In the 1980s era of big mainframe computers and telephone landlines, if you owned a personal computer or a “car phone,” you were either affluent or worked for a major corporation. It would have been hard at that time to imagine personal computers in eight out of 10 American households and cell phones in almost every pocket worldwide.By the end of their K-12 careers, global-ready students are able to develop and apply critical cultural frameworks in their investigations and learning about global society, geography, environment, economy and politics.
For students in K-12 public schools, access to global education is today’s equivalent to having a personal computer or mobile phone in the 1980s— it’s for the privileged few. The bad news about global education in 2014 is that unless you are on a college or university campus, in a well-funded school district with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, or attending a private school committed to global themes, you’re highly unlikely to find it.
Few graduates of our schools reflect real preparedness for the global reality of work and life in our times. Despite the multinational nature of commerce, the increasingly international character of our communities and schools, and the interconnectedness of culture globally, a robust global education is the exception, not the rule, for students.
There is good news. It doesn’t have to be that way. The capacity and infrastructure to scale global education for every student in every school in every community exists now.
What Do We Mean When We Say Global Education?
It is first important to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. The field of global education has suffered from being defined more by its means than its ends. Global education is not a food festival or a cultural awareness project or a dual language immersion program, although it might involve each of those approaches. Global education is about developing global competence: the attitude, skills and knowledge needed to understand and participate in a globally connected world.
Specifically, students with global competence:
- Explore their own culture, make comparisons with other cultures and investigate global issues and challenges.
- Think critically and problem solve on issues that demand perspective taking and research skills.
- Develop awareness of cultural diversity and global issues.
By the end of their K-12 careers, global-ready students are able to develop and apply critical cultural frameworks in their investigations and learning about global society, geography, environment, economy and politics.
There are schools around the country where this is happening. Our organization, VIF International Education, works with school districts to develop and launch Passport Schools that are infused with global content, themes and experiences, and are dedicated to building global competence. There are other public and private examples, including Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, that make it their mission to develop high school graduates who can communicate and collaborate on an international scale.
The challenge is to go beyond some lighthouse or beacon schools, which disproportionately support academically and economically advantaged students and families, and provide this level of global preparedness to every student.
Using the Old Infrastructure of Schooling to Achieve New Global Competence Goals
For global education to achieve both impact and scale—and you need both if the goal is global preparedness for every student—solutions that use the existing infrastructure of schooling are required.
Global education does not need new courses, new standards, and new models of schooling or new accountability measures to scale. Instead, it can rely on the existing infrastructure of schools and classrooms to drive global learning and competence.
Let’s return for a moment to the personal computer and the cell phone. In the mid 1980s, the market or demand for the PC and cell phones existed. But the technology and price points did not provide for consumption on a mass scale. When the innovation and technology caught up with the demand and the price point for adoption dropped to mass consumer levels, scale occurred quickly.
That is where global education is today. The demand is present for global education—the willingness of financially secure districts to support dual language immersion programs or families to pay upwards of $50,000 per year for globally themed high schools — like Avenues in New York — stipulates to it. The question is when will the technology and the innovation and the price point exist to allow for mass adoption? The answer: now.
Getting to Scale: Globalizing Classroom Instruction and Refocusing Traditional Language Learning
Just as with any academic pursuit, for students to become globally competent they need consistent time on task and teachers with the knowledge and skills to support them. That means their daily academic life needs to be replete with teachers and learning that reflect global themes, international awareness and opportunities to develop critical skills.
To provide that kind of education and accomplish it within the current infrastructure of schooling, the focus should be on two strategic objectives:
- Supporting teachers to globalize instruction
- Re-imagining language learning
Both strategies have the advantage of usable infrastructure and can be informed by emerging innovations and technology that make them affordable and scalable across schools nationwide.
Strategy #1: Supporting Teachers to Globalize Instruction
The beauty of global content is that it can be used to teach to state standards at any grade level or core subject. Global content, projects and experiences can be powerful tools in advancing core knowledge and critical skills. Lessons plans and course modules can exist within and help drive state, district and school curriculum frameworks and approaches to meeting standards.
The challenge, of course, is that it is easier said than done. Teachers need ongoing training and easy access to resources that support the integration of global content and provide them with the content itself — that means professional development on instructional approaches and materials for classroom use. Until recently, that has been a tall order.
Today, online instructional support platforms are providing that access for teachers. Teachers can access lessons plans, course modules or entire courses; share course materials and products; engage in virtual communities; and access professional development modules focused on teaching to global competencies.
These instructional platforms don’t have to be solely the province of existing teachers and schools. Teacher preparation programs can use these resources to better prepare teacher candidates to infuse their teaching with global content and skills. These preparation programs are another example of existing infrastructure that can be leveraged to ensure students anywhere have access to teachers who are infusing their classrooms with global content and skill building.
Strategy #2: Refocusing Traditional Language Learning
While every teacher can become a global-ready teacher with access to quality professional development and instructional materials, none are better positioned than our teachers of second languages. Middle and high schools across the United States already have in place courses and teachers that provide instruction on culture and international understanding through the study of language.
The problem with our existing approach to language, as I have argued elsewhere (see “Language Education We Can Use,” Education Week, Jan. 9, 2013), is that we use an approach—one period a day for 180 days—that has been proven to be grossly inadequate. With a primary goal of increased language proficiency and a secondary goal of increased global knowledge, we end up achieving neither. It’s time to innovate on the model.
At present, we aim to teach language to 100 percent of the students with a success rate of one percent. Instead, we should aim for 10 percent participation in dual language immersion to achieve 100 percent success and support the remaining 90 percent of students with courses that will build survival language skills, cultural understanding and global knowledge.
By shifting our language proficiency approach to a dual language immersion strategy, we can preserve the infrastructure of traditional high school, credit world language courses and refocus them to have a greater emphasis on the study of global and international affairs and the economies, societies and cultures of other nations and on survival language skills. These courses would serve the goals of global competence, as well as include survival skills goals for language acquisition.
State and District Leadership to Drive Global Education
We have the infrastructure, technology and innovation in place today to globalize learning for every student. To move these efforts into our classrooms, it will be important for states and districts to take actions that make clear their commitment to global education for not just the few, but the many.
Recently, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national coalition of 28 member companies and organizations—including Apple, Intel, Ford, LEGO Education and the National Education Association— released a “Framework for State Action on Global Education.” The framework provides a comprehensive strategy to ensure students have the global competencies and international understanding that will prepare them for work and life in the 21st century.
Included in that strategy were three key steps that would augment and drive a strategic focus on globalizing instruction and refocusing language learning:
- Adopt definitions of student and teacher global competency to anchor state and district global education agendas.
- Create a network of districts, schools and educators to drive implementation and innovation. Use the networks to create a sense of community and commitment among participants.
- Institute a recognition (designation) program for students, teachers, principals, schools and districts that provides incentives for educators and educational leaders to adopt innovative global education practices.
A Moore’s Law Timetable for Global Education
For decades, global education for all students has been an aspirational goal. It has been a recommendation in countless reports from national and state-based commissions and task forces, a critical need espoused by the U.S. Departments of State and Education, an economic development imperative suggested by business and industry, and an important learning goal voiced by educators. And yet it has remained an anomaly in our public schools.
Today, the possibility for dramatic increases in access to global education is within our reach. By using the existing infrastructure of American public education, deploying the technology and innovative approaches that are available now, and sending clear leadership signals about the importance of building global competence in our students, we can make global education a reality in every classroom.
Moore’s law, which essentially holds that processing power for computers will double every two years, describes the rapid pace of technological change and productivity in our world today. It also helps explain how quickly we have seen a personal computer and cell phones become an expectation for all households.
It’s time for a Moore’s Law in global education. It’s time we expect that the number of students with access to global education that leads to global competence will double every year until we reach every student, every teacher, every school and every community in America