This is an article from the April 1986 issue: What About the Kids?

What About the Kids?

What About the Kids?

"One of the most burning questions in the hearts and minds of virtually every couple who has ever considered missionary service is what they will do in the way of educating their children," said Elsie Purnell, a staff counselor with the US. Center for World Mission and OMF missionary who served in Thailand. She was discussing the need for the "MK (Missionary Kid) Education Symposium" held at the U.S. Center for World Mission November 15, 1985.

"Many couples think there are no educational optinns_boarding school is all there is. So they have decided they will never go to the mission field,

"Others say, 'Maybe after the kids are out of the house, then we can go, but not now."

Most of these people don't know what choices are available to them. The fact is, there are options, good options! Boarding school may be an excellent option. We aren't interested in arguing for boarding school over other choices. We just want pawk things that may be available to them and their families,"

The MX Education Symposium described at least 12 options.

Panelists included Jim Smotherman, former principal of Wycliffe's school in Peru, and currently assistant superintendent of children's education in Wycliffe Bible Translators' Personnel Department; Dr. Ed Danielson, clinical psychologist, chairman of the Counseling Department, Christian Heritage College, San Diego, and author of MK: Missionary Kid; Carol Richardson, member of the on going Steering Committee of the International Conference on MK's; and Dr. Virgil Olson, then president, William Carey International University and former general director of the Baptist General Conference Board of Missions.

A couple of speakers prefaced their remarks with general comments that provide a good overview of the kinds of attitudes and perspectives one should bring to any discussion of MX education.

Dr. Danielson made a comment about a change he has seen within mission agencies. "In years past." he said, "it was not uncommon for boards to send people into a situation and get something starred and then think about children.

"Today, almost across the board, mission agencies are not only looking at the opportunities God gives them to work in different parts of the world, but, before they go in, they are saying, 'ti we go in, what about kids?' I'm excited about that change."

Mr. Smotherinan stressed the importance of parents being flexible and open to discerning the will of God in specific circumstances. "Those engaged in missions, by the very nature of the task, must be flexible in lifestyle and also in the matter of caring for and educating their children. For the missionary and mission board, it is safe to say that there is no one way that is best Ic care for and educate children,"

Besides a general overview of each of the 12 options listed below, the Symposium included a lengthy and practical question and answer period. In addition to the panelists themselves, several missionaries and MIC's were able to share their down to earth insights into such questions as, "What part do singles have in the lives of missionary families?" "How do you handle the situation when the dorm parents' standards or forms of discipline are different from the parents'?""How did you educate your children at twine?" "What about furloughs?"

A cassette recording (two cassettes) of the Symposium is available for $5.50 from the Center's media department (see Order Page, inside back cover).

A brief report of some of the key items brought out by the panelists follows.

Home Schooling Options

1. "Pure" Home Schooling. Where missions have allowed

freedom for parents to take care of their children's education, many missionaries have taught their children in their own homes. There is a whole generation who grew up under the Calvert Conespondence Course. Home schooling, in that context, is not new. The Calvert course was developed early this century.

But home schooling, as defined by many today, is more titan merely teaching one's children at home. It is a total philosophy of education. That is different from what has occuned in the post on the mission field where parents taught their children at home because there were no other options.

There are advantages to home schooling:

  1. Parents have an intense interest and concern for the success of their children; they have a partiality toward their children that encourages their children to succeed.
  2. Children lend to learn better with fewer children.
  3. There are more adult child interactions in an ordinary day: perhaps 200 or more, versus an average classroom experience of maybe 10.
  4. The child is freer to explore and think,
  5. Because self directed, the child is free of some of the pressures of competition.

Yet home schooling especially a rigid interpretation of that philosophyis not a perfect solution in all cases, and it can have serious difficulties when imported to the mission field.

  1. If one really believes, totally, that home schooling is God's will for everyone, then it may he very difficult to live with others who am doing "less than God's best," and it can become a point of conflict and disharmony.
  2. Not all mission settings lend themselves well toward home schooling. For instance, many missionaries in isolated contexts become the sole [Inks between the group in which they are working and the outside world. That in itself is an immense task; add to it the responsibility of teaching one's own children without outside assistance can be overwhelming.
  3. The wife is frequently limited in her involvement in ministry when she is responsible for teaching children. What happens when children come along and both mother and father have been trained to do mission work? Must it be assumed that the mother has to leave the work?
  4. Not all mothers or children can separate the role of teacher from the role of mother. Major family conflicts can result,
  5. Not all mothers and children can cope with the intense relationship of daily, one onone teaching.
  6. Those with a rigid home school philosophy often neglect the opportunity to use other educational resources available to them resulting in a lower quality education than might otherwise be had.

A missionary mother wrote a poem:

Teaching kindergarten was fun all right.
Teaching first grade was still a cinch.
Teaching second grade and kindergarten I felt the pinch.
Teaching first and third grade, my schedule was tight
And next year: grades K, 2, and 4 are in sight.
If I'm not mistaken, there's trouble ahead.
Oh Lord! Please give me strength or send a teacher instead.

Maintaining many of the strengths of the home school philosophy, yet providing some of the help and support that many parents find they need, the following two alternatives have been recently developed.

2. The Traveling Teacher.

Wycliffe has families scattered all over Ghana, The parents in each of these cases are totally responsible for teaching their own children. Yet to help them, Wydiffe has established a classroom sized resource center filled with textbooks, reference materials, artwork, paper, etc. This center is staffed with three teachers, each of whom has classroom and curriculum experience, and is gifted hi working oneon one and in diagnostics.

Parents around Ghana can call on these teachers and ask fm their assistance. The teachers are available even to go to live with a family for a month if they want it. The teachers will teach the children, if that's required, or will teach the parents how to teach. Whatever the need, the teachers are available to provide assistance.

This 'Traveling Teacher" plan has all the advantages of home schooling, yet takes away some of the lonesome, overwhelming feelings parents may have while attempting to teach their own children in an isolated context.

3. The Field Education System.

The Field Education System (FES) is being developed right now in Guatemala. The concept is similar to the Traveling Teacher except for one major point. Whereas in the Traveling Teacher plan the parents develop the curriculum and lesson plans and take on primary responsibility for educating their children, in the FES the teacher takes primary responsibility.

In the FES, a teacher in a centrallylocated curriculum center builds a themebased curriculum that integrates science, math, cultural studies, language skills, etc. The parents and children then come to the teacher, the teacher maps out a nine week strategy for the patents to pursue with their children out in their field locations, and the parents and children carry out the plan. Alter nine weeks, the parents and children come back to the central location where the teacher will go over the nine weeks' work. do diagnostic testing, help the parents understand their children's learning needs, and then send the parents and children back out with a new plan and strategy.

This pattern is repeated three times each academic year.


  1. The program allows children to slay at home with their parents and friends.
  2. it is flexible, giving children who have difficulties with textbook and correspondence work a program that meets their needs.
  3. It uses the local environment as an educational "laboratory."
  4. It is an independent, personally , and professionally designed program.

Disadvantage: it can mean tremendous navel expenses for the missionaries. This can be alleviated, at least partially, by having the teacher go to the family. But either way, there is a significant cast involved.

In Guatemala, those who are participating in the program love it.

Another twist on the home schooling idea is:

4. The Local Coop School.

In this plan, the parents get together and team teach using correspondence courses. This plan has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as "pure" home schooling, except it alleviates some of the pressure upon parents.

Boarding Schools

As suggested by the comments of many potential missionary candidates, boarding school is an option they seem to want to avoid at all costs. Yet several studies have been done that show no adverse effects upon children in aboarding school environment. "In fact," said Dr. Danielson, "in one study, the assumption going in was that the earlier a child is sent to boarding school, the poorer his self concept will be. When it was all over, the psychiatrist who was doing the study said, 'lam sony that my statistics don't prove what I set out to prove!'

"Another study was done. This one used the idea of self esteem rather than self concept. The same basic hypothesis was used going into the study: that self esteem would be lower the earlier a child went to hoarding school. At the end of the study, the researcher said, "My statistics don't prove what I set out to prove. In fact, if anything, they prove that the earlier the child boards, the greater his self esteem!"

Danielson said no studies have been done to try to determine why these suits were obtained, but he hypothesized that one major factor has to do with the quality of time spent when the parents and children are together.

"When children go to boarding reboots," he said, "they have many positive inputs. The parents give all the input they can to a child they know is going to go to boarding school. They give quality time. They schedule their time and spend it with their children very carefully. There's no thought of, 'Well, we'll spend the time next week.'"

"So the parents are doing this, the staff at the schools are doing this, and the boarding parents (in the dorms) are usually well chosen and provide more positive input Them is a great sensitivity and concern for these children."

5. The Boarding School in One's Home Country.

Missionaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s frequently left their children in their home countries. Up until the 1940s and 'SOs, many missions had policies that they would never establish a high school on foreign soil. This meant that parents had to look for other options. And so the boarding school "back home" was common.

Today, this option is less common than it was at one time, yet several schools are still around.

The advantage: students me enculturated in their "home" culture.

Disadvantage: it is very hard on family relations, especially during the teenage years.

Another option that has been used by some missionaries is to have

6. The Children Stay with Friends or Relatives,

a. In the Home Country.

This option is not too common, but may he chosen when a couple is on the move a lot and their children would be better served by a more stable environment Another factor contributing to this core is a parents not h wishes to have their children enculiurated in the "home" culture.

Advantages and disadvantages are similar to those of the boarding school in one's home country. One additional factor the personal involvement of relatives can often lead to extreme care¬either extreme harshness ("trying to set the child straight') or extreme laxness Cthe poor thing is being so mistreated...

b. On the Field.

Circumstances under which the parents labor, either long or short term, may make this a good option in order to enable the children to attend a local mission or international school. This is not an uncommon arrangement. Parents see their children quite often and the track record is good.

An option that some parents choose is to send their childern to a:

7. Mission Hostel in One's Home Country.

As with other "back home" kinds of options, this is less common than it once was. None of the panelists knew of a hostel program available today in the United States. OMFs last hostel in the U.S. closed just two years ago. In the United Kingdom, however, several missions still have hostels.

Under this plan, children go to public school but stay at a mission sponsored home. The advantages and disadvantages of this system were not distinguished from other "back home" options during the Symposium, yet afterward, one missionary said, "Unlike the boarding scs, in the hostels there is a definite home atmosphere, and this is important!"

Nowadays, the boarding school option most commonly chosen is the

8. Mission Run School "On the Field."

Most of these schools were raised up as better alternatives to the boarding schools and mission hostels back in the home countries. Them am two types of mission run schools.

a. The Single Mission School.

A single mission school is what the name implies it is owned and operated by a single mission organization. One of the advantages of these schools is that the staff and dorm parents are usually well-acquainted with the parents. This gives these schools a real family flavor. Then, too, every mission has its own subculture. If children are in their "own" school, they knew they will fit, they know what to expect.

On the negative side, if the school is small, it can have such a mono cultural flavor that children who are brought up in it can have a difficult time adjusting when, later, they go somewhere else (back to their "home" countries or to multi mission schools).

At the same time, if there is room, most of these schools allow children from other missions. Some of these schools have over half their students from "outside." In these cases, other missions will sometimes run their own hostels so that "their" children can have a smaller, family type atmosphere. But when they all get together at school, there may be very little sense of being rich the "inside" or "outside." The children may hardly know which mission they am from, but just know they are all MK's.

b. The Cooperative or Multi-Mission School.

Multi'mission schools are very similar to single mission schools. The main difference is that they are owned and operated by a number of boards, and their policies are set up as coop =live efforts between a number of agencies.

Though teachers and administrators may come from a diversity of doctrinal positions, their teaching philosophies, more often than not, will be amazingly compatible. Curriculum is usually U.S based, though some schools integrate curriculum from Australia, Britain, or other countries from which the NM's come.

Though most of these schools began as boarding institutions, many are opening up to day school students. Faith Academy in Manila, for instance, has over 50 percent non boarding students. These children commute to school each day. The students who board at Mothson Academy in Taiwan are mostly high schoolers. The younger children now attend Mcnison "satellite" schools around Taiwan. They live at home with their parents, but attend schools that are supervised by Morrison.

Most multi-mission schools also serve the international communitychildren from military bases. United Nations, and the local peoples.

Other Options

9. The National Public School.

Since World War II many missionaries have found that sending their children to national schools is a viable and good option. Overall, however, this is a very small percentage of the total.

In general, the reason one would want to send one's children to a national school is because one wants to say to the nationals, 'We want to integrate and identify with you people."

This can be a very good option, especially for children with above average intelligence. Yet there are, problems.

  1. For older children going out for the first time, there is, of course. a language barrier.
  2. Customs are different. As with any meeting between cultures, clashes can result It requires sensitivity.
  3. Discipline is often very rigid certainly more rigid than we are used to in our culture. Sometimes this is a form of persecution.
  4. The teaching aids and facilities in many schools are very poor.

10. The National School Run by Missionaries.

This has generally been a more attractive option to missionaries than sending their children to national public schools.

The problems associated with national public schools are usually not so evident in schools rush by missionaries. The language barrier alone is lower since English is a drawing card for nationals, and at least some of the lessons are likely to be in English.

11. The "Third Language" School.

Some missionaries ', found good third language schools in the countries where they ate located For example. some English speaking Canadian missionaries in Indonesia are sending their children to a French school. This was the best option available to them.

12. The International School Including American and Military Schools.

As the international community began to expand particularly the American international community, the millmy, the diplomatic corp, and multinational corporations there was a need to educate these people's children. As aresuit, in most leading cities and on American military bases around the world, you will find international schools.

Missionaries usually choose international schools when other schools are not available and, considering the needs of the parents and the children, it seems wise that the children should stay with their parents and be bused back and forth to school. In other words, the international school plays much the same rote as the public school "back home."

These schools are usually well run and have good educational programs.

On the other hand:

Most of these schools are selffunded. Tuition, therefore, is quite high.

Many of those who have lawn this option have found themselves falling prey to the temptation to become part of the "international ghetto community," and failing to participate as fully as they would have liked with the nationals to whom they had intended to preach the Gospel.

Yet while there is the temptation to join the international community, there is also a great deal of anti Americanism in the non Western world and this often comes through in the schools. American MK's may have to contend with this.

Overall, the Symposium panelists and missionaries and Mic's in the audience gave a clear message. file problem of finding quality education for their children should not hinder parents who are considering missionary service. There are a number of good educational options available. If you are willing to pursue and use them, the resources are there.

(Ed: Not only can MK's receive fine scholastic training, but there are so many outside advantages to the missionary lifestyle that, all things considered, there may be no better way to grow up in ow' world today. See related article across the page. "Being an MK Has Advantages!")


There are no comments for this entry yet.

Leave A Comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.