The past academic year was a year like no other for ISTL in Albania. It started amidst the deadliest and the most devastating earthquakes in the world for 2019 and then be-came even more challenging due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The earthquakes affected us in several ways. Most of our students come from Tirana and Durres where most of the earthquakes hit. There were lots of students’ homes, church buildings and even our own Church/ISTL facility that was damaged.
As many churches were mobilized so were all our students to bring relief ministries during this time. With some exceptions, all of our classes continued side by side with the relief ministry and we were able to complete our planned Bachelor’s and Master’s classes until the beginning of March. During the month of March, as our students, and churches were still trying to recover from the earth-quakes, we were challenged by the Pandemic.
Our country was forced in immediate lockdown, in which our classes had to be cancelled.Within a few weeks, we had several meetings as a team and board trying to understand the times and possible changes we were facing in the immediate future. We discussed all options, advantages and challenges, but we knew we were not to give up. Even in this digital age, it was a new endeavor for us to take ISTL and make it an online community so that we could continue our courses.
We offered several training sessions to the students and teachers on the virtual classes, we did some test runs and eventually had our first classes. To our amazement the number of student attendance in-creased from the previous year. Suddenly, even students that were in distant areas or countries re-turned to our classes, and now we can say that we could potentially have students not only in the Balkans but as well in Italy, Germany, US and UK. The quality of the classes is still intact, the presentations of teachers and students are easily accessible to all and the take home tests and assignments have encouraged the students to a higher critical thinking level.
With the changes that proved positive, we are now looking to employ the online Zoom virtual classes for distance learning in addition to face to face classes in Tirana. This will give rise to a higher enrollment for the years ahead.
This summer we have been promoting several study centers in the country. Students can gather at these centers closer to their homes and through the aid of a facilitator as well as virtual classes, they can attend ISTL.This will help with travel, expenses, and challenges of their daily routines.
Presently, we have over 20 potential students that would like to enroll in ISTL through these centers. We are thankful that in the midst of all the challenges that we faced, ISTL not only was able to complete the school year program for both Bachelor’s and Master’s level but the attendance surpassed that of the same time from the previous year and we now have a larger potential and reach in the years ahead.