Higher Education News
At age nine I had the chance to visit my father’s birthplace, a rural town in Guatemala surrounded by mountains. This trip, and many others that followed, would change the way I view the world and have inspired me to learn more about my heritage. Over the years, I have developed an affinity for international issues that led me to learn Portuguese and study abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through these experiences, I learned important skills like flexibility, adaptability, open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, and I gained greater self-knowledge. I didn’t realize it, but I was learning to be globally competent.
The Global Competence Task Force, established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society, defines globally competent individuals as people who can “use their knowledge and skills to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and other’s perspectives, communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences, and translate their ideas into appropriate actions.”
During my first two-and-a-half years of college, I volunteered at a predominately Latino, bilingual elementary school in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Many of the students reminded me of myself, and some even had parents from Guatemala. But, unlike me, almost none of them had ever left the country, yet they were still very in touch with their heritage.
These students taught me two things. First, I learned that you do not need to go overseas to be globally competent. While the students I worked with faced many obstacles, they had already mastered several globally competent skills. All of them had at least a basic proficiency in a second language and were familiar with other cultures. Schools across the nation like the one at which I worked are recognizing that global competencies are vital to succeeding in today’s diverse world and that these skills can be learned in the classroom.
The second lesson I learned is that having overseas experiences, too often, is a privilege – it is not an opportunity that is afforded to everyone. Coming from an underserved community, many of the students I worked with would be lucky to meet their extended family in Latin America, like I did. This led me to design a service project to teach these students about study abroad as part of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship I received to go to Rio.
Before interning in the International Affairs Office at ED, I knew I had learned these lessons, but I did not know how to articulate them. This semester, I have been fortunate to participate in discussions about the future of global competencies. Something that will really stick with me from these conversations is that global competencies are not add-ons or “nice-to-haves,” but rather, components of a quality education that all students need. As Secretary Duncan said in his statement on this year’s International Education Week, “Let’s work together … to make global competence the norm, not the exception.”
Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education and a Senior at American University.
This week is International Education Week — a time when educators, administrators, students, and parents recognize and celebrate the importance of world language learning; study abroad; and an appreciation of different countries and cultures.
Recent tragedies throughout the world — including in Paris, Beirut, Yola, Sinai and Baghdad — serve as a reminder of our common humanity and our shared interest in building bridges of understanding.
For students who study a different part of the world, speak a second language, or study abroad, the experience can lead to a better appreciation of the complexity, challenges, and ambiguity, as well as the opportunities, of life in the 21st century.
These skills and aptitudes contribute to our young people’s global competency.
However, for too many of our students, global competencies — including mastery of a foreign language, cultural understanding that comes from studying abroad, or the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to solving global issues—are not always easy to obtain.
A continued lack of investment in world language programs and world area studies at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels have left many of our students behind the curve. Study abroad often also can be seen as a luxury and not as an essential and integrated part of an academic experience, even though research shows it can have a positive effect on college completion, especially for the most vulnerable students. The price of study abroad also can be prohibitive for students with modest means.
As important as global competencies are to building a robust educational experience for our students and increasing the cultural understanding of our people, they also are critical tools for individuals navigating a global job market. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that one in five American jobs is tied to global trade; and that number is expected to rise significantly in coming years.
As we work to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education, it is imperative that the experience they have, whether it is during their K-12 years, at a community college, or at a four-year university, gives them the skills to succeed in our increasingly connected, 21st century global economy.
It’s almost a cliché these days to note how interconnected our world has become—but we must not take this powerful dynamic and its implications for the future of our young people for granted. It simply isn’t sufficient for a small business owner to have a basic understanding of accounting and management. Increasingly, she must think about where her product is sourced, the competition from overseas, and whether or not she can communicate across borders with suppliers who may not speak her language.
The engineer tasked with working on a construction project in Iraq has an infinitely more difficult job without an understanding of the Arabic language and the local culture. Similarly, here at home, our healthcare professionals are treating patients from around the globe, and a knowledge of world regions, cultures, and language can help them diagnose a rare condition, be more conscious of a patient’s cultural sensitivities, or simply communicate “you’ll be just fine” in another language.
As we celebrate international education this week and every week, we must ensure that all students leave our classrooms and campuses with the skills to work with their counterparts in other countries and in our own increasingly diverse communities, for a safer and more prosperous world.
Mohamed Abdel-Kader is Deputy Assistant Secretary for International & Foreign Language Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Imagine failing to respond to your own name.
Imagine going through school smiling and nodding and hoping nobody can see how little you really understand. Imagine struggling to survive school because it is not accessible.
Unfortunately, this is a reality for many students today. I know because this was my experience. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
At the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) in Washington, D.C., which serves students who are deaf and hard of hearing from birth to the eighth grade, Principal Debra Trapani strives to implement a philosophy of equity, acceptance, and celebration of diversity in every classroom. I recently had the privilege to shadow Debra during the Department of Education’s Principal Shadowing Week, and the stark difference from my own experience as a deaf student to the culture created for the students at this school was shocking. KDES is based on a foundation of bilingualism and biculturalism, promoting the equal usage of American Sign Language and English. Students here are proud to be deaf and hard of hearing, and of the culture and language that surrounds them.
Working in a school where every student has an individualized education plan, or IEP, may seem like a challenge to some educators, yet Debra looks at it as an opportunity. She is constantly moving from classroom to classroom, working with her teachers to support differentiated instruction that meets the needs of students, and encouraging her teachers to try new things. Collaboration is the key, Debra explained, crediting much of her school’s positive and welcoming culture to her leadership team and teachers.
As a deaf principal, Debra is a role model to her students, all of whom are determined to go on to college and have successful careers. These are dreams that might not have been possible years ago without the legislative turning points that were the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
As the nation celebrates IDEA’s 40th anniversary, it’s important to realize how far we’ve come. For example, in 1970, only one in five children with disabilities was educated in public schools. Today, more than 6.5 million students receive special education services. However, there is still much to be done to ensure each student is able to reach his or her maximum potential. Looking at schools like KDES can help show us what is possible.
Jacqueline Wunderlich is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and junior at Gallaudet University.
I never imagined that one day I would be a Principal Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education. When I look back to where I was a year ago, I was busy running my school—meeting with teachers, students, and parents. I was working with custodians to review blueprints of our newly renovated cafeteria. I was observing classes. And I was facilitating conflict resolution with my guidance counselor and our students.
One day last year, when I rode the train to work, I read my principals’ weekly newsletter and that’s where I first saw the information to apply to become a Teaching or Principal Ambassador Fellow. Although caught up in the day-to-day frantic pace of working in a school, I also am a learner. I am always reading education articles and thinking about what new ideas will help my students improve. I was interested in opportunities to learn and grow.
So, I applied.
Once in the thick of it, I realized that the application process was no joke. The written application required me to think strategically about who I am as an educator and what I have accomplished in my career. The phone interview that followed had me thinking on my feet, talking about what I believe matters in education and why being a fellow could make a bigger difference. The final round involved both an in-person, one-on-one interview and a fishbowl-style interview with other applicants. I had to exhibit all the skills needed to lead: communicate clearly, be a team player, and work in a fast-paced environment.
As a teacher, my first love was impacting my students in the classroom. Then, I found I could provide opportunities for all students’ learning by leading a school. Now, I am looking at what policies shape our educational landscape for the country. This is exciting work!
As a Principal Ambassador Fellow at ED, I get to share what has led me to be an educator for my entire career. It’s a unique opportunity, and well worth all the steps to get here. It’s why I want to pass the word along and encourage others out there to take a chance and apply.
U.S. Department of Education Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in their professional communities, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. Applications for the 2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on November 17, 2015 and will close on December 14, 2015 at 11:59 PM ET. For more information about the process, please thoroughly review the Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowship webpages.