by Karen L. Mutchler
One of missionaries’ greatest concerns today is their children’s education, an issue to which mission agencies are becoming increasingly sensitive.
During the entire school year, the students prepared for their field trip to Great Britain. They choose British novels, plays, and biographies to read. Students memorized favorite poems by British authors. Some wrote to the Bureau of Tourism for guide books and maps, and others to pen pals. In preparation, the children enjoyed computer programs that taught them the geography of the region and eagerly traced their own proposed itinerary on maps. Older students wrote papers and reports based on their studies.
Finally, the day came and the entire school, together with instructors, flew to Great Britain for a 10-day field trip extending from London to the northern tip of Scotland. The children toured castles, explored ruins, swam in the Royal Dee River, and picked and devoured innumerable pounds of strawberries. They bought sweeties and shortbread at the general store, had tea and oak cakes in a castle kitchen, and enjoyed fish and chips at a local pub. They petted newborn Shetland ponies, rode in a farm wagon pulled by an enormous Clydesdale, and watched bagpipe bands and highland dancing at a village gala. They worshiped in Westminster Abbey, ate hot dogs under Big Ben, and took a river taxi down the River Thames to the Tower of London.
You may be asking, “What exclusive prep school takes elementary children on field trips to Great Britain?” These children were not from a prep school. They were home schooled missionary children en route from the field to the States for home assignment. The blessings and joys of home schooling missionary children are many, but the challenges are at times beyond description.
One of missionaries’ greatest concerns today is their children’s education, an issue to which mission agencies are becoming increasingly sensitive. Conferences and symposiums on missionary children are meeting around the world to discuss the pros and cons and implications of the various educational options. Some observers count 12 (Holzman). There are no easy answers and there is no biblically mandated educational approach (Nelson). Most all will agree, there is no best way to care for and educate missionary children (Chester; Holzman; Sharp; Wrobbel). Each child’s unique developmental needs, learning style, and temperament must be assessed before the appropriate school arrangement for each child is prayerfully chosen (Loewen; Purnell).
An increasingly popular educational option chosen by many missionaries today is home schooling, in which the parents educate their own children in the home. Most missionary children eventually go on to institutional mission schools at some point in their educational careers, usually by high school if not before. Meanwhile, the home schooling option allows the missionary family in an isolated setting to remain together during the critical early years of the children’s lives. For many missionaries, home schooling best suits their children’s situation. While it may mean lesser involvement of the wife in outside ministry—plus the added stress and strain of teaching one’s own children—in some cases it may be the best of all possible choices.
How then can we help these families to be effective in this unquestionably difficult task of educating one’s own children? What do they need most to succeed and to keep on keeping on in their isolated, overseas settings? What are the key elements for success?
In order to answer that question, I did research among North American missionary parents who have taught their own elementary aged children overseas for at least two years. The units for study were obtained by contacting home schooling parents from various mission agencies and requesting names of other home schooling missionary families.
The result was a representative pool of over 60 home schooling missionary families throughout the world. A self-administered questionnaire was sent out to this broad cross section. Fifty home schooling missionaries, 83 percent of those queried, completed and returned the questionnaire. These respondents represented 15 mission agencies andone independent group. The subjects indicated that they had served in 16 countries and had lived in many places during their careers: 56 percent have resided in an “urban” area; 20 percent have dwelt in an ‘’agricultural” area; 46 percent have lived in a “village” or “town,” and 20 percent have spent some time in a “tribal” situation.
The research guidelines required that the subjects be North American missionaries who had taught their own elementary aged child or children for at least two years. Of the 50 responses received, 43 qualified for inclusion in the statistical analysis.
Results of research
The responses were tabulated to discover what were considered to be the top 10 keys to effectiveness in home schooling of elementary aged missionary children.
Second, bivariate (two variables) analyses of the data were made to ascertain what were considered to be the top 10 factors for success by those in the following categories: those who have home schooled three or more children (56 percent); have home schooled for three or more years (80 percent); have home schooled in what they consider to be an isolated setting (44 percent); and those who are certified teachers (27 percent).
A bivariate analysis was not done for those who described their home schooling experience as “satisfying.” This decision was made because, surprisingly enough, 93 percent of those surveyed indicated that they were either “somewhat satisfied” or “highly satisfied.” Thus, the results of such a bivariate analysis would be virtually identical to the initial univariate (single variable) analysis.
Third, a trivariate (three variables) analysis was made to discover the top 10 keys to effective home schooling given by those missionaries who consider themselves to be at least somewhat satisfied with their home schooling program, as well as having taught at least three children for at least three years.
The results of all those surveyed indicate the following to be the top 10 key factors for success in home schooling elementary aged missionary children as named by those parents surveyed.
1. Satisfactory curriculum.
3. Home schooling as mother’s first ministry priority.
4. Mother enjoys and values her role as teacher.
5. Specified study area with desks or table.
6. Good relationship between parents and children.
7. Understanding of the children’s development and learning style.
8. Regular class schedule.
9. Husband-wife relationship.
10. Lesson plans.
There were only slight differences in those factors chosen as the top 10 keys when bivariate analyses were made. For those who taught three or more children, the key factors were the same as above, except that they indicated encouragement and emotional support of their mission as being vital, while putting less importance upon a regular class schedule. The data reveal that those teaching three or more years showed no variation from the key factors indicated by an analysis of the whole. However, for those surveyed who are certified teachers, they felt imagination and creativity on the part of the parent-teacher was a key factor to success in home schooling, while being less concerned about having a specified study area or an understanding of the children’s development and learning style. Missionary families who consider themselves to be at least somewhat isolated also felt mission encouragement to be a key factor, as well as good discipline of their children. They felt lesson plans to be lesser in value than of all those surveyed as a whole.
The trivariate analysis may be the most significant of all the analyses done, considering that this includes only those respondents who have taught at least three years, have taught at least three children, and feel at least somewhat satisfied with the experience. Forty-six percent of those surveyed qualified under all three categories. One would assume that the opinion of these subjects would hold the most weight of all. Contrary to the opinion of the whole, those in thistrivariate analysis felt that an organized home was a key factor as well as the encouragement and emotional support of the mission. However, they did not feel that a specified study area was imperative for success.
The surveys also revealed some other interesting facts concerning the home schooling of elementary aged missionary children. While “satisfactory curriculum” was by far the number one factor for success given by those surveyed (71 percent), no one particular curriculum was considered essential. Those surveyed listed 10 different curriculums as being used, with the most frequently used ones being Sonlight, ABeka, and Bob Jones University.
While “flexibility” was considered to be one of the top 10 keys in all the analyses, yet 66 percent of the units surveyed indicated that their children spend 16 to 20-plus hours per week in their home school study program. This correlates with the high percentage of those surveyed who indicated that a regular class schedule is key to success. Home schooling missionary families emphasize organization and discipline combined with flexibility as essential factors.
Of those surveyed, 76 percent described their situation as “pure” home schooling with a parent as teacher. Ten percent are involved in a local cooperative home school with at least one other missionary family. Seven percent take part in a field education system in which the student visits the education center during part of the school year. Another 7 percent describe their educational situation as a variation on the “pure” home school, with either an educational consultant, local tutors, or other non-parent teachers taking part in the teaching responsibilities.
It is significant to note what these home schooling missionaries felt was NOT a key to success:
• The mother’s education was not considered a key factor.
• High tech equipment (computers, CDs, videos) rated quite low, especially when compared with basic resources like encyclopedias and the availability of good books.
• The proximity of other MKs was not considered very important.
• Support groups, consulting or itinerant teachers, and home schooling publications were not highly rated as key factors for success.
It is interesting to see how well-educated the parents of home schooled missionary children are. Fifty-six percent of the mothers have done post-graduate work beyond college or university, while 85 percent of the fathers have done post-graduate studies with 70 percent of those having completed graduate degrees. It can be clearly seen that missionary children enjoy well-educated parent teachers who have made education a priority in their own lives.
Conclusions and implications
The findings of this research clearly show that relationships within the missionary family are crucial for a successful home schooling program. Relationships within the family, both between parent and child and between the married couple, are vitally important.
The survey amply demonstrates the importance of the mother making the home schooling of her MK children her first ministry priority. It can clearly be seen that enjoyment of her role and attributing high value to being a parent-teacher is key to success. It is also helpful to organize the home and to develop discipline in the children, according to those polled. An understanding of the child’s development and learning style is considered vital. It was interesting to see that very few (15 percent of all those surveyed) felt the mother’s temperament was a significant factor.
It can be clearly seen that home schooling missionaries put a very high value on the technical factors involved in educating their children in the home. Across the board, a satisfactory curriculum was considered the number one key for success. However, not everyone agrees on any one particular “satisfactory” curriculum. Evidently, while missionaries value encouragement and suggestions from their mission, they appreciate their freedom to choose for themselves. One mother said she felt it was important tohave “an adviser in the home office who is able to recommend and order materials.”
While variations on “pure” home schooling of MKs on the field have emerged in recent years, only 24 percent of those surveyed are making use of them. By far the majority (76 percent) continue with “pure” home schooling with a parent as the teacher.
Overall for those surveyed, “technical factors” rated five out of the 10 top key factors for success, with the remaining five keys spread out among “family factors,” “children factors,” and “support factors.”
David Pollock, chairman of the International Committee on Missionary Kids, stresses that we must meet the needs of the MK through a comprehensive joint effort rather than “choose up sides for a knockdown-dragout controversy over such MK issues as home education vs. institutional education.” We need to unite and respond to this critical need of missionary kids with creativity (Pollock, p. 259). Therefore, implications of this research should be sought out for both the mission agency, mission schools, and the missionary parent teacher.
Suggestions to agencies
The following suggestions to agencies emerge from the research findings. The mission should allow and even encourage the teaching-mother the freedom to make home schooling her number one ministry priority. While missionaries want freedom to choose for themselves, they also desire advice on curriculum. The missionary parent-teacher highly values the encouragement and emotional support of the mission. Contrary to the emotional support, financial support (which 61 percent receive to some degree) was considered only by 12 percent of those surveyed to be a vital key to success in home schooling. Thus, the mission agency would do well to focus attention on the encouragement of those missionaries who home school. As one mother commented, “. . . we cannot afford to send our kids to MK schools but can still be on the field because we home school.” The encouragement by the mission of the teaching-parent may make the difference between a missionary family continuing on the field or not.
Established mission schools can play a role in the home education of missionary children. The availability of a library was named by 22 percent of those surveyed as being vital to success for the home school. Mission schools could provide lending services to these missionaries who do not have any library available to them. Mission schools could provide a real service by holding seminars or workshops for the home schooling missionary community. At that time, the mission school could provide a list to the home schooling parent-teacher of the curricula they are using, display samples, provide counseling to the parent-teacher, and do achievement testing of the students. Perhaps a mission school could even have one person on staff who specializes in assisting and advising home schooling missionaries.
Finally, the implications of this research for missionaries who are anticipating or actually home schooling their children are significant. According to the majority of those surveyed (59 percent), the mother must plan to make home schooling her first ministry priority. Home schooling takes a great deal of time and effort, and needs to be a joy and valued occupation of the mother in order for it to be satisfying to her and the children. Missionaries need to focus on relationships within the family—relations between husband and wife, and between parent and child. As one mother commented: “I’d say a good relationship is THE key! Then there’s a good ‘working together.’” Discipline of children and an understanding of their children’s development and learning style are also vital. Most missionaries highly value their own library.
Likewise, home schooling missionaries should include in their budget the funds to purchase necessary reading material and other educational resources for their children. Missionary parents teaching their own children need to plan and organize: the teaching schedule and lesson plans, the study area, and the household.And then they must be flexible and use their imagination.
That home schooling missionaries are succeeding in their home schooling is obvious. Nearly all of those surveyed (93 percent) felt either “somewhat” or “highly” satisfied with their home schooling situation. Yet they are eager for help to be more effective in this unquestionably difficult task of educating their own children in an overseas setting.
R.M. Chester, “To send or not to send? missionary parents ask.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 20, 1984, pp. 252-259.
J.A. Holzman, “What about the kids?” MK Education Symposium, Mission Frontiers, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1986, pp. 18-22.
B. Loewen, “Where’s home? Closing the MK’s identity gap.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 29, 1993, pp. 53-55.
P. Nelson, “Home schooling in the missions context.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 25, 1988, pp. 126-129.
D.C. Pollock, “It’s time to pull together for MKs.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 20, 1984, pp. 259-261.
E.M. Purnell, “Issues for parents of third culture kids.” Parents Teaching Overseas, Vol. 3, No. 10, 1993, pp. 1, 2.
L. Sharp, “Boarding schools: what difference do they make?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 26, 1990, pp. 26-35.
K. Wrobbel, “Changing family expectations: implications for missions.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 25, 1989, pp. 372-378.
Shackelford, L. and S. White, A Survivor’s Guide to Home Schooling. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989.
Echerd, P. and A. Arathoon, eds. Compendium of the International Conference on Missionary Kids, Quito, Ecuador, January, 1987 (2 vols.). Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Schimmels, M.P., ed. Kids of the Kingdom: A Working Bibliography on Missionary Kids. Wheaton, Ill.: EMIS, 1991.
Parents Teaching Overseas. Dallas, Tex.: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Wade, R.E. The Home School Manual. Auburn, Calif.: Gazelle Publishers, 1986.
Buffam, C.J. The Life and Times of an MK. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1985.
Pride, M. The New Big Book of Home Learning. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1988.
The Teaching Home: A Christian Magazine for Home Educators. Box 20219, Portland, Ore. 97220.
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