Emphasis on International Education Essential to Economy, Governors Say
Washington--Schools must do a better job of preparing students to compete in an increasingly global economy by expanding the teaching of foreign languages, international history, geography, and foreign cultures, a new report by the National Governors' Association concludes.
"American education can no longer be circumscribed by national boundaries," the group's chairman, Gov. Gerald L. Baliles of Virginia, argues in an introduction to the report.
"We must be prepared to do business anywhere on earth," Mr. Baliles writes. "How are our firms to provide international leadership when our schools are producing insular students?"
The report was released here last week at the nga's winter meeting.
The urgent need for new emphasis on international education has been demonstrated, it notes, by a spate of studies showing that most American adults and teenagers have a limited grasp of world geography.
According to the report, one in seven adults cannot locate the United States on a world map. It also cites a study that found that 25 percent of Dallas students tested could not identify the country bordering the U.S. to the south.
All governors should develop comprehensive strategies to promote international studies in their states' schools, the report says. Such planning, it says, must include both educators and the business community.
It recommends that states incorporate that international focus in instruction throughout the curriculum. Ways of accomplishing this objective, it says, could include:
Requiring students to study world history;
Offering all students the opportunity to learn a second language while in elementary school;
Increasing language and social-studies requirements for admission to state colleges and universities;
Intensifying the training of current and future teachers in international topics, including history, geography, and foreign languages;
Promoting exchange programs for students and teachers;
Testing students on international topics as part of a state student4assessment program.
The report acknowledges that officials seeking to make such changes will encounter "significant roadblocks," including a lack of teachers with backgrounds in international topics and inadequate coverage of these areas in textbooks.
In addition, it says, resources for the new teachers, materials, and books that would be required to teach students about international subjects are likely to be limited.
But the efforts need not be expensive, said Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, chairman of the nga's task force on international education.
"What you have to do is purchase a few maps, and it's not hard to teach geography as part of a history course," Mr. Kean said at the meeting. "It's also not hard to bring it into an English curriculum, when you're reading things from various parts of the world."
Mr. Kean, who said he would favor requiring all high-school students to study a foreign language, conceded that implementing such a provision was a "long way off."
The report, in contrast, recommends that all college graduates be conversant in another language, and suggests that all undergraduate majors contain an "international element."
In plenary sessions, the governors also discussed such issues as educational choice and heard four teenagers from Arkansas, at the request of their governor, Bill Clinton, explain how schools could be improved.
At a session on the national drug-abuse problem, William J. Bennett, the designated federal "drug czar," said that the "interest, concern, fear, and anger of the American people" provided unique opportunities for public officials and policymakers trying to fight drugs.
"Public opinion, at this time, at this hour, gives us perhaps the most valuable weapon we could have in this campaign to end the scourge of drugs," he said.
At the meeting, the governors also approved policy statements advocating a federal-state partnership in early-childhood-development programs, and a retargeting of the federal dependent-care tax credit toward low-income families.