International Children’s Education
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Asian Children in MK Schools
by Polly Chan
Polly Chan is the Asian Missionary Kids Care Coordinator for Overseas Missionary Fellowship. Miss Chan, a native of Hong Kong, attended a Canadian university. She has been a high school teacher and boarding home parent assistant at the Chefoo School, an MK school in Japan. While there she worked to create an awareness in the missions community of the special needs of Asian MKs. Today she heads a special task force working with the growing population of Asian MKs.
Teachers and boarding school staff in MK schools have seen a change in the student body over the past decade. At one time almost all children at MK schools were Caucasians, mainly from Britain and North America. Recent reports from many schools are showing a growing number of Asian students.
The larger number of Asian children reflects an increase in the number of Asian families on the mission field. We rejoice to see more Asian missionaries. At the same time, we need to consider how we can meet their children’s educational needs and evaluate their impact on the MK schools.
Cross Cultural Issues
Asian languages, cultures, and educational philosophy are very different from those of the West. Asian children have many adjustments to make at MK schools dominated by the American and British cultures. Not surprisingly, once they get used to the MK schools, they find it hard to adjust to school and life in their parents’ home country.
Many Asian parents struggle as their children lose their mother tongue and become westernized. Simultaneously, the Western teachers and dorm staff may feel helpless to prepare these children for life and study back in their parents’ home country.
No single culture embraces all God’s goodness and beauty, but each reveals a portion. We appreciate the Western ideals of independence, critical thinking, and respect for individual rights. At the same time, we value the Asian ideals of obedience, loyalty, respect for authority, and respect for one’s elders. Not all the traditions and values of either culture are biblical, so an important role of teachers is helping students discern which values are scriptural.
The school is a natural, real-life setting where children can learn to accept, respect, and even appreciate differences. Such learning requires courage but is an excellent way to fight prejudice against other races, ethnic groups, and nationalities. It is not only a Christ-like attitude but a fundamental tool in relating to people in this international world.
Asian children need to make many adjustments. Two key factors will determine how well they make the transition to MK schools. First, Asian parents need to prepare their children for the MK school. And second, the school staff must help Asian children maintain their mother tongue and cultural identity to prepare them for reentry.
Asian parents are encouraged to think through the long-term consequences if they choose MK schools for their children. They have to understand that at MK schools English is spoken and a Western curriculum is followed. They should expect that their children will have a high English proficiency, perhaps even better than their own. However, the children may not be able to speak, understand, read, and write their mother tongue as fluently as children educated in the home country.
In Asian culture, education falls largely on the shoulders of teachers. Asian parents need to learn that they can do a lot to help their children maintain their mother tongue and develop their cultural identity. They can talk to their children in their mother tongue instead of using a mixed language. They can celebrate important national festivals of their Asian country.
Resources for Asian MK families
OMF, Hong Kong, recently produced two leaflets containing practical guidelines for parents: Arousing Asian MKs’ Interest in Learning Their Mother Tongue and Culture and Tips for Asian Parents Who Are Sending Their Children to Boarding School. You can request them from OMF, PO Box 70505, Kowloon Central Post Office, Hong Kong.
An Asian MK advisor or advisory body has been appointed in each OMF Asian sending country. In some Asian countries, the MK advisor will work with other mission organizations in order to maximize resources. At present, one of our priorities is to increase the awareness of MK needs among Asian mission and church leaders and Christian educators. Another important task is to give support to MK schools.
The Hong Kong MK Advisor has joined with other local mission organizations to set up an MK Care Group. The aim is to serve all MKs and families sent from Hong Kong regardless of their mission background. The group has just finished writing a supplemental Chinese-language curriculum for parents to use at home with their preschoolers. At present, the care group is composing a parents’ manual for cross-cultural parenting and other related MK issues.
The priority in the coming year is to mobilize Christian teachers and counselors to help MKs upon reentry during the transition period. The focus will be on helping MKs form their identity, adjust to the home culture, and become oriented to the local school. They are also exploring the possibility of setting up a Chinese MK hostel.
To incorporate the needs of all nations represented in our MK schools will require cooperation, sacrifice, and ongoing communication between everyone involved—schools, parents, and home country personnel. When cultural diversity is viewed, not as a problem to be solved but an asset to be tapped creatively, it can serve to enrich the education of every student in the MK school classroom.
Reprinted from the December 1998 issue of Parents Teaching Overseas. Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.
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