Living in a highly interdependent world is not an option—but at present, being educated to do so competently is. — Harvard Professor Fernando Reimers
United States policy has a huge impact on the world – effecting businesses, economies and ecosystems around the globe. In this increasingly interconnected age, it is critical the U.S. education policy prioritize having globally competent citizens. Yet, despite rhetoric from the U.S. Department of Education on “preparing today’s youth, and our country more broadly, for a globalized world,” global education is not a priority of U.S. educational system. The result is predictable and worrisome: Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs. The consequences of this withdrawal, if continued, could disadvantage an entire generation. Imagine the majority of U.S. citizens ill-prepared for the global workforce, and, more dangerously, unable to comprehend, criticize or contribute to foreign policy, (whether issues of defense, diplomacy or development). The zero-sum framing of the argument that the U.S. needs to first take care of domestic concerns is poorly constructed. Most domestic concerns are deeply impacted by U.S. foreign policy and vice-versa. Take teaching geography as one example: the less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want the U.S. to intervene with military force.
It is critical that global education is for everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, age, special needs or geographic location. Physical exchange programs, including study abroad, have long provided important cross-cultural educational experiences, but those opportunities are still only accessible to a privileged few. The costs and logistical challenges of such programs prevent this model from reaching a broader set of students. Only 1 in 10,000 U.S. high school students study abroad. Less than 2% of U.S. college students study abroad, and even fewer in California. Only 11.7% of American students who studied abroad in 2010-2011 were Black or Hispanic. The campaign to double the number of study abroad participants by the end of the decade is an important step forward. Still, even if the number of American students able to study abroad was increased ten-fold, too few young Americans are having the deep and meaningful cross-cultural experiences we need them to be having.
The San Francisco Bay Area — as both a hub for both international affairs and educational technology professionals — has a key role to play in helping U.S. education go global. Embracing the innovation that the Bay Area is renowned for, global education programs and organizations like AYUSA, Buck Institute for Education, Digital Promise, Exploratorium, Global Citizen Year, Global Glimpse, Kiva, KQED, Maker Education Initiative, U.C Berkeley’s Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens Memorial Fund for Middle Eastern Studies and World Savvy are collaborating with Bay Area start-ups, companies and foundations like Adobe, Cisco, Edmodo, Edsurge, Edutopia, Google, Intel, Mozilla, and SalesForce to promote global education and awareness. Efforts to introduce new media and digital technologies into the lives of young people to inspire global citizenship also include the new Connected Learning Alliance, the Chris Stevens Youth Network, and the Exchange 2.0 Campaign. Private and independent organizations can’t do this alone, however. To have lasting impact on educational system these efforts and complementary ones– like the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators program and the U.S. Department of State’s new Collaboratory– must be supported by a commitment by parents, principals, and policymakers to prioritize global competencies as core curriculum in K-12 and higher education. Yet, with a majority of adult Americans not interested in engaging with the world, it’s difficult to imagine local, state and national policymakers feeling the pressure to globalize curricula. The proposed $30 million cut to the Fulbright Program budget for 2015 indicates how little constituency there is for global education. Professor Fernando Reimers, Harvard education expert and author of Bringing Global Education to the Core of the Undergraduate Curriculum, warns:
Unless faculty and institutional leaders develop a vision of global education as part of the undergraduate curriculum, aligning institutional resources with explicit curricular planning, global education will remain peripheral to the purpose of liberal education. Unless it becomes part of the core, undergraduate students will remain underprepared for the 21st century—lacking the knowledge, skills, and competencies they urgently need to engage as global citizens in an increasingly important global commons.
Our youth need to have a world-class education to be competitive and to become engaged and compassionate leaders. But they cannot have a world-class education without the world. As important, the world needs American youth to have that knowledge and perspective. Let’s help lead the way. Join the annual International Education Week celebrations and as many free, anytime, anywhere Global Education Conference sessions and keynotes as you can. Share your work in a classroom, volunteer for a local non-profit, host an event, and advocate for global education to be a core part of the American education experience. Those of us who have a global perspective are critical to helping ensure that the next generation does too. [Note: an earlier version of this post appeared on the Bay Area International List (BAIL) blog on July 8, 2014. Since that post was published, Fulbright funding has been spared budget cuts.]