by Dorothy Haile
Dramatic changes are occurring in missions and MK schools around the world. MK schools need to adapt to these changes.
My father was born into a missionary family in South Africa. When he was 11, he came “home” to England for school; while there, he lived with an aunt. This was before the days when on-field boarding schools for missionary children were common. In the years shortly after World War II, when these schools generally began to flourish, many in the world of missions wondered whether these schools were really sustainable. Missionary families in the second half of the twentieth century owe a huge debt to the Church in America, which supplied most of the dollars and personnel for what were known as “MK schools.”
Today, massive changes are going on in missions and MK schools around the world. Non-traditional sending countries are answering God’s call to global missions in increasing numbers; no longer are most of the MKs in the average evangelical missionary society from the United States. Although American children are often still the largest single national group in many schools, they may not represent the majority overall.
In addition, most of our missionary children are no longer spending a significant portion of their school career in boarding schools. Recent surveys among Serving In Mission (SIM) missionaries demonstrate growing trends that should be of interest to all who have a stake in the education of missionaries’ children. In an October 2005 survey, forty percent of children ages 5-11 were home schooled; nearly all the rest were enrolled in Christian day schools. Even in the 12-18 year age group (traditionally the age group that has depended on boarding schools), only twenty-five percent were attending this type of school. If these trends continue (and evidence points in this direction), we should be asking ourselves, “What changes do we need to consider so that missionary families have access to the educational resources they need now and will need in the future?”
Stereotypically, the MK school provides a largely American curriculum and rather little support to children in home schooling families. Some missionaries had a special sense of call to the ministry of school-based MK education and have spent long and distinguished careers as missionary educators. But in today’s world, is their ministry becoming obsolete? If more and more of their schools’ potential clients are non-American, and arrive later in their school career, do schools need to think about educating students differently? The school can take one or more of five possible routes:
1. Do not change anything. Although comfort often breeds complacency, delaying needed change forces an organization into a position of reacting rather than one of proactively moving to meet the educational needs of missionary children now and in the near future.
2. Maintain a general American curriculum and advertise the school as an American school. The school could focus on providing an education for American missionary families, the international community and national families who want an American education for their children. With such a change the school would continue in an important ministry but would look different than the traditional school. This option is most appropriate for day schools in cities, though it may be applicable to some with boarding facilities, perhaps those run as hostels by mission agencies using the school. In such a situation the school could charge higher fees because of its broader support base, even though the fees could continue to be lower than those of many other international schools. The greater resource base will allow it to expand its facilities while retaining its Christian ethos and witness.
3. Change the focus of the school’s curriculum to meet the needs of children from a wider range of nationalities while not disadvantaging those from American families. The student body would still include the international and national communities as well as missionary families, and boarding facilities could be retained. Such a curricular change would present the school with new challenges. Foremost would be the transition phase when the largest single group of children in the school (and the largest single nationality of teaching staff) may still be American. Once the change is well-established, however, a wider range of educational options would be available to graduating students.
All of the above need to also have a support network for home schooling families. This might include a resource center and staff to work with families in rural areas whose children are considered off-campus students of the school and who may attend the school at some point. One such program has been working well for Bingham Academy in Ethiopia for almost ten years.
4. Close down as a school and distribute the staff to small resource centers and itinerant home school support ministries. This option could be much more difficult to implement but may be the right choice in some circumstances. Honest assessment and visionary leadership are required if we are to provide quality education for missionary children.
5. Focus on sharing the resources of teachers and local churches. Many places (at least in Africa) are crying out for Christian-based general education, especially in countries where the national system of education has crumbled disastrously in the post-independence years.
None of these options is the only right answer to a changing world, and each carries its own complexities. Increasing financial costs, constant teacher shortages, growing diversity of constituency and more variety in educational options all pose challenges for those involved in MK education planning.
SIM has been actively involved in MK education for years and has a major part in managing a number of schools, especially in Africa and South America. In May 2004 SIM held a consultation for people involved in various aspects of MK education, focusing especially on internationalizing curriculum and supporting home schooling families. As the world of missions becomes increasingly more international, four major challenges face us: the growth of international diversity, the growth of home-based education, the importance of meeting the needs of MKs from new sending agencies and the importance of meeting educational needs in the national community.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE: THE GROWTH OF INTERNATIONAL DIVERSITY
There is growing international diversity in the mission population worldwide and thus, growing diversity of its children. In missiological terms this calls for celebration; Majority World churches are sending out missionaries and facing the challenges of evangelism, church planting and missionary care in more countries around the world. SIM is not yet as international as it would like to be; yet it is clear that the international composition of its missionary families has changed significantly in the last ten years. For example, SIM’s Korea office has grown from forty-six adult missionaries and twenty-six children five years ago to seventy-five missionaries and more than sixty children today. SIM has families from Guatemala, Hong Kong, Paraguay and Zimbabwe (to give only a few examples) as well as from more traditional sending countries. It is still true that in the schools SIM manages families from its US office are usually the largest single group; however, they are no longer the majority in most cases. These schools generally have children from the national community as well as expatriate families from the business or diplomatic communities. The education of its members’ children is SIM’s greatest responsibility in terms of MK education strategy and planning, and as the composition of SIM’s membership changes, it is re-evaluating the way its overall purpose in MK education is expressed. At SIM’s most recent consultation, staff reviewed the philosophy of MK education and specifically how it relates to the core values of SIM’s mission. During the consultation the following statement was reviewed:
In support of our purpose to glorify God, SIM is committed to identify and facilitate quality care and education options for our missionary children. SIM recognizes the special calling of missionary educators and care personnel whose roles are vital to the mission’s mandate to make disciples of all nations. As people of prayer, we call upon the Holy Spirit to empower our ministries. Our educational philosophy reflects a biblical and multi-national perspective, which seeks to develop potential for godly living to facilitate our children’s transition into the educational institutions of their country of citizenship and to fulfill God’s calling in their life.
SIM wants to live out its internationalness throughout its mission, including MK education. However, as staff discussed the statement above, it became evident that it needed to be phrased as a double negative: we do not want to make it impossible for children to return to the educational institutions of their country of citizenship. In other words, we are not requiring them to “go home” for tertiary education, but we do not want to make this an impossibility. SIM staff are aware that when children have spent a number of years in a school where the language and education system originate in another country, their transition to a passport country is difficult; our responsibility is not to make it any more difficult than it will inevitably be.
There are multiple ways in which a school can celebrate the international diversity represented in its student body and its teaching staff. These ways include: (1) deliberately recruiting a multinational teaching staff and welcoming the variety of teaching styles and expectations this will entail; (2) sensitively planning for appropriate content in materials and topics relevant to the composition of a class (e.g., history, geography and literature that relates to the children currently enrolled); and (3) celebrating significant national and cultural events for all nationalities represented (e.g., national holidays, customs and sports).
It is also important to recognize the challenge of enabling children from multiple educational backgrounds to move on to tertiary education in their countries of citizenship. Teachers and parents, as well as the students themselves, need to understand the issues involved. SIM staff talked at length about the advantages and disadvantages of using an “American” system (American general high school diploma), compared with using an internationally validated system such as the “IGCSE” (International General Certificate of Secondary Education, from England and Wales) that may make it possible for students from a greater range of nationalities to qualify for educational institutions in their own countries, while not disadvantaging students coming from and returning to the US system. The staff also recognized that adding advanced placement courses to either an American general diploma or to an IGCSE-styled curriculum significantly increases the options for most students. During SIM’s consultation, staff discussed both the advantages and the disadvantages of the “largely American” system and the “largely non-American” system, noting that many of the advantages and disadvantages were perceptions, rather than realities.
There is not a universally correct answer to these complex and emotive issues; in today’s world it is generally easier than it was in the past to transfer documentation from one system to another. By the end of the two-day consultation, SIM staff came up with the following statement regarding the above issues:
“All children will be moving to an unfamiliar school situation. We wish to affirm that the pathways that facilitate the transition to ‘the educational institutions of their country of citizenship’ could be the successful completion of:
1. American General Diploma Program (probably only for the US/Canada);
2. American General Diploma Program plus Advanced Placement courses;
3. IGCSE followed by Advanced Placement courses;
4. IGCSE followed by CIE Advanced Levels;
5. International Baccalaureate or other European university entrance programs; or
6. Recognized and documented home schooling programs.
In all situations it is recommended that all students in [US or equivalent] grades 11 and/or 12 take the US College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT I). The ACT (American College Test) is recommended by some colleges and universities within the US.”
THE SECOND CHALLENGE: THE GROWTH OF HOME-BASED EDUCATION
There is a widening scope of options for MK education and home-based education is especially growing. Since such a significant proportion of SIM missionaries are using home schooling, it is important to re-focus MK education resources.
In my observation, missionary home schooling parents are of two varieties: those who have home schooled their children before they became missionaries and prefer to continue doing so on the mission field, and those who home school because their ministry location offers no other options. In many cases the children of this second group are the younger ones (up to sixth-grade in the US system). Parents in this latter group often either request a move to a city with a school, or have their children go to boarding school for their high school years. Some of the former group of home schooling families continue to use home schooling throughout their children’s education, but many may find home schooling for older children difficult in remote rural locations. Home schooling in a mission situation usually lacks the resources and support networks that abound in many home countries. The home-based education option has grown in recent years and SIM surveys suggest it will continue to increase. We must, therefore, make it as successful as possible.
How can we provide enough support and resources to enable home schooling families to maintain good standards and good morale, even in difficult circumstances that may include an environment where the processes of daily living take significant time and energy, with limited electricity, very limited or completely unavailable Internet access and no public libraries? One option is an educational resource network such as Share Education Services (SHARE, www.share-ed-services.org) and the Asia Educational Resource Consortium (AERC, www.educatingourkids.org). These intermission resources provide consultant and support services for families in difficult locations; staff for these resources will advise on educational options, troubleshoot when problems occur and run conferences and consultancy training sessions. Both SHARE and AERC provide resources for large geographical areas, and their staff travel extensively to visit families.
Another option which may be appropriate in smaller geographic areas is having a home school coordinator based in a school who offers services to families whose children are regarded as off-site students of the school. The school may also offer standardized testing, assessment of suspected educational difficulties, the opportunity to take SAT tests or other external exams, library facilities and opportunities for children to join the school in special programs or the opportunity for MKs to attend class when the family is in town.
A third option which is receiving increased attention is the “one-room” or multi-grade school, where children of different ages are taught together or supervised as they study together using curricula from their home countries. Training for those who will teach in one-room multi-grade classrooms is now being provided in North America as part of the “PreField Orientation” (PFO) program for teachers and boarding parents, run each year by The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI, www.acsi.org) and Interaction International (www.tckinteract.net). This training is a valuable new resource for those who teach missionary children. These resource centers/one room schools have two significant advantages in today’s world: (1) they do not require much capital to establish, and so can be relatively easily transferred to a place where they are needed and (2) Internet access may increase the resources available to the teachers and children so that even online classes can be taken. Families on their own may use Internet-based education, but sharing the costs and the resources is desirable when it can be done. If the resource personnel for a small school or resource center includes people of varying language and educational backgrounds it can meet the needs of a fairly diverse mission population.
The resource center approach may be accessible to a wider international range of children; it may also avoid the large capital cost of establishing a fully-equipped school for a wide range of grades.
THE THIRD CHALLENGE: MEETING THE NEEDS OF MISSIONARY CHILDREN FROM NEW SENDING AGENCIES
We must also consider how those of us who have resources and experience in MK education can provide appropriate help for newer agencies as they seek to provide education for their children. It often takes time for missionaries to understand the importance of providing a good education for their children. However, some families from newer agencies are facing the reality that they cannot provide for their children as they would like; some are even leaving missionary service as a result. The answer is not simply to provide scholarships so these students can attend traditional MK schools; however, it is important that we see established schools reach out and share some of their resources with those just starting out. Perhaps the one-room school or resource center could also be a resource for the children of Majority World missionaries. There is a new school in Bolivia which plans to offer Internet access to Bolivian missionary children around the world; perhaps those children could be part of a multi-grade classroom. With every best intention and effort, it is clear that making MK schools more broadly international will not help all the children of today’s worldwide mission force, nor can a school provide for children of every nationality. The lower cost and more flexible approach of a resource center or one-room school might broaden the scope of facilities that could be shared.
THE FOURTH CHALLENGE: MEETING THE EDUCATIONAL NEEDS IN THE NATIONAL COMMUNITY
For fifteen years I served as a teacher and headmistress in a boarding school for Zambian secondary school girls; in my present role as international personnel director for SIM, I hear the cry for help from all sides. General education has been sidelined in missiology for several decades and there are many challenges involved in running a school. Yet we must face these challenges. Muslim countries are pouring in money and resources for educational purposes. From where will the Christian leaders of tomorrow’s societies come? Teachers have a great opportunity to reach the next generation by their contributions to academic, personal and spiritual growth. Many would argue, I suspect, that this need for general education with a Christian ethos is a different issue from MK education, and it may be. However, some of those who have taught in MK schools and who are not inclined toward home schooling support might find an exciting new career in national education, either teaching in government schools or helping national churches as they struggle to establish their own schools. SIM’s recent strategy review has brought us to a clear decision “to re-engage in general education, with special emphasis on capacity-building and [teacher] training.” Certainly there is more than adequate room for advancing educational partnerships between national church leadership and established missionary educational institutions, their educational personnel and all those with a vision for the souls and minds of national children.
Education for missionary children is an immensely complicated and highly emotional subject. We do not exist for the sake of providing educational resources for our families, but if we have families in our agencies, we have to accept some responsibility for the children as well. The changing world in which we live and work is affecting those challenges and forcing us to look at our strategies again.
All of these challenges are made harder by our chronic lack of a stable and committed force of teachers. The turnover rate of teachers in our schools and the shortage of people willing to go and serve smaller groups of children in places where schools are not available is appalling. We could be much more effective if more teachers were available; we could be more thoroughly trained to meet the challenges if teachers stayed longer in their positions. Some have seen the importance of this ministry. Although it is vital to the well-being of the missionary families, this is not only a “support” ministry; it is a wonderful opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. Teachers are watched every day in both their good and bad moments, and can serve as examples of Christian discipleship to a watching younger generation.
Is your ministry as a missionary educator obsolete? Absolutely not. The ministry of missionary educators is a vital and important role within the missions, expatriate and national communities. Would the ministry of missionary children’s education benefit from well thought out and planned change? Within SIM, we would definitely say yes.
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Education, Non-Western Missionaries, MK Schools and Sending Agencies
By Dale Linton
International Christian schools have always faced daunting challenges. However, thanks to the hard work and dedication of their schools’ staff, and much reliance upon the Lord, MK schools continue to operate and provide a necessary service to those called to minister cross-culturally.
Over the past few years these same schools have also faced a growing challenge: Majority World missionaries. As this trend within world missions continues, missionary sending agencies and their schools will need to meet the challenges that come with providing greater educational resources and services to meet the needs of this new sending force. How can MK schools, many of which are already stretched, change to meet the needs of these new students? How can sending agencies help their new missionaries understand the difficulties associated with raising a family overseas, educating their children and successfully transitioning those children back into their home country?
The answers to these and many related questions will not be simple, but they will require creativity and purposefulness. The following are five suggestions for schools and sending agencies:
1. Rethink how to deliver education to their students from multiple nationalities. This includes greater home schooling opportunities, a possibility for some Majority World missionary groups and an impossibility for others.
2. Use fiscal creativity. Many Majority World missionaries are often unable to afford the tuition costs of traditional MK schools.
3. Require sending agencies to become familiar with national educational opportunities and to evaluate their appropriateness for the children of their missionaries.
4. Have schools rethink their ability and obligation to offer multiple curriculum offerings that maximize the educational opportunities for students after graduation.
5. Make sure sending agencies provide their new missionaries with additional support and information related to their children’s well-being.
Stepping up to the challenge of becoming “culturally responsive” to the educational needs of multiple nationalities will not be easy. Fortunately, some schools are already demonstrating how this can be done. Black Forest Academy in Germany has a good record of preparing its students for post-secondary education within an American and European context. Pan American Christian Academy in Brazil and Hope Academy in Kyrgyzstan run dual track curriculum offerings for their Western and non-Western students. These and other schools are well on their way to defining the next generation of MK schools.
Dorothy Haile is international personnel director for Serving in Mission and coordinates MK education issues. She taught for fifteen years in Zambia before becoming involved in personnel work.
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