Top U.S. educators and prominent business leaders say Tuesday, more than ever before in U.S. history, the nation must provide students with a good international education. They say if the United States is to continue competing in an increasingly interconnected world, its next generation of leaders need to be internationally savvy. In New York, VOA's Mona Ghuneim has the story.
Stephanie Bell-Rose of the private Goldman Sachs Foundation says the United States must transform its schools, universities and communities into what she calls "world-class incubators." The president of the global philanthropic group, which works to promote excellence in education, says if the United States wants to continue producing world leaders, it must bring the world to the classroom, and equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a global age.
"They must master knowledge about the economies, political systems, languages and challenges of societies around the world, and of course, they must be culturally savvy," she said.
The Goldman Sachs Foundation partners with educators, businesses and non-profit organizations to develop and implement international education programs.
One of the foundation's partners is the Asia Society, whose mission is to strengthen relationships between Asia and the United States. Asia Society President Vishakha Desai says the group works with the United States to prepare students for what she calls "a new shared world" where Asia plays a major role.
At a recent event on international education hosted at the group's New York offices, Desai said globalization is here to stay. "While the idea of globalization is now completely accepted as part of our economic understanding of the world, the education field has been somewhat slow to respond to this idea of what it means for our students in the future," she said.
One prominent educator agrees that the U.S. education system is still too inwardly focused. New York City's Chancellor of Public Schools Joel Klein says the United States cannot wait until its students are at university to give them an international perspective. He says U.S. leaders must work on a national level to change the focus of education in the United States today. "What we need is the kind of leadership that will entirely change the discussion, that will insist that a robust global education is indispensable to kids in the 21st century, and that will understand that if we don't do those things, we will pay an enormous price," he said.
Klein says New York City has already started to open "international" public schools and emphasize studies on the global economy, world geography, current affairs, and multiple languages.
One school in Washington, D.C. is being hailed for its international programs. Head of the Washington International School Richard Hall says his school aims to "prepare young people to live and work anywhere on the planet." The school serves more than 800 students, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Hall says that all schools in the United States need to be internationally focused and work to promote student involvement in solving global challenges. "Our mission at the school is to provide a demanding international education that will challenge students to be responsible and effective world citizens," he said.
Hall says that Washington International also sponsors travel to foreign countries, and students have been to China, Paraguay and Zambia.
Not all students can travel to other countries, but there are ways to bring the world to them, says Ronald Thorpe. He is the director of education at WNET, a public television station in New York. Thorpe and his team partner with educators to produce international programs for schools. He says the media can be an influential educational tool and bring to the students aspects of the world that don't normally make it to their schoolbooks, at least not right away. "The hardest part of all is contemporary world issues. How do you get a textbook to tell you what happened in Rwanda in 2003? It's not going to happen in our schools for another decade probably," he said.
A segment that Thorpe and his team produced for New York's Department of Education includes lesser-known facts about Africa. For example, how many students in the United States know that Rwanda is a world leader in the representation of women in government?
"Rwanda's new constitution, ratified in 2003, ushered in a new era. It decreed that 30 percent of the seats in parliament are to be reserved only for female candidates, but women can also compete with men for the remaining seats," the video narration said.
Educators say that if the United States is going to compete for seats in the global arena, then the nation must also usher in a new era of internationally educated and culturally tuned-in students.