Over a recent two-year period, the participants in IMKEC developed an initial statement of best practices for MK education, and in a third year, followed up with specifics on several recommended practices.
EACH YEAR, A GROUP of evangelical mission agency representatives meet together as IMKEC (Intermission MK Education Consultation) to discuss various aspects of the education of MKs/TCKs (missionary kids, third culture kids). Two purposes of this consultation are to develop a collective voice on MK education issues and advocate for best practices in MK education. There is also a desire to create awareness in the broader mission community of issues and trends in MK education.
Over a recent two-year period, the participants in IMKEC developed an initial statement of best practices for MK education, and in a third year, followed up with specifics on several recommended practices. Best practices is a term often used to describe the best way to accomplish a task. In order to be effective, best practices should be cross-cultural, effective in most (if not all) entities, and address major topics. The advantage to IMKEC discussing this is that participants are closely involved with MK education. They bring years of experience and knowledge to the discussion, and they see the impact of practices on the lives of students and their families.
The process began with a survey sent to a number of mission organizations. Each was asked to answer these questions:
1. Does your agency have any criteria for evaluating educational options for your TCKs?
2. What practices have worked well for your agency or school in meeting the educational needs of TCKs?
3. What challenges has your school or agency had in meeting the educational needs of TCKs?
4. What do you consider non-negotiables in TCK education?
5. From your personal perspective, what statements would you include in a list of best practices?
The results of the survey were discussed at IMKEC and additional input was received from participants. The group reviewed the survey for areas of agreement both in small groups and in the group at large and determined the priorities.
Best Practices List
From this process, a consensus was reached on a basic list of eleven best practices for MK education. This list is applicable for mission agencies, parents, schools, and support organizations.
#1. In cooperation with the agency, parents are informed and involved with educational decisions. Parents must be involved in the process. To what extent they are involved may vary from mission to mission, and it is important for families to understand mission policy as parents are considering various missions with whom they might be serving.
One couple with children ages 7 and 9 were considering specific missions to enable them to fulfill their call to northern Africa. When they discussed educational options for their children, one agency told them the mission reserved the right to determine how their children would be educated, and their country director would determine policies on the field. Another mission said that education of their children was the responsibility of the parents and the mission would support them as much as possible. The third told them of available options and encouraged them to be in discussions with on-field families who were using those options.
#2. Agencies provide support for schools that students attend. This would include providing teachers and personnel to serve on school boards. Some agencies are the major funders for MK schools, especially in remote locations.
There is increasing concern for MK schools that rely on teachers who come supported by missions or churches. Often, prospective teachers go to international schools that pay them a salary, so that they do not have to raise support. This can cause raised tuition fees for the families using the school, and thus related delays in families reaching the field due to the need to raise more support.
#3. Agencies provide support for families using nontraditional educational options. Many families are serving in locations where there is no international school. They may be homeschooling or using online schools not by choice, but because that is the best option for their location. Agencies provide support by ensuring that online education and homeschooling are valid options for families and are a significant part of the primary homeschooling parent’s job description.
Several agencies exist to provide this support in various areas of the world. These include SHARE (Eastern Europe), AERC (Asia), and the Anchor (Northern Africa). See sidebar on page 69 for contact information.
#4. Parents are encouraged to do pre-field educational planning. Some missions provide training themselves, and there are also a number of good programs from support agencies such as Interaction International (www.interactionintl.org/).
One couple who attended a pre-field planning seminar said, “The Prefield Educational Planning Seminar transformed the way we look at our children’s education. No longer are we at the mercy of whatever educational opportunities happen to be around where we live. Instead, we now have a plan and the tools to flex that plan for our kids.”
Another said, “The single biggest stressor for my wife and I….in serving overseas has been the issues and decisions regarding our children’s education. This conference has given us the understanding and skills we needed to make and carry out educational decisions that fit our family and work.”
#5. Agencies follow up educational implementation while families are on the field. This can be simple tracking or may include standardized testing to ensure children are receiving adequate education at their age and ability levels. At times, educational plans must be adjusted due to changing circumstances or the needs of the student.
One large agency requires that students from grade 2 and up be tested annually, while smaller agencies may do this more informally. For instance, one agency has home office member care staff go to regional conferences to meet with families face to face or meets with them during debrief times in the U.S.
#6. Available educational options are a component of the deployment decision. Every educational option has benefits and challenges, and educational planning is crucial to avoid crises which can disrupt the parents’ work or not provide adequate education for their children.
One mission requires families with children to draw up a Plan A and Plan B for educating each of their children while overseas and discuss the plans with their educational consultant. The agency keeps a copy of the plans so staff can refer to them when contacting the family on the field.
#7. Support is pursued for children with special needs. This was further developed at the 2014 IMKEC meeting:
• Agencies have a moral responsibility to care for families who have children with special needs and to exhibit good stewardship of kingdom funds.
• Agencies are urged to make screening of children for potential special needs a part of the candidate process in order to identify needs and provide early intervention. Agencies will need to determine the level of care needed, what is available on the field and, consequently, if the agency and/or field are a good fit.
• Christian International Schools are encouraged to maintain programs for students with special education needs as a part of their mandate to provide quality education for all MKs for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Some schools have difficulty maintaining staffing for programs that are for students with special needs. However, this can still be pursued and developed.
• Schools and education consultants are encouraged to take advantage of all resources, including online programs and written materials, in educating children with special needs.
What happens when a family feels called to missions but has a child with learning challenges? The extent of the child’s special needs must be part of the parents’ decision. In one instance, parents were adamant that they should stay on the field even after their son’s serious need for special education was revealed. My counsel for them and similar families is that this need may be a strong indicator of what God is or is not calling them to do. Thankfully, more MK schools are becoming able to provide special education to a greater degree than in the past.
#8. Agencies facilitate opportunities for professional development for all educators and consultants. Just as opportunities for further education and collegial interaction are a part of many missionaries’ ongoing learning, this should also be provided for educators and educational consultants.
One agency encourages continued education by providing special accounts or funding to cover this. It may be money that needs to be raised by the missionary or some organizations provide budgeted funds for this. An educational consultant was able to take a number of courses on consulting because of the provision of her organization. A teacher was able to earn her Master’s degree through a combination of school scholarship and raised funds.
#9. Agencies ensure that support goals include resources and support for homeschooling parents. Often, school fees are built into a support package, and IMKEC encourages budgeting for educational conferences on the field for families using nontraditional educational options. Additionally, the membership fee for educational support organizations can be built into the support package.
School tuition has long been a part of missionary support packages, but only recently have agencies become aware of the need for educational support for homeschooling families. Homeschooling overseas for U.S. citizens without the benefit of public libraries, English-language bookstores, and participation in school activities is more difficult. Resource centers, testing, and experienced educational consultants can help keep a family in this situation on the field.
A mother at a Family Education Conference in a limited access country told me that she had been thinking she would have to leave the field because of her children’s education. With support from AERC, she felt she could stay where God had called her family to be.
#10. Agencies supply staff to oversee and consult with families regarding the ongoing educational needs of their families. This may be personnel in the mission or educational consultants with support organizations. Missionaries should be informed about who is providing this care.
#11. Children must be educated in a safe environment. Child protection is an essential part of educational planning. The Child Safety and Protection Network is a collaborative network of mission agencies, faith-based NGOs, and international Christian schools intentionally and strategically addressing the issues of child protection (www.childsafetyprotectionnetwork.org/). CSPN has established “Best Practice Standards for Child Safety.”
In addition, IMKEC believes that there are certain non-negotiables in all education. Christian education is rooted in God and his word in order to help students become passionate followers of Jesus Christ and develop a biblical worldview. Education includes foundation and life skills in order for them to be prepared for college/university, appropriate careers, lifelong learning, and civic responsibility.
In light of this, non-negotiables in TCK education include the following:
1. Children must be educated in an emotionally and physically safe environment.
2. Education should allow MKs to enter higher education in their passport country, their ministry country, or other country (if desired).
3. Academic curriculum should include core academic instruction and training in developing communication skills for the twenty-first century.
4. The following crucial components of education may be part of Christian school education or may be met in other ways:
• Educators or educational consultants must understand the needs of TCKs.
• The goal of Christian education is to bring students into a right relationship with Christ so that “knowing” can permeate the entire being, prepare them for life, and enable them to be who and what God created them to be.
• Children’s education must include spiritual formation and a biblical worldview.
Dr. Dale Hawley, associate director for missionary care at Missions Resource Network, says, “The focus on the care and feeding of missionaries and their families has dramatically increased over the past quarter century.” In the two hundred years since the rise of foreign missions in the U.S., we have learned many lessons related to member care and MK education. But further research is needed, as Dr. Hawley and IMKEC found, as technology and travel changes have impacted TCKs in ways which have only begun to be understood. At the same time, the best practices recognized by many involved with MKs are helpful in anticipating these changes.
When MKs are able to receive adequate education as their parents serve overseas, there is less attrition, and this is beneficial for the children, the mission, and the kingdom. These best practices ensure adequate education as missions, schools, and organizations follow them for the sake of the families who serve.
Educational Support Agencies
SHARE Educational Services
SHARE Education Services helps expatriate families living in Europe, Russia, and Central Asia with their children’s education needs.
Director Nancy Elwood:
Anchor Education is a multi-agency group providing educational counselling, workshops, and testing for families across Africa
Chief Executive Margaret Stockwell: firstname.lastname@example.org
. . . .
Martha Macomber, MEd, is chair of the steering committee for IMKEC. She serves as U.S. Representative and CFO for Asia Education Resource Consortium (AERC). Previously, she was executive director of AERC and was interim superintendent at Faith Academy in the Philippines after teaching for several years at Faith. She and her husband served for over sixteen years in the Philippines in the areas of theological education and TCK education.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 1 pp. 66-72. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.
Questions for Reflection
1. How does your organizational policy support these best practices? What changes are needed?
2. Are there any additional practices you would add to this list?
3. What would be some possible consequences of MKs not having the kind of education for which these practices provide?
4. How can we provide support for new sending organizations or countries to provide good education for their MKs?
5. Would some of the best practices have higher priority than others?