at a reception on Wednesday. About 140 delegates are attending the conference.