The Balancing Act of MK Education

by Amy Medina on July 31, 2016

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I can still picture them:  Miss Eager, Mrs. Sacra, Miss Davis, and many more.  They gave up a good salary and a steady career to teach missionary kids in an unstable African country.  And I was in their classrooms.

It was the investment of teachers like these who inspired me to pursue education as a career, specifically MK education.  And that’s exactly the path God has taken me.

My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right)

My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right in pink)

As a child living overseas, I experienced both MK school and boarding school.  As an adult, I’ve been involved in MK/TCK education for 12 years.  I’m passionate about MK education, and over the years have spoken to many missionaries about schooling decisions for their children.  Here is what I’ve learned.

 

First, what are the choices?  Some parents have many to choose from, others have only one.  Each has their own advantages and disadvantages to overseas life.

Homeschool:  Maybe you are called to it, no matter where you are living.  Or maybe it’s really the only option available to you.

Pros:  Homeschooling gives you complete control of your kids’ education, and gives the family a lot of flexibility.  It can make travel and transition easier, and it can be a great way to get the kids into the community and include them in your ministry.

Cons:  Homeschooling overseas tends to be more isolating than in your passport country, where there are lots of groups to join.  It also can be challenging for the homeschooling parent to get into the language and culture; and it limits external ministry options for that parent.

 

Missionary school (or Christian international school):  MK schools are not available for many missionaries, but it’s great when they are, because they are specially created to meet the needs of your kids.

Pros:  MK schools can be a great “bridge between worlds” for your kids, especially if the school includes local children.  Usually, MK schools provide good academic and social preparation for returning to your passport country and a safe, nurturing environment that doesn’t require a lot of cultural transition for your kids.

Cons:  Sometimes MK schools create a missionary “bubble” that keeps the children (or even the family) separated from the local culture and language.

 

Boarding school:  Even though boarding school sometimes gets a bad reputation, many wonderful boarding schools exist, and there are good reasons why it is the best option for some families.  I’ve known many families who said they would never send their kids to boarding school, but relented in the end because they could clearly see it was the best option for their kids.  And their kids thrived.

Pros:  For families in cultural settings where kids don’t get to experience any of western life, or if the culture doesn’t allow them to make peer friendships, boarding schools are a wonderful blessing.

Cons:  Pretty obvious:  Being apart stinks.  But often it’s worse for the parents than the kids.

 

Local school:  This is a diverse category!  There are local government schools or private schools, both in English or the local language.  These type of schools have a huge range in cost, resources, academic options, language, discipline style and social dynamics.

Pros:  Local schools can be an amazing way for a family to get into a community.  They are also one of the easiest ways for kids to learn another language and make local friends.

Cons:  These schools are often very different than western schools in culture, language, and teaching/discipline styles.  They can put kids on a huge learning curve, and parents will need to work closely with their children to know how far to push them and how much to support them.  Many times, parents will need to supplement their kids’ academics to make sure they will be ready to eventually assimilate into their home culture.

 

Some considerations when choosing:

  1. Know yourself and know your kids. 

You know yourself and your kids better than anyone else.  Regarding yourself, you need to ask:  Given my ministry calling, language learning requirements, and my own wiring, how much time and energy can I devote to my kids’ education?  Unless your kids are at an effective MK school or boarding school, you will likely need to be highly engaged with your kids’ learning.  More parents can effectively homeschool or supplement their kids’ education than they might realize, but it is important to consider how your kids’ schooling will balance with your ministry.

Regarding your kids, you need to ask:  How adaptable are my children?  Would they be able to handle school “cold turkey” in a new language?  How far can I push my kids in a hard situation without breaking their spirits?  How many transitions have they already gone through?   How will this type of education affect my child’s ability to make friends?

You might not always have the right answers, and even the right answers might change from year to year or kid to kid.  Every year and each child is different, and it is totally okay for each child to do school a different way.

As a side note, let’s remember that this is true for every family, so let’s make sure to support other family’s educational choices, even if they are different from our own.

 

  1. Remember that you are always your child’s most important teacher.

You, Mom and Dad, are the most important teachers in your children’s lives, whether or not you homeschool them.  Keep this in mind when considering their education.  Does your child’s school ignore the history of your passport country?  Then make the effort to teach it to them yourself during the summer months.  Is your child going to school in a different language?  Then you need to supplement their education with your own English lessons.  Is your child being indoctrinated by a secular worldview?  Then make sure you are actively and intentionally training them in a biblical one.  Don’t just sit by and fret about the gaps in your child’s education.  These days, there are a plethora of resources available to parents; take advantage of them.

 

  1. Don’t worry so much.

I attended seven schools growing up.  So much change was hard at times, but each school played a part in making me who I am today, and I’m thankful for those experiences.  A missionary friend told me how both her girls were held back a grade due to so many transitions, but eventually both graduated from college with honors.  As a teacher who is now raising her own kids, I am far more concerned about my kids’ social and spiritual progress than I am about their academic grades.  I know that the academics will come; the other stuff is a lot more important.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry at all.  Your kids’ education is a big deal, and you need to take it seriously.  But if they lose three months of school because of a move, or the homeschooling shipment doesn’t make it on time, or your kids’ MK school has a substandard substitute for six months, don’t panic.  In the older grades, it does get more complicated, but especially when they are young, your kids will recover.  As long as your kids are at least average learners, they will catch up.  It will be okay.

There is an exception:  If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, or if you have any suspicion he or she might have one, then you must take it very seriously.  Some learning disabilities absolutely require early intervention to have the best results.  So find a specialist to Skype with, and don’t put off getting help quickly.

 

  1. There’s never going to be a perfect situation, so trusting God is important.

Perhaps the best question to ask yourself is:  How can I best balance the needs of my children with the ministry God has called us to?  At times, you might feel like that balance is like standing precariously on the top of a sharpened pencil.

No matter what educational road you go down, there are going to be bumps.  There are going to be things your kids miss out on, there are going to be many transitions, and you will probably make the wrong decision sometimes.  Thankfully, God is holding our children, He knows what is best for them; and He can redeem even the hard circumstances of our kids’ lives.

 

This is a big issue; really too much for one blog post!  So let’s get the conversation started.  This is a great place to ask questions or share your advice.  What works for your family?  How about we hear from some MK’s themselves?  And if we broaden this discussion to non-missionary TCK’s, we can bring in other types of schooling as well.  How can you add to the discussion?  Lots of people want to hear! 

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About Amy Medina

Amy Medina has spent almost half her life in Africa, both as an MK in Liberia and now in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, since 2001. Living in tropical Africa has helped her perfect the fine art of sweating, but she also loves teaching, cooking, and hospitality. Amy is the elementary school principal at Haven of Peace Academy, and her husband works in pastoral training. They've also adopted four amazing Tanzanian kids. Amy blogs regularly at www.gilandamy.blogspot.com.

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