When we were heading out to the field, we were asked by more than one person, “How are you going to educate your kids? How will they go to school?” A major deterrent for families considering missions and a common cause of missionaries’ premature return from the field is concerns about their children’s education. It is a challenging issue, but many missionary families have found solutions with support from others in the Christian community.
Some families start off by sending their children to local schools in the country of service for a few years, so that children can learn some local language and make friends. However, the children also need to be prepared for their eventual return home. For families serving in cities, international schools may be an option, although the fees are often prohibitively high. For families serving in remote locations, the options used to be either homeschool or boarding school. However, in recent years, less-traditional solutions have emerged.
Homeschooling can be a challenge for some families. Where there is no international school within reach, some families have joined forces to set up learning centres, which are essentially small, less formal schools. Setting up a learning centre enables families to share resources, remain in the field longer, and frees the parents to spend more time on their ministries.
One such centre in a small Asian city serves 16 children (aged 6–11 years) from nine families. The centre has a teacher and a teacher’s assistant, and parents help out where necessary. The teachers have to be flexible to cope with multi-grade classes as well as a multicultural student mix. In addition, the teachers have to be creative and resourceful. Such schools have a warm, family feel, and children benefit from close attention from the teachers.
Although the teachers may seem to be quite isolated, they can call on a supervisor (located elsewhere) at any time, and there are also opportunities to participate in conferences and retreats to meet and share with others in similar situations. And they are always much-loved and highly-valued members of the community!
Some parents homeschool for the earlier years, but feel ill-equipped to cope at higher levels, especially in Maths and Sciences. An innovative solution to this has been pioneered in some areas for older students (grades 7–12) — modular schooling! Students receive intensive instruction for one week a month in a central location, and also get to participate in group activities with other teenagers. For the rest of the month, they study at home while supervised by teachers via email. Parents may have to help supervise too, at least for the younger students. One such centre in an Asian city currently has 4 teachers who teach 22 high school students and 11 middle school students. (High school and middle school students attend during different weeks.)
Students learn to be very independent. Some may travel up to 12 hours by bus or train each way, and one student even flew in from a neighbouring country! During the week of school, students stay in apartments with “dorm parents”, and evenings are spent on group work, board games, movies and other activities. This is a very important factor for teenagers who might otherwise have limited social circles. Even including travel costs and dormitory fees, modular schooling is more affordable than international or boarding schools, with the benefit that students continue to live with their families while getting a good education.
Modular schooling is dependent on having dedicated teachers who are not just good instructors but also enjoy spending time with teenagers, and have a desire to serve families in the field. Administration and IT skills are also needed to support these programmes. Teachers should have a teaching qualification and be experienced in teaching Language Arts, Maths and Sciences up to “Advanced Placement” level (higher-level courses similar to ‘A’ level).
Homeschooling significantly reduces ministry time for one or both parents. Some families are blessed to be able to have a family tutor who lives with them for a year or two and takes over part or all the homeschooling so the parents are able to spend more time on their ministries.
For example, Grace has lived with Peter and Susan in a small Southeast Asian town for the past two years to help homeschool their young sons in their home language. This enables Susan, especially, to spend more time on their main ministry. Susan says, “Homeschooling my boys for three years as well as doing ministry took a toll on my health and I felt constantly overworked.” Another challenge is the many unavoidable interruptions like visitors and local events to be attended. Tutors will not be interrupted as much. The boys also get greater exposure to their home culture which will help them with re-entry when they return home.
Besides teaching, Grace conducts music, craft and play sessions with the boys and also handles preparation and administration tasks related to homeschooling. She gets some exposure to the ministry through helping out with a local song team and digitising literacy material. So besides becoming a much-appreciated member of the family, she plays a role in the family’s ministry!
Susan would love to see more tutors willing to live with families or set up small schools in remote areas like theirs. She says that there is a need more missionaries in their area, but most families will not consider it once they realise that there is no school there.
Opportunities to Serve
Teachers in the field often serve for a minimum of one or two years, although some feel called to stay for longer periods. There are always positions waiting to be filled. If you are interested in helping missionary families remain on the field, or want an opportunity to see missionary life up close, consider volunteering as a teacher! Some of these positions will not require a formal teaching qualification, but the person must be able to interact with children, work well with the parents, and be willing to serve.
Find out more about how you can serve.