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Forman Christian College continues to offer education in Pakistan amid pandemic


Flexibility, tireless work ethic and technology are keys to carry on despite COVID-19

August 17, 2020

Students at Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, study together in the fall of 2019, prior to the pandemic. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

Though in-person classes are suspended at Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, faculty are doing all they can to ensure that the university’s more than 5,000 students are still receiving an education.

After two weeks of rewriting course objectives and outlines, faculty began teaching virtually on March 30. If students don’t have internet access, packets that include lectures and coursework are being mailed to students.

And in several cases of extreme dedication, a faculty member called a student and read the student the lecture for that day’s class so the student could keep up. Other faculty have loaned out used laptops and smartphones.

Flexibility and tireless dedication are part of the work ethic of Forman, which was founded in 1864 by Dr. Charles W. Forman, a Presbyterian missionary. The college served India and then Pakistan for more than 150 years. It’s prepared to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

“We did our budget projections through December, taking a fairly pessimistic view,” says Dr. James Tebbe, rector of Forman Christian College. “I have to admit I was very relieved when I saw that we could keep all of our faculty and staff.”

Diligent stewardship has helped Forman’s leadership build up reserves that are helping cushion the university during this time. Technology improvements on campus have been key as well, Tebbe says. The school also has its own water supply and electrical system that augments water supplied by the city. This has been helpful in allowing the staff who live on campus, including Tebbe, to remain safely sequestered.

Out of 5,000 or so university students, about 100 do not have internet access, estimates Cheryl Burke, head of Academic Advising at Forman. Only about 50 cannot be reached; some may have changed phone numbers or email addresses recently.

During her 16-year tenure at Forman, Burke has been largely responsible for student activities and how they augment academics on campus. She’s helped the college turn its attention toward helping students succeed. Her most recent position is serving as head of the Academic Advising Center, which works with students to ensure they have what they need to complete courses and graduate on time. This work has helped Forman build a strong foundation for academic success — and it’s part of why students can continue to succeed off campus while learning at home.

Burke’s work is sponsored by Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

“Our students are doing really well,” Burke says. “The biggest issue is the emotional toll it is taking. We’ve received a lot of panicky emails from students. We’re telling them, ‘Just breathe. It will be OK.’”

Forman has been on a rapid growth trajectory for the past few years, Tebbe says. The campus is busy and crowded in normal circumstances.

Enrollment may take a dip in the fall, Tebbe says, and Forman is preparing for that financially.

For Christians in Pakistan, Forman is a place where they can receive an education on an equal playing field with non-Christian students, says Rev. Sam Schreiner, executive director of the Friends of Forman, a nonprofit organization that supports Forman Christian College.

Christians are about 2% of the population in Pakistan. Christian churches have been targeted for violence. Christians are given far fewer opportunities to receive an education and do not have access to the same services as others. In many cases, Christians are given the most menial of jobs for low pay. Scholarships funded by contributions from the U.S. are crucially important to allowing students to rise above these circumstances, Schreiner says.

Christians make up 12% of the Forman student body, and 80% of them need some form of scholarship.

The other important cultural aspect of Forman is that Muslim and Christian students can study alongside each other, which is a rarity in Pakistan, Schreiner says. They can get to know each other as friends, and change perceptions of each other. “Forman is doing so much more than providing an education in Pakistan,” Schreiner says. “Forman is changing the culture of Pakistan and modeling tolerance.”

Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Presbyterian Foundation, a ruling elder in the PC(USA) and an active member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville

Today’s Focus:  Forman Christian College

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Shanea Leonard, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Heather Leoncini, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

 Loving Lord, thank you for those who hold so much hope and potential. Work through your people to enable them to grow in faith, wisdom and skill to become positive agents of change to your glory. Amen.

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