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schools500reformation.net is the platform of the project “500 Protestant Schools worldwide celebrate 500 Years of Reformation”. It is a geodatabase solution to easily connect protestant schools with other schools, teachers with teachers and students with students to create, share and work with activities in the project.

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Protestant Reformation and
Global Education

What many of these leaders had in common was the importance of education as an extension of the home, as a right to be experienced by all children regardless of social class or gender, and as an alternative to the state systems that did not permit the teachings of the church.Students, staff, and communities who are part of Lutheran schools around the world are spending this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation learning the significance of Martin Luther nailing 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517. However, they may not realize how big the celebration really is! Most Lutherans have been hearing references to Luther in everyday discussion, in classrooms, in church, and—especially during 2017—in publications, films, and advertisements. After all, Lutherans bear his surname as part of their denominational identity. But Lutherans are not alone in recognizing this year as special!

Martin Luther opened the floodgates of inquiry, confrontation, and change. During his time, and for the centuries that followed, many individuals led the charge for reform. Names such as Wesley, Knox, Calvin, and Zwingli are commonly associated with Protestant denominations that formed through the years. What many of these leaders had in common was the importance of education as an extension of the home, as a right to be experienced by all children regardless of social class or gender, and as an alternative to the state systems that did not permit the teachings of the church. As the churches grew in their communities and missionaries took their ministry into all parts of the world, the priority of education went with them. Schools not only became a foundation for the nurturing of missionary families and members but also a form of outreach into the newly established communities.

Despite dramatic changes that have influenced education in a variety of Protestant settings, the presence of these schools is very visible in countries around the world. Church denominations have had to face challenges in working with government control of schools, changing demographics, declining church affiliation, and funding issues. Governance models have shifted, names have been modified, and responsiveness to societal and global changes are responsible for new ways of operating. Protestant systems that work in the education field have raised questions about identity, relevance, quality, sustainability, diversity, and global connectedness.

This gathering highlighted the diverse settings and types of educational institutions that are operated throughout all parts of the world. In the fall of 2015, 70 representatives from 25 different countries gathered in Wittenberg, Germany to explore how Protestant schools throughout the world carry out their missions in the context of the Reformation theme. Sponsored by the Evangelical church in Germany in cooperation with the University of Bamberg, this gathering highlighted the diverse settings and types of educational institutions that are operated throughout all parts of the world. The uniqueness of this event was evident in the makeup of the participants: educators, leaders, and decision makers from schools, systems, and churches from many different Protestant denominations, who may or may not have had previous association with each other. Participants from African nations and Europe were particularly noteworthy, as they represented systems that were often isolated from other denominations around the world. The challenge was to identify common purposes, learn about how each system works, and explore ideas for potential common projects around the Reformation celebration. (Click here for more information about how Protestant schools around the world are celebrating the Reformation this year)

The main purpose of this [smaller] group was to produce a position paper that would articulate the elements that Protestant schools across the globe have in common and suggest ways to enhance collaboration on regional and global levels. The success of this interactive meeting in the city of the Reformation led to a follow-up event in December of 2016 in The Netherlands at which a smaller group assembled. The main purpose of this group was to produce a position paper that would articulate the elements that Protestant schools across the globe have in common and suggest ways to enhance collaboration on regional and global levels. Seventeen countries were represented by educators and leaders from a variety of Protestant schools and agencies, including Lutheran Education Association. You can find the entire contents of the position paper online, but two of the main sections are excerpted by permission below.

(Author’s note: Please note the occasional use of spelling that reflects the global nature of this publication and the fact that any observations or opinions expressed in the document are those of the group assembled and the editors and not necessarily those of LEA.)

Context: Challenges and opportunities

Protestant schools can look forward to exciting development as the diversity of context in which they work across the world produces both challenges and opportunities that can be linked with signs of hope.

Protestant schools and globalisation

Globalisation brings opportunities to grow a global network for Protestant schools. It also means that the diversity of culture and religion becomes more obvious and that the Protestant profile should include a commitment to dialogue and exchange with other religions, world views, and convictions. Globalisation also comes along with an increasing trend to shape education in the context of economic perspectives, with less emphasis on personal development. But Protestant schools should emphasise a comprehensive understanding of education and a pedagogy of hope. Globalization also leads to reflection on the role and potential of new media and technology; they can be used fruitfully for the growing global network of Protestant schools, with an appropriate awareness of the limitations and misuse of new media.

Protestant schools and religious change

In many parts of today’s world, Protestant schools are affected by religious change. While some countries experience increasing religious commitment, others face radical religious movements and the misuse of religion for political purposes. In some societies, the variety of religions increases, whilst other regions of the world become more secular and religion is considered often as old-fashioned or threatening.

By this, Protestant schools are challenged to explain their special profile, their mission and their contribution to the educational landscape and to society. They have to develop the ability to stand for their convictions and explain guiding Christian principles to non-Christians in an understandable and convincing way. They must also be capable of playing an active role in dialogue with other religions and world views.

Protestant schools and the state system

Another crucial point is the relationship between Protestant schools and the state through national, regional and local government. In some contexts, support and encouragement is received, in other cases no support is given. Protestant schools often face increasing competition with state schools. Protestant schools contribute actively to the common good and to the needs of society, so support by the state is grounded on good reasons. In this situation, we emphasise the Christian call for good education and also the right to education according to parental conviction or religious views. This includes also the task of the schools to contribute to education for citizenship and human rights for all.

Education in Protestant schools

Protestant schools are globally and locally diverse. Located in different countries and continents, they are of varying denominational affiliation and are inevitably shaped by their regional context and respective church and state-based educational systems. This means that their concepts of education differ, producing a colourfulness which is celebrated as richness, and the possibility of learning from one another.

Especially in the field of education, much is to be gained by searching for common ground through dialogue and by mutually exploring the heritage of reformation. And beside all these local, economic, cultural and social differences, protestant schools have a great deal in common. This common ground is explored from a theological and from an educational perspective, two equal, interwoven perspectives which give a foundation to Protestant schools.


(Author’s note: Only the pedagogical perspective is included below; you can find the theological perspective in the original paper.)

Supporting Students as they grow:
A pedagogical perspective

1.  Protestant schools believe in the potential of every student to learn, to develop, and to be joyful.

For Protestant schools, every child is a unique being with unique opportunities and a special set of talents which enhance all aspects of that person. Protestant schools work towards being “good schools” by providing hope as they seek to integrate these individualities in order to support the development of each student’s personality. A shared ethos and high quality relationships can lead to joyful encounters and happiness.

2. Protestant schools offer error-friendly forgiveness

Learning and growing is not a linear process but includes learning from mistakes, making detours and even experiencing pain. Learning allows the possibility of making mistakes and clear, constructive feedback promotes learning. Protestant schools aim to give second chances, leading to work on reconciliation for the benefit of students as well as teachers. Teachers in Protestant schools should have an understanding of the compulsory nature of schooling and should be aware of their power over the life of students.

3. Protestant schools are committed to freedom with responsibility

Protestant schools aim to educate students to experience freedom with responsibility. Individuals are empowered when their own talents are nurtured at the same time as they are encouraged to contribute to social life together. They are empowered to focus simultaneously on taking responsibility for themselves, for others, for nature and for the future. Protestant schools work with students and communities of other religious traditions and world views, widening understanding through dialogue and thus fostering mutual respect through an acceptance of plurality and diversity in human society and within the school community. They seek to educate for individual autonomy, creativity and critical thinking, but in a spirit of empathy and action in solidarity with others.

4. Protestant schools aim for high quality teaching

Protestant schools want to deliver quality through student-centered teaching methods by enhancing participation, by a good learning climate, clear rules at school, effective time use and reflective classroom management. Since empirical evidence shows that empowering teachers to develop their own teaching style enhances the quality of learning, this is encouraged in Protestant schools. There should also be a high level of self-understanding in order to develop and reform continually.

5. Protestant schools strive for social justice

Protestant schools strive for social justice by caring for every single student, by a reflective policy of school admission, and by focusing on education for those with fewer opportunities, such as students with special needs, from removed areas or challenged social backgrounds. They aim to be inclusive with regard to gender, language, social background, ethnicity and other characteristics of possible exclusion. Protestant schools want to enhance social justice on a regional, national and global level by working on ethical challenges, offering education for sustainability, human rights education, Global Learning, and inclusive learning. In a culture marked by war and conflict, Protestant schools can be places of reconciliation, developing trust and valuing freedom of speech. This starts with treating people with respect and includes learning to speak out on injustice.

6. Protestant schools aim to show Christian sensitivity and an ability to reflect on the purpose of curriculum content.

Dealing with content and the development of a sense of cultural identity is purposeful and values based: it should lead to competences. Protestant schools should be aware that the application of what has been and should be learned needs Christian-based reflection in some cases.

7. Protestant schools aim to support the spiritual, religious and world view development of their students.

Protestant schools teach religious education and live their spirituality with services and prayers within their daily life. Chaplaincy and pastoral care should be included in schools. The pluralism of denominations and religions should be taken into account and schools are encouraged to develop a capacity for dialogue.

8. Protestant schools aim to support their teachers actively.

Teachers are the most important resource for providing quality learning. Teachers at Protestant schools should act as role models including having doubts and dealing with failures. Continuous learning and self-development of teachers is a necessity. Providers of Protestant schools should try to support teachers’ health, pay them properly and encourage their professional development.

9. Protestant schools intend to understand their role within the educational landscape.

Education is not only the objective and duty of schools, but needs parents, youth organizations, neighbourhoods, peers, parishes and other stakeholders. Protestant schools should cooperate actively, aware that they are part of a wider educational landscape.


The reader will likely identify with many of the elements presented in the above excerpts, which reflect a broad spectrum of schools around the world from Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, and other traditions. This should not come as a surprise. The basic tenets of the 1517 Reformation provided a foundation for the development of Christian education in a new direction through the centuries, resulting in how we know it today. Though there are certainly differences in theology and practices that separate church denominations, this paper poses a number of contextual directions for Protestant-based education in increasingly diverse settings and suggests that the similarities are enough to be the basis for moving ahead into an ever-changing world.

Jonathan C. Laabs is the executive director of Lutheran Education Association.

Quotations are from “Establishing Common Ground for Protestant Schools: A position paper by schools500 reformation,” Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, December 2016.