The Church Educational System is an integral part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes informally known as Mormons. It reflects the Church’s commitment to education for all its members.
“This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education, and we spend a substantial part of our budget on the education of our young people. We expect them to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields. If we have a motto, it is this, “The glory of God is intelligence.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 127)
Over one million people, both Mormons and non-Mormons, benefit each year from the programs run by the Church Educational System. They include universities and other higher education schools, and in some countries, elementary schools as well. In addition, the Church operates religious learning classes and special programs.
Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is one of the largest private colleges in the United States. Two other universities also carry the BYU name and carry out the unique goals of combining spiritual and secular learning. Brigham Young University-Idaho is located in Rexburg, Idaho. Brigham Young University-Hawaii is located in Laie, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu and, as an extremely diverse school, has the additional goal of promoting peace internationally.
Teenagers in public, private, or homeschool high schools attend a weekday class known as Seminary. During the school year, they meet each school day, through a release-time program or very early in the morning before school, to study the scriptures in a more in-depth way than they are able to do in a brief Sunday School class. This four year program has one year each of studies in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and Church History, which includes reading the Doctrine and Covenants. Students in these classes are required to complete a schedule of scripture reading daily and to memorize important scriptures in the books they study.
Young adults attend a similar program known as Institute of Religion. They study the scriptures in a program that combines scholarly and spiritual knowledge of the scriptures and religious topics. In locations where there are sufficient students, an Institute of Religion building is often placed near a college campus. There, students may enroll in several classes and also meet other LDS students for socialization and spiritual strengthening. In other areas, classes are generally held one night a week at a church building. Firesides, special meetings with a speaker on a specific topic, are regularly held, and special broadcasts are also scheduled for students around the world; these broadcasts often include talks from the General Authorities of the Church.
Each summer, the Church operates Especially for Youth programs, often called EFY. Centered around the current theme for the youth program, teenagers ages fourteen to eighteen attend for one week and hear speakers from the Seminary and Institute programs. There are also social aspects, such as a dance and variety show. This program helps strengthen testimonies and also allows teenagers, particularly those from areas with few Mormons, to make new LDS friends and to spend a week with others whose values match their own.
An annual Women’s Conference is held each year at Brigham Young University, a Mormon-owned school. It is co-sponsored by the university and the Relief Society, the women’s auxiliary of the Church. This two-day conference allows women to focus on their spiritual and temporal lives with a variety of workshops. At a recent conference, workshop choices included classes on practical subjects such as caring for aging parents, financial management, and single parenting. Spiritual workshops covered topics such as finding strength in the Savior, the atonement, dedicated discipleship, and women as peacemakers. The conference also includes a large humanitarian service project.
Brigham Young University also hosts a weeklong Education Week for adults, with sessions for teenagers ages fourteen to eighteen as well. A thousand topics are available to choose from over the course of the week, and couples often attend together.
In 2001, the Church established the Perpetual Education Fund. This allows returned missionaries and some other young adults in developing countries to receive formal job training and education in their own home areas. The funds were established through donations made by Mormons, and each recipient is asked to repay the loan. The repayment money is then placed back into the fund to educate others. Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the Church when the program was announced, said:
“Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training. Education is the key to opportunity. This training must be done in the areas where they live. It will then be suited to the opportunities of those areas. And it will cost much less in such places than it would if it were done in the United States or Canada or Europe.” He explained that although welfare efforts are commendable, this would not be a welfare program and there could be no stigma attached to participating, since the student would repay the loan after achieving employment. He emphasized the importance of teaching people to care for themselves and their families as far as possible.
This is a guiding principle in the education programs of the Church. Where possible, members are taught correct gospel principles and practical skills and then are able to use them to be self-reliant.