For missionary families around the world, the education of our missionary kids (MKs) can be one of the most challenging issues we face. The choices we parents make for our MKs can bring our families together, giving us opportunities to serve together and producing well-adjusted TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who love the Lord and are capable of serving Him in many contexts. Or it can take our families off the field and cause lifelong turmoil for our MKs.
So… no pressure, right?!
There are three keys to make a wise, educated decision.
- Know our options.
- Know our children.
- Know our responsibilities as Christian parents.
The Boarding School Option
Not so long ago most missionaries felt that boarding school was their only option in educating their children. Homeschooling was unheard of, and resources were unavailable. Missionaries believed that being separated from their children in this way was one of the sacrifices that went along with missionary work.
Some missionary families still choose boarding school for one of two reasons:
- The child feels isolated and needs more social interaction.
- The parents don’t feel that they can offer the education the child needs, either through local schools or homeschooling.
While these are valid reasons, the obvious downside to boarding school is the separation. Boarding school requires that missionary parents essentially hand over the raising of their children to the teachers and house parents at the boarding school. However, Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us as parents to teach God’s ways diligently to our children, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” From my perspective, that calling is impossible to fulfill if we don’t even live in the same city for the majority of the year.
The International School Option
International schools are private day schools. They usually offer a high quality education, but with equally high fees. My MK husband attended an international schoolthrough 8th grade and enjoyed it very much. To this day he has friends of multiple nationalities all around the world because of his international school experience.
Pros for sending MKs to an international school
- Parents don’t feel capable (or desirous) of teaching their children.
- Parents want their children to be a part of sports and other extracurricular activities that might not be available otherwise.
- Parents want their children to have the friendships that a school setting can provide.
- International schools can provide MKs with friendships with other Third Culture Kids.
- There is an international school nearby and it seems like an easy, safe option.
Cons for sending MKs to an international school
- International schools are typically expensive.
- Most of the students come from wealthy international families, so many missionary kids of more modest means often feel out of place.
- The parents want their children to spend more time in the local community with the nationals than with other international children.
The Local School Option
The idea of local school is a bit more complex. In some countries all residents are required to attend local public schools. I have MK friends who grew up attending public school in Europe who today are bilingual and feel very attached to their host country. Attending the local schools helped them be more a part of the culture in which they lived.
On the flip side, these MKs seemed to have a harder time adjusting back to life and college in America since they had been educated in a different language and culture.
In developing countries, public education is not mandatory for missionaries. The education is lacking, and corporal punishment is extreme. For these reasons, most missionary parents in those countries steer clear of local schools.
However, because local schools are a good way for MKs to learn the local language and get involved in the community, some missionary parents still go that route for a short time in order for their young children to learn the language and culture. I have seen families have both good and bad experiences with this. It is crucial to know the situation well before enrolling impressionable missionary kids.
The Homeschool Option
There are many reasons why missionary families choose to homeschool their MKs. Some of these reasons include
- There are no other reasonable schooling options where they live.
- They want their children to live at home with the family.
- They want their children to be educated in English.
- They want their MKs to have more freedom to be involved in the ministry.
- Homeschooling offers stability in the transitory life of missionaries.
- They want to have control of what their children learn and give them a solid Christian education.
- Other reasons
Alternatively, some of the reasons missionary parents choose not to homeschool are
- They are afraid their children will be too secluded if they homeschool.
- They don’t believe they can effectively teach their children.
For my family, homeschooling has given my children stability in the midst of multiple international moves and allowed them to receive a quality education. Most importantly it has allowed my husband and me to intentionally shepherd them thanks to all the time we spend together.
The literature-based curriculum we use through Sonlight allows my MKs to learn about many different situations through great books, and we are able to discuss the responses of characters and compare them to Biblical responses. I love how it aids us in training our children “when [we] sit in [the] house, and when [we] walk by the way” (Deut. 6:7).
Narrowing the Options and Choosing Wisely
How can we best shepherd our children and fulfill our responsibilities as Christian parents? If we provide our MKs with a great education, great friends, and great opportunities, but fail to train them in the ways of the Lord, we have failed as Christian parents.
That is a scary thought, and the choices can seem overwhelming at first. Yet as we prayerfully seek God’s wisdom, He will guide us in making the best educational choice for our MKs. As James reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).