by Courtney McCutcheon
If you’ve begun reading this article because you’d like to learn about the health benefits of monosodium glutamate, you may be disappointed. If, however, you would like to learn more about an exciting new development in TCK education, you’ve come to the right place!
What is MSG?
The Modular Study Group, fondly dubbed the MSG, is a blended program, combining homeschool support with aspects of the traditional classroom. It aims to provide a new educational option for Christian workers who live in more remote areas of Asia. The MSG offers college-prep courses in the core subjects of English, math and science [Note – Additional classes, such as Social Studies and Art are beginning to make their way into the program].
How does it work?
Classes are held in a centrally-located city during one week of each month, followed by about three weeks of home study. Each course is planned and facilitated by a qualified instructor, with the parents serving as the primary monitors/teachers during the weeks when students are at home.
Who is the founder?
The Modular Study Group was created by an adult TCK for the next generation of young people who would find themselves being raised outside of their passport country. As a boy, Walt DeMoss was raised in Togo, West Africa, and was sent away to boarding school for his high school years. During that time, he rarely saw his parents. After seven years working in the Engineering field, Walt earned a teaching certificate and went to work for Grace International School in Thailand. It was in May of 2004 that the idea for a way to support families working in remote areas, began to form.
Why is this so important?
“We must invest heavily in our children’s education…if we don’t, just when our parents are most productive they will leave to attend to their children’s schooling.” Cameron Townsend (founder of SIL)
In designing MSG, Walt’s dream was to find a way to keep families on the field TOGETHER. Learning the language, adapting to the culture and building a life among a different culture, all of this takes time. Parents who answered the call when their children were young, quickly find that as their ministry finally begins to grow and bear fruit, the needs of their children are growing, as well. This can lead to some difficult decisions, and frequently ends in families leaving the field for the sake of their children’s education. Many families choose, instead, to send their children to boarding school, while they continue their work. In the past this was the norm, but as stories from adult TCKs show us, this separation from parents at such a young age often resulted in the need for reconciliation and healing later on.
Aren’t there other educational options for these kids?
Below are the primary options for families on the field. To read more on one of the options click on the heading for that option.
Homeschooling works well for some, but isn’t feasible for everyone, and becomes increasingly difficult at the upper levels. Some families have been able to recruit teachers to come and help with their homeschooling, but this is rare and often short-term. There just aren’t enough teachers to provide this service for the majority of families.
This is the most expensive option, making it a non-option for many families who rely on financial support from partners back home. International schools also limit the families in terms of location. For those called to work in a remote language area, international schools are rarely available.
Boarding schools offer an excellent option academically, but requires families to separate. Also, like most international schools, it can be very expensive.
Online schools cover the subject-matter, but don’t typically address the students’ social needs, nor provide face-to-face interaction.
What are the benefits in choosing the MSG option?
A competitive education
While the children are more focused on social needs, the parents are often starved for help, support, and affirmation that their kids are getting a good, even competitive, education. The MSG strives to set a high standard in academics, even offering AP courses when staffing allows.
All five of the girls in our pilot group lived in small towns where there were few to no other expat families. In situations like theirs, making friends among the local children is nearly impossible, due to the intense hours required by the local school system, in addition to the obvious language and cultural barriers. Add to this the tendency for expats to move frequently between their home-countries and host-countries, as well as within the host-country itself. These girls, and many other TCKs in their situation, are starved for friendship. The evidence of this was in their excitement when together, and the way they treasured each other, differences and all.
The current MSG demographic is far more diverse, and yet the needs remain almost identical. We have between fifteen and twenty students. Half come from outside areas, while the others live within the city where MSG meets. Three students actually fly into the city each month; another rides the bus for nine hours each way. Obviously, parents believe that the benefits outweigh the costs, in both money and time, inherent in the required monthly travel.
Preparation for future transitions
Flexibility is key for most families who work overseas. This does not, however, assure easy adaptability for TCKs who return to their passport countries. The MSG requires students to learn valuable skills in self-management and effective study practices. It also challenges them to work with other students, who may not operate in the same way as they do. Group work and activities require them to work through conflict and adapt to different personalities.
These are exciting times in TCK-education, as creative, non-traditional programs attempt to address the needs long felt within the M community. The MSG may not work for everyone, but is a great solution for many. It is inspiring to see parents and educators working together to create an educational program that fits their unique situation, and keeps their families together while serving the God they love.