Should My Child Go to School?

CAN you imagine being unable to read the words on this page? What if you could not speak your country’s official language? Suppose you were not able to point to your homeland on a map of the world? Countless children will grow up in that very situation. What about your child?

Should your child go to school? In many countries, primary and secondary education is compulsory and often free. The Convention on the Rights of the Child considers formal education to be a fundamental right. So does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In some lands, though, schooling may not be free and may be a financial burden on parents. Let us look at this matter through the eyes of Christian parents who want their children to be literate, either through formal schooling or by other means.

Bible Examples of Literacy

Most servants of God mentioned in the Bible could read and write. Jesus’ apostles Peter and John were Jewish fishermen but wrote Bible books in Greek, not in their Galilean dialect. * Their parents evidently made sure that their children received a basic education. Other Bible writers in a similar situation include the shepherd David, the agricultural worker Amos, and Jesus’ half brother Jude, who was probably a carpenter.

The man Job could read and write, and the Bible book bearing his name indicates that he had some understanding of science. He may also have had literary ability, for his statements quoted in the book of Job are in poetic form. And we know that the early Christians were literate because what may have been their Scriptural notes have been found on potsherds, pieces of broken pottery.

Education Is Important for Christians

All Christians need to advance in Bible knowledge if they are to please God. (Philippians 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1) Diligent use of the Scriptures and Bible-based study aids can promote spiritual progress. Since God has provided his written Word, he expects his worshipers to be as literate as possible. Reading the Bible with understanding makes it easier to apply its counsel. Of course, we may have to read portions of it more than once to absorb points and be able to meditate on them.​—Psalm 119:104; 143:5; Proverbs 4:7.

Each year, Jehovah’s people receive hundreds of pages of helpful written material prepared under the direction of “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) Such literature deals with family life, customs, religion, science, and many other subjects. Most important, it contains Scriptural counsel on spiritual matters. If your children are not able to read, they will be deprived of much vital information.

 Learning the history of mankind is important because it helps us to understand why there is a need for God’s Kingdom. A basic knowledge of geography is also desirable. The Bible speaks of many places, such as Israel, Egypt, and Greece. Is your child able to locate them on a world map? Can he find his own country? Being unable to read a map may even limit a person’s ability to accomplish his ministry in an assigned area.​—2 Timothy 4:5.

Privileges in the Congregation

Christian elders and ministerial servants have many responsibilities that involve reading. For instance, there are parts to prepare for congregation meetings. There is a need to keep records regarding literature supplies and donations. Without a basic education, a person would find it very difficult to handle these responsibilities effectively.

Volunteer workers serve in Bethel homes around the world. In order for these volunteers to communicate well and to carry out their duties, such as translating literature and repairing machinery, they must be able to read and write in the official language of the country in which they live. If your children are ever to enjoy privileges like these, a basic education is usually a necessity. What are some other practical reasons for your child to go to school?

Poverty and Superstition

People living in poverty may be virtually helpless in certain circumstances. In other cases, however, a reasonable education may help us and our children to avoid needless suffering. Very few illiterate people manage to have more than a precarious existence. Children and even parents sometimes die because a meager income makes it impossible for them to obtain medical help. Malnutrition and poor housing are often the lot of people who have had little or no schooling. Education or at least the ability to read and write may be of some help in these respects.

Literacy also reduces the tendency to be superstitious. Of course, superstitions are prevalent among both educated and uneducated people. But those lacking an education may be more easily deceived and exploited than others, since they cannot read material that exposes such deceptions. Hence, they tend to be more superstitious and to believe that a spiritistic healer can perform miraculous cures.​—Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Revelation 21:8.

Education Is Not for Employment Only

Many feel that the main purpose of education is to earn money. Yet, some educated people are unemployed or do not earn enough to meet basic needs. Some parents may therefore think that it is not beneficial to send a child to school. But schooling does more than prepare someone to make money; it equips children for life in general. (Ecclesiastes 7:12) If a person can speak, read, and write the official language of the country in which he lives, dealing  with medical personnel, civil authorities, or bank employees becomes easier, even routine, rather than frightening.

In some places, uneducated children may be handed over to someone for an apprenticeship in bricklaying, fishing, sewing, or some other trade. Learning a trade is a good thing, but if these children never attend school, they probably will not learn to read and write correctly. No doubt they would be more likely to avoid exploitation and would have a more satisfying life if they first received a basic education and then learned a trade.

Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter and apparently underwent some sort of apprenticeship with his adoptive father, Joseph. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) Jesus was also literate, for even at the age of 12, he was capable of having meaningful discussions with educated men at the temple. (Luke 2:46, 47) In Jesus’ case, learning a trade did not interfere with other types of education.

Educate Daughters As Well?

Parents sometimes send their sons to school but not their daughters. Perhaps some parents think that it is too expensive to educate their daughters and believe that girls can be more useful to their mother by staying at home all day. But illiteracy will handicap a daughter. A United Nations Children’s  Fund (UNICEF) publication states: “Study after study has demonstrated that providing education for girls is one of the best strategies for breaking the hold of poverty.” (Poverty and Children: Lessons of the 90s for Least Developed Countries) Educated girls are better equipped for life and make wiser decisions, thus benefiting all in the family.

A study involving infant mortality in Benin, West Africa, indicated that illiterate mothers as a group lose children under the age of five years at the rate of 167 per 1,000, whereas women with a secondary school education lose 38. UNICEF concludes: “The level of education is hence a determining factor in the infant mortality rate in Benin, as it is all over the world.” So, then, educating your daughters can have various benefits.

Are Literacy Classes Enough?

Where needed, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold literacy classes for congregation members who cannot read. * This useful provision helps people to learn to read, usually in their local language. Is this a suitable substitute for a formal education? Should the congregation be expected to provide an education for your children even if regular schools are available?

Although literacy classes are a kind arrangement made by congregations of  Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are intended for disadvantaged adults who never went to school as children. Possibly, their parents were not aware of the importance of literacy, or there were no schools available. Such individuals can be helped by attending literacy classes conducted in congregations. But these classes are no substitute for regular schooling and are not designed to provide a primary education. Such subjects as science, mathematics, and history are not dealt with in these literacy classes. However, they may be covered in the regular school curriculum.

In Africa, literacy classes are conducted mostly in tribal languages and less often in a country’s official language. Formal schooling, though, usually is conducted in the official language. This provides additional benefits for children because more books and various other reading materials are available in the official language. While congregation literacy classes may complement a child’s formal education, they cannot take its place. If at all practical, then, should not children be given a formal education?

A Parental Responsibility

Men who take the lead in serving the spiritual needs of the congregation are to be exemplary Christians. They are to preside over their households and children in “a fine manner.” (1 Timothy 3:4, 12) Presiding in “a fine manner” would include doing everything possible to help our children to avoid future handicaps.

God has given a great responsibility to Christian parents. They should bring up their children according to his Word and help them to become ‘lovers of knowledge.’ (Proverbs 12:1; 22:6; Ephesians 6:4) The apostle Paul wrote: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Appropriate education should also be provided for our children.

A school system sometimes proves to be lacking in educational proficiency because of overcrowding, poor funding, or perhaps an unhappy, underpaid teaching staff. Therefore, it is important that parents take an active interest in what their children are learning at school. It is wise to become acquainted with the teachers, especially at the beginning of each semester, even asking their advice on how the children can become better students. Teachers may thus feel appreciated and be motivated to make a greater effort to meet the educational needs of the children.

Education is a vital part of a child’s development. “The wise are the ones that treasure up knowledge,” says Proverbs 10:14. Especially is this true of Bible knowledge. Jehovah’s people​—young and old alike—​must be as knowledgeable as possible in order to help others spiritually and ‘in order to present themselves approved to God with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.’ (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Timothy 4:15) So, then, should your children go to school? Doubtless you will conclude that they should, although much will depend on what is practical in your country. But Christian parents need to answer this more important question, ‘Should my children be educated?’ No matter where you live, do you not agree that the answer should be a resounding yes?

[Footnotes]

^ par. 5 Their mother tongue was either a Galilean dialect of Aramaic or a dialectal form of Hebrew. See Volume 1, pages 144-6, of Insight on the Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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IF IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ATTEND SCHOOL

Attending school is impossible in some situations. For example, the magazine Refugees reported that only 1 eligible child in 5 can attend school in refugee camps. In some cases, strikes close schools for an extended period. Schools may be too far away or may be nonexistent in a certain region. Persecution of Christians may result in the expulsion of children from school.

How can you help your children in such circumstances? What may be done if you have a number of children and live in an area where expense makes it impossible for all of them to attend a formal school? Well, can you afford to send one or two of your children to school without putting them in spiritual danger? If so, they may be able to help teach your other children what they are learning at school.

Some countries have what is called home schooling. * In this arrangement, one of the parents generally spends a few hours teaching the child each day. In patriarchal times, parents were quite successful in teaching their children. Apparently because of good parental training, Jacob’s son Joseph was capable of oversight at a young age.

A formal curriculum, or program for teaching, may be difficult to obtain in such places as a refugee camp, but parents may be able to use literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses as a basis for instruction. For example, My Book of Bible Stories may be helpful in teaching young children. The magazine Awake! contains articles on a wide range of subjects. The book Life​—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? could be used in teaching scientific subjects. The Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses has a small world map and tells about life and preaching activities in various lands.

Much good can be accomplished if instruction is well-prepared and tailored to the children’s level of understanding. If they continue reading and learning, they will more easily adjust to regular schooling should it become available. With initiative and effort, you can help your children to be well educated. How rewarding that can be!

[Footnote]

^ par. 40 See the article “Home Schooling​—Is It for You?” in Awake! of April 8, 1993, pages 9-12.

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What may be done if you live where your children cannot attend a formal school?