What can you do if you are a Christian teacher who wants to teach Biblically but has to teach from a secular syllabus?
The solution is Biblical Integration, says Ros O’Kennedy, a primary school teacher at Harvest Christian School, Port Elizabeth, who has been teaching this way for 16 years.
She began her journey of Biblical Integration while she was teaching at El Shaddai Christian School, Cape Town. She and fellow teacher Pat Swanepoel began to develop a systematic way of teaching a Biblical worldview to children of all Grades that can be applied to any school syllabus.
“And before I left Cape Town Pat and I put on paper what we had been doing over the years,” she said in a recent interview.
O’Kennedy who has shared her Biblical Integration system with some Christian teachers from schools in South Africa and other parts of Africa, is quick to say that she makes no claim that her system is the only way to do it, or the best way to do it.
“I don’t know what other schools are doing. But I do know that it [Biblical Integration] gives teachers a plan and a vision so that they know where they are going and what they must do. A lot of stuff that happens in the classroom is Spirit-led but that does not mean we shouldn’t have a plan,” she said.
Character qualities of God
So how does her system work? O’Kennedy explained that when she and her colleague began to develop a system they began with a YWAM teaching programme about 24 character qualities of God such as God is creator, God is wisdom, God is love, God is judge, and God is pure and holy. They found it was a bit cumbersome to incorporate all 24 qualities, so they focused on 12, covering three in each of the four terms of the year.
Thereafter they discovered a method of Biblical worldview teaching in four terms developed by US Christian educationist, John Hay, which progressively focused on fellowship with the Father, self worth, servanthood and stewardship.
“We married the two approaches and in every year, in every grade we teach that way,” she said.
Therefore every year all children are reminded that God wants a relationship with them, that He values them — which is a key to their ability to relate well with others, that love for others is expressed in service, that they are called to be stewards of God’s creation. At the same time, each term there is a focus on three character qualities of God that tie in with the Biblical worldview theme for that term. Subjects like science, history and geography are then slotted into those qualities while focusing on the broad Biblical worldview theme for the term. This approach provides a Biblical framework that can be integrated with any syllabus.
She said that while all grades followed the same themes, the emphasis in each grade was different.
“So when your Grade 4 child is doing ‘Fellowship with the Father it will be ‘Jesus Loves me. I’m special’. But when he gets to Grade 7 he will be doing ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight’. So he will be looking at a totally different viewpoint So although the children do the same thing every year they get layer upon layer of Biblical understanding.”
O’Kennedy said that her experience had taught her that it was not enough for Christian teachers to tack appropriate scriptures on to lessons.
“It goes much deeper than that. What we are trying to do is look at what we want to produce in children. When they leave matric what are we wanting? What is the product we are looking at? We want children who are grounded, who know who God is, who they are, who know how to interact in society with servanthood.”
So can the Biblical syllabus really integrate with any secular syllabus? And is it not a big challenge for teachers to cover both the prescribed secular syllabus and the integrated Biblical syllabus, I asked O’Kennedy.
“Yes it can be integrated with any syllabus. For example in history for the 1st term for Grade 7s the formal syllabus requires us to teach that we are evolved from a ape. And that’s wonderful, for it is an opportunity for us to also teach the children about creationism as opposed to evolution,” she responded.
“And yes, it is hard work to get through everything because we do cover the whole formal syllabus. We don’t leave anything out. And we do the extra. But I think the joy for the Christian teacher is the relationship with the children — giving them God’s point of view and dealing with things God’s way. It’s what keeps me teaching,” she said.
She said that the activity of God made Christian education very varied and unpredictable.
” We had a time when the Holy Spirit was really moving. I had a carpet in my classroom and the children would come for prayer and they would fall down in the Spirit and we would let God carry on with them and step over them and carry on teaching.
“If children in the class need prayer at any time then we encourage the other children in the class to come and lay hands on them.
“If they have headaches we pray for them. I had a student a little while back who collapsed and couldn’t walk. When I was called the children were already praying for her. She got up and ran up and down and there was great excitement that God had really come through for her.
Jesus in the classroom
“Children have wanted panados and I always say that Jesus is the physician, lets pray first. If He doesn’t heal — He doensn’t always — its not because of anything wrong with us We are going to pray. And I’ve had children coming and saying ‘Mam I can’t believe it. I couldn’t even see out of my eye and Jesus healed it’. Practically in a classroom we do what we can so that these children can see that Jesus is alive.”
Last week O’Kennedy presented a session at a one-day Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)enabler on Biblical Integration at Victory Christian School in Jeffreys Bay. Others who presented at the session, which was attended by Christian teachers from Jeffreys Bay, Port Elizabeth and East London, were Gavin Bretteny, ACSI Associate Director Africa, and Hendrik de Kock, ACSI Educational Specialist.
She said she is available to help schools who would like to learn more about the Biblical Integration system she uses.
“It is not my system, or anybody else’s. It’s the Lord’s. So if we can help, that’s wonderful. We are also always ready to learn from others.”
O’Kennedy can be contacted at email@example.com