Schooling Overseas-National Schools

National schools, or local public schools in the host culture, are a great option for many families serving overseas, especially in the way of cultural immersion and cross-cultural relationship building.

Pros: immersion in the culture, building of strong cross-cultural relationships, children quickly acquire the language, low in cost, often causes the people in the community to identify you as “on of them,” provides an easy and natural way to build relationships in your community, often a high standard of education depending on the location

Cons: religious or philosophical differences, loss of identification with the home culture, potential for teasing or rejection by other kids, less choice in which school you attend (you may be assigned a school), the schedule may be hard to mesh with ministry travel, there may be high expectations for parents to participate in various aspects of the school which may or may not work easily with your schedule, the standard of education may be too low and not adequately prepare the child for further education in the US.

Some Considerations for missionaries who choose national schools:

-Consider how to foster the cultural identity you desire your children to have. Children who continue in this option often identify more closely with the host culture rather than with their home culture. Think of how you will foster their identity with their home culture.

-Make sure you are aware of how they discipline within the schools as well as that you check for general safety. Some countries discipline much differently than we do in the US, and some forms of discipline are not healthy. There may be different safety standards as well.

-Even within the same system, there can be a large difference between individual schools. It is always good to visit the specific school that you think your child will attend to make sure you like that particular school. Also, building relationships with the teachers and administrators goes a long way to ensuring a good experience!

-Consider when and how you make sure your child learns how to read and write well in English, as well as when and how they will learn about American culture and history, etc. According to missionary moms who filled out surveys on this option, this is very doable either by adding a little bit of extra home-schooling time after school, or by focusing on these things throughout the summer and on furloughs. Nobody said that this was a burden, but it was mentioned as something to plan for.

-A number of experts advise starting your child in national schools at a young age for the sake of ease of transition. It is more difficult for a child to adjust to a new language and system when the subject matter becomes more difficult, and as in any school situation, it is more difficult to enter into social groups late than it would be if a child begins when everyone else does.

Are your kids or have your kids attend national schools? What else would you have to share about this option? If you are looking into this option, what questions do you have?

Thank you so much to Kara, E.B., and Richelle who helped with this post by sharing about their personal experiences with national schools!

(Other resources used for this post: “A Parent’s Perspective on National Schools” by Kelly Butts, “Factors in Considering a National/Public School” by Cynthia Storrs with S.H.A.R.E, “National Schools and a Child’s Self-Esteem,” Interact- Fall 2002,  Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken)

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3 Responses to “Schooling Overseas-National Schools”


  1. 1 @ngie March 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Our daughter was three and refused to speak Spanish after returning from a short furlough in the States. Before our trip she refused English. She’s an all or nothin kind of gal. Forcing her doesn’t work. So we found a fun national preschool near our home and enrolled her. The games and songs and especially all the friends helped my socialite ease into true bilinguality. I am happy we gave her that language advantage at an early age.

  2. 2 Shilo March 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    My son has attended national preschool in both of the countries we have lived in. We found it great for his language acquisition and for making friends!

  3. 3 Christy March 26, 2010 at 5:15 am

    Our four children have been attending the local Ukrainian school for 3 years now. It was a tough decision to make at first, but has proved to be a great experience for us as a family. They quickly became fluent in the language and had no problem making friends and keeping up with schoolwork.

    One of the best things about putting them in the local schools is that our family is well-known in the town, which has opened up so many ministry opportunities. My husband loves to take his disappearing thumb magic trick to the kindergarden and the kids flock around him. We have recently started an English club on Saturdays with many of my daughter’s classmates.

    We feel that God led us in this decision and pray that He will be glorified and use our family to be a light in the schools.


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