Unbound: Where did the idea for the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” Campaign come from?
Frank: The campaign theme came from the choice of quality education as the initial focus of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission’s critical global issue concerning global poverty. It was clear early on that poverty is multi-dimensional, intergenerational, and universal. In the need to focus attention on root causes of poverty, World Mission chose quality education as the initial campaign.
Unbound: So how does the critical issue of world poverty translate into the “Educate a Child” Campaign?
Frank: Substantial research supports the importance of quality education in empowering children and their families to escape from cycles of poverty. There are many ways in which education transforms individuals and their communities to live better, healthier, and peaceful lives.
Unbound: This might sound like a silly question – but how are you counting the “1,000,000 children”?
Frank: The PC(USA)’s global partners are already providing education in many areas of the world. For example, there are over 6,000 schools administered by Presbyterian partners across Africa. Our efforts will focus on quality improvements at the level of individual schools and assume that all students in that school have been positively impacted by quality improvements.
Substantial research supports the importance of quality education in empowering children and their families to escape from cycles of poverty.
Unbound: Can you tell us about some of the forms educational mission is currently taking around the world? Which of these educational strategies are long-term strategies?
Frank: Working with our global partners to strengthen quality education will revolve around several objectives including: teacher training and mentoring, administrative support and advocacy, strengthening early-childhood education, and some infrastructural assistance. These are all efforts in which our global partners and our own mission co-workers are already involved in varying capacities, but this education campaign will better organize and focus our efforts.
Unbound: Are there primary countries or general locations that this campaign will focus on? What factors contributed to choosing these locations?
Frank: Yes, we are starting by focusing on several specific locations. The campaign is evolving with direction from the World Mission area offices in discussion with – you guessed it! – our global partners. There are already partners in South Sudan, Congo, Malawi, Guatemala, Thailand, Egypt, and Iraq with whom we are planning or whose activities we are already supporting, such as those listed above. In each case, we are working with existing education programs that require strengthening or scaling up.
Unbound: In this campaign and in educational mission in general, how does the Presbyterian approach to education show its distinctiveness (for example, including girls and women, reaching under-served communities, avoiding corporal punishment, etc.)? How do the values of Christian faith come into play in this work?
Frank: We are encouraging partners to focus on education strategies that promote equity and education for the most marginalized groups. These include: the poorest children, girls, children with disabilities, children of migrants, and others who might be traumatized, orphaned, or displaced due to violence and conflict. Disciplining alternatives to corporal punishment are encouraged, and Christian values are promoted alongside educational curricula. Christian values play an important role in teacher training and recruitment.
It’s important for U.S. Christians to remember that the division between church and state is not as pronounced or widely enforced in these areas as in the U.S. and many northern countries.
Unbound: How do we partner with the churches involved? How do those churches, in turn, partner with their governments? Are we concerned with leveraging public money, or in situations of very limited public spending, are we providing a form of hope and affirmation?
Frank: PC(USA) World Mission has a long history (178 years) of working in partnership globally. Many Presbyterian global partners value education and Christian Education as fundamental parts of their holistic ministry as a church. Some partners collaborate closely with government education ministries. In many cases, they are considered ‘public’ providers because they fill important coverage gaps (on behalf of government). In education, as in health, many partner churches are providing quality services that are appreciated – and often supported – by government.
In some cases, churches of various denominations have joined together, in associations or ‘networks’, to advocate both for government financial support and for their own influence on planning, policy-setting, and curriculum development. Through such networks of Christian providers, respect for religious values and practices is maintained. These networks are also sourcing funds from international agencies and foundations to support education programs.
Unbound: What is the role of mission co-workers in these educational mission projects? Do they primarily serve as teachers? Or teachers of teachers?
Frank: PC(USA) World Mission has several experienced educators working with our global partners. They act as teacher mentors and assist with teaching methods and school administration. More education co-workers and long-term volunteers are needed to assist partners. SO, if you or someone you know is an experienced educator and interested in this campaign, please be in contact with World Mission.
In Iraq several Presbyterian churches offer pre-school programs that are predominately attended by Muslims, yet highly respected and protected by the state.
Unbound: Would you consider these educational missions a form of evangelism? How do they relate to divisions between church and state, and to religious liberty? What do the church/state divide and ideas of religious liberty look like in these countries? How do they resemble and differ from our U.S. conceptions?
Frank: They could definitely be considered a form of evangelism. Just as Calvin understood in Geneva, reading proficiency and comprehension can advance an understanding of scripture and Christian teachings. The Bible has been widely translated into many languages by missionaries and mission co-workers in the past, and it is often used for reading practice. It’s also important for U.S. Christians to remember that the division between church and state is not as pronounced or widely enforced in these areas as in the U.S. and many northern countries.
In the Christian South, there is a high degree of religious liberty. In some areas, where Christianity is a minority religion, there is less freedom and – in some cases – persecution. But this is not always the case. In Iraq, for example, several Presbyterian churches offer pre-school programs that are predominately attended by Muslims, yet highly respected and protected by the state. There are partner education programs that mostly cater to middle income families. Some of these offer scholarship support to children who are identified as ‘needy’.
Unbound: Several of the countries you’ve mentioned in this campaign are in Africa. Overall, how different is education in Africa from education in the U.S.?
Great progress has been made in increasing access and enrollment. However, the numbers of students has greatly outpaced the numbers of qualified teachers and available resources, thus classes are overcrowded and quality has decreased.
Frank: Education in Africa is very different than in the U.S. But first, let me remind readers that it is impossible to generalize about education in Africa!
Many of the education methods are inherited from colonial ancestry, largely British, French/Belgian, or Portuguese influenced. A predominate style of instruction in resource-poor settings has been rote memorization. There are few resources for teachers and students. The UN (through UNESCO) has prioritized access to education for all children through the Education for All campaign.
Great progress has been made in increasing access and enrollment. However, the numbers of students has greatly outpaced the numbers of qualified teachers and available resources, thus classes are overcrowded and quality has decreased. Discussions now are turning to increasing numbers and improving the quality of teachers, and to building infrastructure and providing resources in many African countries. The World Mission campaign to improve quality education for one million children is proud to be a part of that effort, in partnership with Presbyterians around the world.
Please contact us and learn more about being part of the ‘Educate a Child’ campaign to provide quality education for one million children. The need is great and urgent.
AUTHOR BIO: Frank Dimmock serves as Presbyterian World Mission’s Catalyst Addressing the Root Causes of Global Poverty. Frank and Nancy Dimmock have been under appointment as PC(USA) missionaries since June 1, 1985. Prior to accepting the position of catalyst, Frank served in Lesotho as the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Africa health liaison. Frank earned a BS in botany and zoology at North Carolina State University and an MPH in epidemiology and tropical medicine from Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans. He had previously served as a volunteer in mission and later as a mission specialist in public health in Zaire before being appointed as a full-term mission coworker. Frank and Nancy are members of Montreat Presbyterian Church in Montreat, North Carolina. They are the parents of eight children, Nathan, Moses, Jessica, Katie, Andrew, Alifa, Isaac, and Jackson.
Read the text of “Educate a Child, Transform the World” from the 221st General Assembly (2014).