Emily Sachar recently authored Schools for the Global Age: Promising Practices in International Education and is a two-time winner of the Grand Prize for Education Reporting, awarded by EWA.) Read EWA's Global Education reform brief written by Sachar.
Fun, food and festivals. For years, that's what schools offered when they wanted to infuse international flavor into their curricula.
Since 9/11, however, a movement to infuse meaningful global education studies into American classrooms has accelerated. Some argue that the demands of No Child Left Behind make serious attempts at global studies impossible, and they point out that a significant number of American children are struggling to master rudimentary written English and basic mathematics.
But students themselves have begun to clamor for information about the Middle East to better understand the Islamic extremism that led to the terrorist attacks. And nations far from U.S. shores continue to dominate the news. Dramatic stories, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami that took more than 200,000 lives, drive interest in global studies, as do democratic elections in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, educators say international education is imperative to ensure America's national security and economic competitiveness in the centuries ahead. They also seek to respond to the increasing cultural diversity of American communities and to the need for global citizenship.
What must change
International education specialists seek these changes:
- Greatly enhanced opportunities for a wider number of U.S. students to study, and master, a second language
- Opportunities to study a wider range of languages (foreign language immersion is often noted as a successful model)
- Meaningful international study of Asia, Africa and Latin America infused into all major subject areas
- The creative use of technology to connect students to peers in distant parts of the globe, specifically for work on academic projects together
- More astute and better training for teachers in the international dimensions of their disciplines
- Travel and cross-cultural exchange, both real and virtual, to give students a taste of life in different cultures. Virtual travel would enable students, one-on-one, to learn about one another's daily lives and to engage in projects that explore differences in lifestyles and customs, beyond academic sharing.
The knowledge gap
Experts point to a frightening knowledge gap about the world among American students. For instance, the 2002 National Geographic/Roper international survey of 18- to 24-year-olds reports that nearly one-third of American college-age adults could not find the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water. And more than half -- 56 percent -- could not locate India, the world's largest democracy, on a map.
Moreover, most teachers are not prepared to help students close the international knowledge gap. Of the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities training teachers, only a handful require any coursework in non-Western history. And language instruction does not reflect today's realities: While 1 million students in U.S. schools study French, a language spoken by 80 million people worldwide, fewer than 40,000 students study Chinese, a language spoken by almost 1.3 billion people.
The next step
hange is afoot. Motivated states, individual schools and districts, and several key non-profit organizations are leading the charge to ensure that the second phase of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which will focus largely on high schools, strongly encourages knowledge of other cultures and, ideally, more foreign language study opportunities.
The pace of progress is accelerating. The College Board has announced plans to add three AP courses and exams, one in Italian foreign language and culture, in the fall 2005, as well as both Japanese foreign language and culture and Chinese, in the fall 2006. An AP language and culture course in Russian also is being contemplated. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in cooperation with the Asia Society, will spend $7.5 million over the next five years to establish 10 urban schools focused exclusively on international studies. And the Goldman Sachs Foundation, again with the Asia Society, two years ago established an awards program to honor schools, universities and programs that are succeeding at various aspects of international education.
Waiting for 'Superman' " has brought the challenges of urban education to the national spotlight. EWA is providing a resource guide on articles and reports on issues raised in the documentary, as well as links to reports and critiques of the movie.
Vice President, Education
725 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
National Association of State Boards of Education
277 S. Washington St., Suite 100
Alexandria, VA 22314
Edwin H. Gragert
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 540
New York, NY 10115
Alan J. Young
Visiting International Faculty Program
PO Box 3566
Chapel Hill, NC 27515-3566
Tel: (919) 967-5144 Fax: (919) 265-5130
Craig Blurton, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 3000, FL4, 2104
3300 Mitchell Lane
Boulder, CO 80307
Daniel C. Edelson
National Geographic Society Education Foundation
1145 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036-468
Dr. Lucia Rodriguez
Director of Education
801 Second Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10017-4706
Andrew F. Smith
The American Forum for Global Education
120 Wall Street, Suite 2600
New York, NY 10005
Tel: (212) 624-1300 Fax: (212) 624-1412
The Goldman Sachs Foundation
375 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10152
Ford Foundation Professor of International Education
Graduate School of Education
Cambridge, MA 02138
Education Commission of the States
Provides information on early-learning topics, including databases on what states are doing inprekindergarten and kindergarten.