The India Sunday School Union (ISSU) has its roots in the Sunday School Movement of the 18th century (1780’s) that took education to child labourers on Sundays during the Industrial Revolution in England. It took 90 years before elementary education for all, between ages 5 to 13, was possible in England and Wales by the Education Act of 1870. (A provision was made for such an Act in independent India only by 1960. Since then there have been two intervention programs: the District Primary Education Program (DPEP), 1993-94, and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), 2000-2001. But the battle to make elementary education available to all continues even now with the Right to Education Act, 2009.) The focus of the Sunday schools was on reading, writing, arithmetic, and religious education that gave values for character development. These values laid a foundation for the great social, economic, and political institutions that contribute to the flourishing of life. ISSU, though it now primarily concentrates on Christian education, it continues to focus on the poor seeking their growth and development, through various programmes, especially through the Educational Resource Centre in Coonoor.
ISSU was formed in January 1876 at a conference of eight
missionary bodies at Allahabad under the leadership of
Rev. Dr. T.J. Scott, a Methodist educator.
From its inception, ISSU has actively promoted Christian
education and nurture through its curriculums and training
programmes in South Asia and from China to Egypt.
Curriculums Since 1900
About 1890, Professor William Rainey Harper of Yale Theological Seminary designed a more systematic study of the Bible for use in Sunday schools adjusted to the ages and capabilities of children in the schools. He produced a series of lessons on the life of Jesus Christ for the elementary, intermediate, progressive, and advanced students. Professor Harper later became the president of the University of Chicago. While he was president he called a conference with members of the staff of the Divinity school. He conceived a plan for a systematic series of textbooks for the study of the Bible for all pupils from kindergarten to adults. In 1900 the first volume, The Constructive Studies in the Life of Christ was published serially in Biblical World and reprinted in monthly pamphlets and finally in a book form. The volumes covered one school year of work. Music, handwork, illustrations and maps were carefully prepared. These books were the forerunners of Sunday school curriculum to follow.
Reproduction of materials from Europe and the United States and their translation into several Indian languages were the initial publications of ISSU. Commentaries with illustrations on the International Lessons were printed in 20 languages. Forty editors were hired for this work. ISSU considered this an important part of its mission to churches in rural areas where no missionaries were present.
The India Sunday-School Journal, started two years after ISSU was
formed, was published monthly. It contained information and
instruction on Sunday school work and notes on the lessons.
Lesson notes took up the most space in the journal. It was printed
in English and was considered “the missionary in print.”
Annual examinations on the International Lessons were held
nationally. At first, the examinations were administered quarterly,
then half-yearly and finally yearly as the number of students
taking the exam grew. From 1886-1910, the number of certificates
granted to teachers and scholars reached 1, 03, 000. Setting the
exams, distributing the printed lesson notes, and grading the papers involved considerable staff time. The annual examinations continued until 1977.
Two major curriculum projects were undertaken in 1959: Light of the Bible series broadly graded for rural Sunday schools and graded for urban Sunday schools. These were later translated into 14 regional languages.
An outline of Religious Education syllabus Believing is Living for classes 1-12 for day schools was published in 1973. Excellent reviews appeared in the NCC Review, World Council of Churches Education Newsletter, Christian Education of the NCSA Council of Christian Education. This was the first graded day school curriculum in an outline form that was published with indigenous authors.
In 1963, on a specific request from the church schools and schools in general, a series on moral education for day schools My Life at Its Best with the legendry Marjorie Sykes, as the general editor, was published in 1968 through Orient Longmans. These books were used extensively in day schools building the moral fabric of the nation.
Based on the UN theme for the year, a series of booklets in the form of plays and biographies were produced every year for the World Sunday School Day. In so doing, ISSU contributed to students’ appreciation of critical global issues.
Windows to Encounter - Transformational Learning in Sunday School Curriculum
The major production effort since 1996 is the day school and Sunday School curriculum, has been Windows to Encounter, from K to12 with teacher’s guides. The curriculum is based on a theory of transformation – of nature, psyche, society, and culture – developed by James E. Loder, who began the development of theory in Harvard University in dialogue with Talcott Parsons and completed the work at Princeton Theological Seminary. ISSU was the first to develop a curriculum based on the theory. The books have been translated into a few Indian languages and plans are afoot for completion in 14 major languages of India.
Training of teachers was one of the thrusts of ISSU from its inception.
Secretaries organized training of teachers and annual training of trainers
nationally. This effort began in 1914 during the summer holidays
alternatingbetween the hills of the north and the Nilgiris in South India
To meet the challenges of training teachers for Sunday schools, the ISSU Correspondence College was started in 1907. It continued till 1939. With the expansion of training programmes across the country through the St. Andrew Centre for Teacher Training, it was gradually felt that the ISSU College of Correspondence had served its purpose by training 12,000 teachers at a time when it did not have the wherewithal to train people in a face to face manner.
Other ISSU Publications
It is noteworthy that one of the leading educationalists in India at that time, Dr. W.M. Ryburn, wrote a book on the Theory and Method of Christian Education and was printed and published by ISSU. It was used for Advanced Teacher Training through the ISSU teacher training programmes and for years as a textbook for students under the Senate of Serampore.
In 1924, ISSU acquired properties, Keswick and Northfield, in Coonoor, to establish a Teacher Training Centre. In 1926 the national training programme for the training of teachers was held at Keswick at the St. Andrew Centre for Teacher Training. Since then, over 100 batches have gone through the portals of the St. Andrew Centre.
The story of ISSU is one of God’s gracious provision and faithfulness. It is also a story of the faith, vision, dedication, sacrificial giving, and fellowship in the Spirit evident not only in the leadership and staff of ISSU, but in the lives of volunteers, trainees, and children. The theme has been and is that children and people grow in the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the love of neighbour. From small beginnings, ISSU has expanded into five divisions. For more details go to “Divisions” in the menu.
We invite you and your church to become involved in the ongoing story of ISSU by your participation in our mission so that the glory of God in our midst would be greater now than ever before.
ISSU in the 21st Century
The millennium ordinarily dawned and an eventful 20 years have
passed. God's provisions have been sufficient and now we are marching
on in the light of a virus stricken world which has relegated most of our
ministry to home-based work and study. However, we are transforming
our classes, curriculum and campus into a digitally accessible format
for students toaccess us globally. Sometimes, God could be more than
nudging us in a direction through the pandemic that has occupied us
since February 2020 into the month of May 2020.
Digitising our campus management, web conferenced courses and workshops delivering digital content in all possible formats have been decided at a reasonable budget and we have embarked on it in faith. As we take a step forward - we see God moving in strides. We have begun to see His provisions to meet this budget from unexpected sources and we are committed to praying for our benefactors that they would receive His best for them.