Education, education, education

Hebron School, India, many years ago

It’s not just Tony Blair*.  Parents everywhere make the education of their children one of their top priorities, and mission workers are no different.  One of the major obstacles to people going in mission is the fear that their children’s education might be compromised as a result of their time overseas, and one of the major causes of attrition is mission workers returning home to get their children into their home country’s education system.

While many parents fall into the simple trap of assuming that education overseas cannot possibly be as good as the state education in their country of origin, the truth is often very different, and here are some of the possibilities you can investigate abroad:

Local schools.  Believe it or not, some countries have excellent schools!  Advantages: it is often cheap or even free, children engage with the language, history and culture of their country of residence, and make local friends.  Disadvantages: the final qualification may not be internationally recognised.

British schools abroad.  There are many schools overseas which follow the English curriculum.  Advantages: children stay within the English curriculum, facilitating UK schooling during home assignment and entry into the UK university system.  They make friends from within their home culture (though some of them may have a much higher socio-economic status than mission kids, leading to potential discontent).  Disadvantages: high fees, though many schools can be persuaded to grant bursaries as mission kids broaden the social profile of their school.

Find a list at http://www.expatandoffshore.com/british-schools-abroad/

International schools.  Most large cities have a number of private schools teaching in English, and some of them achieve very high standards.  Advantages: children engage with the language, history and culture of their country of residence while learning in English, and make international friends (though some of them may have a much higher socio-economic status than mission kids, leading to potential discontent).  Disadvantages: high fees, though many schools can be persuaded to grant bursaries as mission kids broaden the social profile of their school.

Christian schools.  In order to facilitate mission, there are Christian schools in many countries, often with boarding facilities.  Advantages: children are educated within a Christian environment and make international friends.  Disadvantages: many of these schools follow a US –style curriculum which may not be relevant to other nationalities.  If your child is a boarder you have the pain of waving goodbye to them at the start of every term.  More information about locations of Christian schools is available by emailing info@syzygy.org.uk.

Home education.  There are a wide variety of options for home education including online schools and written curricula, many of them Christian.  Advantages: children can stay at home while continuing their education, which may follow the curriculum of their passport country.  Disadvantages: discipline can be a problem, due to confusion between the role of parent and teacher, and one parent may in effect work full-time as a teacher.  Children can also be isolated from others their same age and not develop social skills through interaction.

We realise that educational choices are a minefield, full of pressure, doubt and ‘what ifs’.  Many agencies have a TCK advisor who can help you explore the options more fully.  But for us the key question is: if you can trust God for your ministry, can you trust God for your children’s future?  In conventional thinking, we are very much aware that university, job, security, and income all depend on how well we do at school.  However as Christians we have a different mindset: while we want the best possible education for our children we are very much aware that which doors are opened to them in life depends far more on the grace of God than on their exam results.  And a good education consists not only of grades but in walking closely with God, in the development of character, and in the ability to mix easily with people of different cultures.

*  “Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education” Tony Blair in a speech at Southampton University, 23rd May 2001

School reunion

Chefoo 1970A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being at a school reunion.  Not a regular one, but one with a difference – some of the people hadn’t even been to the same campus.  They were alumni of the old CIM/OMF Chefoo schools in Malaysia and Japan, and some of them had stayed at boarding houses in the UK during school holidays from their boarding schools in the UK.

It was interesting to observe their interactions as some of them had never met before but clearly shared a sense of camaraderie.  Some were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in decades, and all were thrilled to be reunited with former dorm parents and even an ex-head teacher.

Further investigation revealed that they all felt happy/fulfilled/privileged to have been part of a boarding school education while their parents were overseas mission workers.  Yes, they admitted that being parted from their families wasn’t great, and the times they didn’t get letters in the post were particularly hard to deal with, but they clearly felt they hadn’t been handicapped or disadvantaged by their school arrangements.  Granted, this was a self-selecting group in that any adult TCKs who had anger, resentment or loss of faith as a result of being at a boarding school would have chosen not to be there, but it was encouraging to hear so much positive feedback.

2015-07-04 15.46.21A generation on and despite the advances in local education and homeschooling options, many parents still send their kids to boarding schools.  For many it’s a great experience, although aspects of it can be hard for them.  But it’s interesting how many people say “I would never send my kids to boarding school” while they’re preparing for the mission field, but then later do so, recognising that it may be the best educational option in some places.

So what does Syzygy recommend?  Well, whatever works best for the child’s overall development (which includes spirituality, socialisation, and mentoring as well as ‘just’ education).  We recommend careful prayer, and discussion with the child as to what works best for them.  And here are some options:

Local schools – mission workers often overlook the fact that local schools may have very high standards.  The advantage is that the child will gain language fluency and local culture quickly, but may not get an internationally recognised certificate at the end of it.

International schools – there are good international schools in most major cities these days, usually teaching in English.  They may be run by Christians and usually teach to an internationally recognised standard like GCSE or IB.  They may have high fees, but are often willing to negotiate so don’t assume you can’t afford them.

Faith boarding schools – there are a number of these around the world serving the faith community and while the principal drawback is that your kids are away for the whole term, they can get a good education in English, in a faith-based context.

UK schools – if your child is going to be away during the term, you may wish to consider leaving them in the UK where they can get free education.  The challenge is to find an uncle, aunt or grandparent willing to foster them!

UK boarding schools – although you may think that’s an expensive option, there are many schools which will give generous bursaries for mission kids, so you may end up paying less in fees than you would at an international school

Homeschooling – this has the option of keeping your kids at home, which is also its disadvantage.  One parent must stay home full time to teach and supervise, and being a teacher may change the nature of the relationship with the child.  There are a number of good programmes you can use which include online curricula.

For a fuller discussion of the options, and lists of various school and other education providers, we recommend you take a look at Oscar’s helpful page.

TCKs – the mission worker’s Achilles’ heel?

AchillesSending a mission worker out into the mission field is rather like sending an army into battle.  You don’t just stroll out and pick a fight.  It pays to be well-prepared.  Plans are laid.  Training is given.  Strategy is developed.  Support is put into place.  Scouting is done.  Weapons are provided.

Yet we all know only too well that no matter how much preparation is done, there can always be a chink in the armour.  Like King Harold’s woefully inadequate eye protection, or Achilles’ badly-designed army boots.  One small weakness which can result in a devastating defeat.

For many mission workers, their Achilles’ heel is their children.  Most of us go into the mission field prepared to make sacrifices for God.  Few us of want to think of our children as those sacrifices.  It’s all very well for us to risk everything for our beliefs, but to ask our children to risk everything requires a whole new level of faith, and many of us struggle to get there.  I’ve known mission workers pack up and go home not because they couldn’t cope with getting malaria regularly, but because they couldn’t cope with their children getting it.  It’s not uncommon for mission workers to return to their sending country because they can’t get the right education for their children in the mission field.  Or because their kids are not adapting well to living abroad and want to go home.

I’m not criticising them for those choices.  It’s right to look after the kids.  At the other end of the spectrum we’ve all come across TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who’ve been completely messed up by being brought up abroad and struggling to fit in.  Some have even lost their faith as a result.  That’s a tragedy.

So whether we stay or go, we need to be aware of the potential impact of serving in world mission on the kids, and take steps to remedy it.  Mission workers, agencies, churches and family all have a part to play in this.  Here are five things that we can all do to make sure that TCKs are part of the army not part of the problem.

Pray – many of us forget to pray for the kids when we’re praying for the family.  So it’s not surprising they can become the Achilles’ heel.  Pray for their health, happiness, education, sense of identity, safety and most of all their own personal, genuine walk with God.

Be informed – read books like Families on the Move or keep in touch with websites like:

Find excellent resources from the TCK Forum.  Ask sending agencies what they’re doing to support your mission workers’ kids, and keep the pressure on them to deliver.

Education – this is always an issue of great concern.  Despite the British tendency to assume that education abroad is significantly inferior to ours, some countries have extremely high standards of education.  There are also international schools in many cities, Christian boarding schools in many countries and even boarding schools in the UK willing to make very generous scholarships to TCKS.  There are also a significant number of Christian and secular home-schooling programmes available.  You can read more about this on the Oscar website.

Healthcare – nobody enjoys the thought of a child being sick.  Good health insurance is vital, one which pays for medical evacuation to a first-world country if necessary.  However TCKs may be no less safe in the field than they would be in the parents’ sending country, the risks may just be different.

Support – from simple things like remembering birthdays and Christmas to making sure that TCKs get an opportunity to connect with each other through events like reconnect or websites like those listed above, make sure the family knows what support is there for them.  There are also plenty of TCK specialists around who can provide care or counselling if necessary.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

TCKs don’t have to be sacrifices.  With appropriate care and support, they can thrive and make the most of their international experience as global citizens.

Getting your TCK into a UK university

Is it going to happen for TCKs?   (Source: www.sxc.hu

Is it going to happen for TCKs?
(Source: www.sxc.hu)

One of the concerns at the back of the minds of UK mission workers with children is how to get their children into a British university.  The standard understanding around the world is that you have to return to live in the UK for three years in order to establish the right to get your kids into university, but this is not strictly true.

The situation revolves around that vexed question of ordinary residence which we have already encountered when thinking about income tax (see Tax doesn’t have to be taxing and Statutory Residence Test).  You don’t have to be physically resident in the UK to be ordinarily resident.  If you are UK citizens who would live in the UK if you weren’t working for a mission agency, you are considered resident even if you are ‘temporarily’ abroad for your work.

This means that the children of UK mission workers should be eligible for university entrance and student loans even if they have never lived long-term in the UK.  However even if you fill in all the application forms correctly, many universities are wrongly categorising Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as international students.  While this situation is usually corrected on appeal, this process can take time, so don’t leave it till the last minute to submit the forms.

The Global Connections TCK Forum. considers issues such as this and has some very helpful resources listed on its webpage, including a very helpful paper by Steve Bryant and a powerpoint by Ann Christian which presents the issues visually in a helpful manner.

If you are having difficulties persuading a UK university to accept that your TCK is ordinarily resident, please contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk and we will try to enlist help for you.