Prosperous and secure countries require high-quality young professionals who can work in the global arena. One crucial strategy for preparing these skilled young professionals for the 21st century workforce is increasing their access to new technologies, social media, and trustworthy networks of global peers with whom they can engage in meaningful dialogue. To meet these needs, schools worldwide need effective programs with culturally appropriate curricula to help educators and their students in diverse communities to understand how to use new technologies to explore global issues, engage with their peers across the world, and to take local action to support their communities build civil society institutions.
Since 1999, with these specific needs in mind, the iEARN community has worked with the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to connect US classrooms with classrooms in countries with significant Muslim populations. In 2002, seven years before President Obama’s Cairo-Kansas speech, ECA consolidated iEARN’s CIVICS and BRIDGE programs, as well as school connectivity programs facilitated by other organizations, and launched the Global Connections and Exchange Program (GCE). A hidden gem among more well-known State Department exchange programs, GCE results have been impressive: in ten years, with modest funding, GCE has delivered:
- Innovative and well-regarded education and training NGOs in more than 20 countries;
- More than 300 workshops and online courses for 10,000 classroom teachers;
- The physical exchange of nearly 1,000 educators and youth from 25 countries;
- Virtual exchange and project-based collaboration for tens of thousands of educators and youth.
- Wide-ranging support of special-needs youth, girls, and other underserved populations; and
- Increased capacity and support for other ECA-sponsored programs, such as the Fulbright, NSLI-Y, YES, and English Access Microscholarship programs.
On April 27, 2011 at the US Institute of Peace “Exchange 2.0 Summit,” Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale recognized the program:
We need to explore more ways to strategically and consistently incorporate connective technologies into our exchange efforts. As President Obama has said, we need to “create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.” With the help of many of you in this room, we have already started down this path at the State Department. Our Global Connections and Exchange Program has been in operation for ten years. This landmark public diplomacy initiative connects students who may never share a lunch table or walk home together. But with online classrooms, there are no limits on sharing their ideas. Together, they learn to be positive forces for change in their local communities.
In October 2012, the new Undersecretary Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine, similarly lauded Global Connections:
Exchange 2.0 also works as an extension of our ongoing public diplomacy because it can help us maintain relationships – before and after. It can bring people to our programs. And long after they have returned home, we can use to engage them as alumni. They can stay in touch with us – and one another. They can work on future projects.
The more we engage people to become productive, and realize their aspirations, the better the chances they will pursue shared futures of peace and prosperity. The better the chances they will create environments for investment and trade.
And the more likely we can enhance our national security.
Now, there is much that we have already been doing to reach out through connective technology. For more than ten years, our Global Connections and Exchange Program has supported collaboration through online linkages among students, educators, and community youth leaders.
Through innovative partnerships with ministries of education, US embassies, NGOs, schools, and community leaders, iEARN has generated enthusiastic support through GCE, which has proven to be an adaptable and replicable model of professional development and leadership networks across and within diverse cultures. An extensive evaluation of the efforts of iEARN and other GCE partners showed:
- Enhanced English-language skills;
- Constructive inter-ethnic dialogue;
- An improved image of the United States in the Muslim world; and
- Heightened awareness among American students about global issues.
Girls and women have become the majority of iEARN Global Connections alumni leaders at the local school and national leadership levels. iEARN partner organizations in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen are led by women who have become, in part through their GCE participation, role models and leaders in the field of educational technology and global collaboration.
This fall, the program continues with a new U.S. Department of State awarded iEARN-USA a two-year grant for the next iteration of the program, Global Connections and Exchange 2.0. For Global Connections 2.0, iEARN will leverage and scale its custom virtual collaboration platform, curriculum-based projects, and online professional development program to promote problem-solving and critical thinking, develop leadership and technology skills, create cutting-edge English and Arabic language tools and resources, encourage community service-learning, and build mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and 19 participating MENA countries and territories. We’re pleased to be working with the Buck Institute for Education staff, who will assist us with professional learning activities and scaffolds necessary for teachers to carry out thematic projects successfully with their students. A small (!) sample of ongoing iEARN projects where Middle Eastern and North African youth are collaborating with their peers in the US and other countries include:
|A Vision (US, Syria, Oman, UAE)
Against School Dropout (US, Morocco)
Art Miles, The (US, Israel, Bahrain)
Christmas Card Exchange (US, Lebanon)
CIVICS: Youth Volunteerism and Service (US, Morocco)
Connecting Math to Our Lives (US, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon)
Cultural Corner for Learners of English (US, Oman)
Daffodil and Tulip Project (US, Israel, Bahrain)
Eye To Eye Project (US, Egypt, Bahrain, Israel)
Folk Costumes Around the Globe (US, Bahrain)
Food for Thought: Recipe Book (US, Bahrain)
Get to Know Others (US, Bahrain, Egypt)
Give Us Wings to Fly (US, Egypt)
Global Art: Images of Caring (US, Morocco)
Good Deeds (US, Egypt, UAE)
Heart to Heart (US, Morocco, Oman)
Laws of Life: Virtues Project (US, Israel, Oman)
Learning Circles (US, Bahrain, Egypt)
Machinto – “Do You Hear Little Bird Crying?” (US, Iraq)
Mathematics Virtual Learning Circle (US, Lebanon)
MDGs-Only With Your Voice (US, Egypt, Morocco)
|Model United Nations (US, Egypt)
Moving Voices Videos Exchange Project (US, Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon)
Music Around the World (US, Iraq, Morocco)
My Country (US, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Oman)
My Hero Project (US, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq)
My Name Project (US, Iraq)
My School, Your School (US, Oman)
Narnia and CS Lewis (US, Iraq)
Natural Disaster Youth Summit 2008 (US, Egypt, Morocco)
One Day in the Life (US, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Yemen)
One World, One Environment (US, Israel)
Planetary Notions (US, Egypt)
Students Unlimited (US, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco)
Talking Kites All Over the World (US, Israel)
Teddy Bear Project (US, Israel)
Video Introductions to Communities (US, Egypt)
Water Habitat Project (US, Egypt, Iraq)
Ways of Writing (US, Bahrain)
We Are Teenagers/International Teen Scrapbook (US, Bahrain)
Women in My Country (US, Morocco)
As with program alumni from the past ten years, Global Connections 2.0 participants will gain valuable communications, computing, and language skills, while building leadership and citizenship skills, learning critical skills for future employment, and improving curriculum and training resources.
iEARN is proud to be continuing its Global Connections partnership with the U.S. Department of State and to be fulfilling the promise President Obama’s Cairo-Kansas vision. This December, you can play a role in helping us increase the program’s impact in the United States by enabling as many U.S. classrooms as possible to participate in this exciting opportunity to engage in hands-on, people-to-people, global collaborative projects at a critical time in U.S.-Middle East relations.
Stay tuned for more program highlights from the past ten years of this landmark program.