The education of MKs continues to be a great challenge. With the centre of gravity moving towards Asia, missiologically speaking, and with the increasing number of missionary families coming from the majority world, the challenges before us today are far greater than ever before. Many of us know that the issues facing MKs are by and large universal. Like the non-Asians, these extend beyond education; many of which affect the children far more than the academics. Nevertheless the primary focus of this article will be education and issues surrounding it. However, I cannot emphasize enough that we need to see education holistically as it impacts the whole person.
How do we work together to address these issues? It is important to note that we need one another and cannot afford to work in isolation because what af-
fects Asian MKs has far reaching consequences that impacts God’s mission. We need to continually examine the issues that confront them in a rapidly changing missions context. This is so crucial to ensure that those whom the Lord called to serve in their respective locations are able to do so as each one of
us as caregivers address these issues head-on. The result will certainly promote missionary retention.
My husband and I have been with SIM for about 30 years. We raised two TCKs who experienced a range of education options from home-based education
kindergarten, boarding schools then integration back to the Singapore local schools from primary, secondary, junior college and university levels in Singa-
pore, UK, Canada and Ghana. Times have changed since then; there are increasing new field locations, where traditional options are not available. Asian parents are obligated to explore new options (though these are not new at all for most Westerners).
As the SIM East Asia Personnel Director for 16 years, I had more than 20 Asian children under my care. There were about 5 to 6 different mother tongues involved, with 4 variations of Chinese alone – Cantonese in Hong Kong, Mandarin in Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. These MKs came from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and India. A couple of children are from international marriages. I have been actively involved in TCK ministries over the years. Now I represent SIM on the board of Asia Education Resource Consortium and am in SIM International serving as Member Care and MK Education Consultant.
1. High Cost of International Schools
More overseas Asian workers are led to go into a Central Asia country today. Amongst the education options for children, international school seems to be the only choice, if available in the area. One disadvantage is that it is extremely
costly. But as Asians hold education high in priority, very often parents will make sacrifices to enroll the children at such schools. Most parents, if not all, consider education is best in the hands of professionals and qualified teachers.
2. North American Curriculum
When children have most of their education in schools with North American curriculum, it will be a real challenge for those coming from mono-cultural and monolingual countries to integrate back into the school system in their home countries. It is a costly reality as we have seen families moving to the USA so the children can complete their tertiary education there. Another reason is that the children’s mother tongue competence is inadequate to meet the high academic entry requirement.
3. No second language offered in International Schools
These schools in Central Asia often do not offer Chinese as a subject. As a result, ironically the Asian children who lived there are returning to their home
countries like Singapore, unable to meet the required standard of Chinese. Here the issue is that most Asians view education as the task of the school and
educators. As such, parents do not actively get involved in the education of their children when they are full-time in school until it is a bit too late. In-
formed choices need to be given at pre-field orientation so that there will not be surprises later on. Singaporean children without a second language struggle with fitting back into the local education system. However, one can opt out if one is away for more than three years and still planning on living overseas.
Foreign languages like French, German or Japanese can substitute instead. The stark reality is that the lingua franca at most local English medium schools
in Singapore is Mandarin. Hence, children can feel excluded and awkward, or worst viewed to be strange.
A parent chooses the International school because it provides children with
a platform for social interaction and friendship. Education must be viewed holistically. If homeschooling is chosen instead, children can feel isolated especially in a restricted environment.
4. Banana: Yellow on the Outside, White on the Inside.
Raised and schooled in a western environment, it is a forgone conclusion that impressionable Asian MKs will absorb the culture of the majority. Returning missionary children speaking with a distinct American accent, though cute to some, can be painful to parents. Then to have one of them state English as their mother tongue, when defined as the spoken language at home, can be a painful
irreversible wake-up call. Not only that, but often the preferred food is western rather than oriental cuisine.
5.  Security Issue and Value System
In places where there are no international schools, parents are willing to consider local schools. However, considering the restricted environment they are in, parents are wary that their young children may unwittingly divulge their identities at school which may then jeopardize their presence in the country. Besides, parents may not share the same values the children may pick up from schoolmates or teachers. (One parent was fearful that their preschooler may inevitably tell friends that his Dad was a pastor).
6. Home-based Schooling:
a. Language Limitation/No Asian Curriculum
More families are now open to home-based education, given the situation where local, international schools or boarding schools are not available options. The problem here is that there are still no Asian home-school programs. Most Asian families adopt American curriculum. Some, especially, non-English speakers, struggle in digesting the instruction manual material. In
any case, Asia is not one country like North America, UK or Australia. To work out one’s own curriculum and teach it is quite a challenge even for a qualified teacher.
b. Collaboration
The results of a national mission survey indicated that MK education needs is the major cause of missionary attrition in Singapore. Seminars for church and mission leaders to create awareness of the complex MK issues and needs are very helpful. Then to interface with others who have sent out missionary families are great dialogue platforms to learn and collaborate. With the increasing number of families going out to serve cross-culturally, the needs are
increasing rather than reducing.
Our number of missionary children are growing and I am an advocate for Asian MK care. It has been most encouraging to read reports and hear what Ko-
rea is doing through the Korea World Missions (KWM). A number of MK camps have been organized annually where their adult MKs minister to younger ones Schools in Korea have been accommodating the kids returning home and investments are being made on MK personnel by KWM. The realities in South-East Asia may be different. But things are easing up in some countries. I have
just been told that Hong Kong children can gain entry into local university with English and a foreign language. The mother tongue requirement is no more
compulsory. Singapore had eased this, years ago when our children were entering into the local schools in the 80s and 90s. Just on 26th August 2006,
the local newspaper headline read, “School placement easier now for returning Singaporeans”. With this new scheme, the stress of returning missionary
families will be immediately lessened. The parents do not have go from school to school but can just apply directly to the school of their choice. Those going into secondary schools and junior college however will still need it, but now there is a centralized test held annually and kids can register online at
Praise God that because a few are willing to be vulnerable and share their stories, mission leaders and churches in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Ma-
laysia and Korea are growing in their understanding and awareness.
The challenges are many and at times no answers are on the horizon. In small ways, mission agencies and schools are grappling with the issues and trying to address them more and more. Working together in various consortiums and bearing one another’s burden in addressing these global needs is breaking new ground. The desire is to pave the way for more to be sent where the Lord calls His workers.
Belinda is a Singaporean missionary with SIM International who served with her husband, Andrew in medical missions in Niger Republic, West Africa from 1977 to 1989. Their two sons were raised in Africa (one was born there), did
homeschooling for Kindergarten and went to boarding school from an early age. Due to military service requirements, they had to bring their sons back to Singapore where Belinda, as Personnel Director, worked closely with Andrew, the East Asia Director, to care for the Asian missionaries sent out to South America, Africa and Asia.
Belinda is now based at SIM International office as Member Care and MK Education Consultant. Also as Special Assistant to her husband she assists in the member care of missionaries serving in the Asia-Pacific. Preparing families and working with parents to choose suitable education options for their children education continues to be a challenging task. Through networking with agencies and church partners, she seeks to create awareness of issues and needs families face when bringing up children overseas. A passionate advocate of missionary care for Asia, she continues to be an Associate of World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Missions Commission on the Global Member Care Network.
Article extracted from Asian Mission 2008 July Issue.