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Educators See School Impact Of Trade Accord

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The North American Free Trade Agreement would likely have a significant impact on the educational systems of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, according to organizers and participants at a symposium on the treaty at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"Although organized labor, environmentalists, and economists have raised important issues, NAFTA negotiators have not engaged in substantive discussions on the relationship of NAFTA to the educational systems of Mexico, the United States, and Canada,'' said a statement issued this month by the leadership of the Latino Educators' Committee on Free Trade and Education, a trinational network of academics that held the event.

If the treaty is to improve the economies of its members, the committee's leadership said, "strategic planning for improved educational attainment among the people of these countries will be necessary.''

The treaty, signed by its three member nations in 1992, grew out of their desire to facilitate trade with each other and become more competitive in the world market. It awaits ratification by Congress, and the symposium was intended to inform the Congressional debate.

The European Community, whose members are forging an integrated economic system, already has established an education commission to standardize curriculum, testing, and research, officials of the Latino educators' group noted.

Call for Trinational Commission

The symposium was attended by about 125 educators from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

In the area of precollegiate education, the participants recommended that Congress establish a trinational commission on education within 90 days after the ratification of the agreement by its member countries.

The commission would set guidelines for the development of multilingual and multicultural curricula. States then could refine and adopt the guidelines and disseminate them to local education agencies.

Working with two other proposed agencies--a trinational educational-research clearinghouse and an educational-development fund--the commission could initiate staff-development programs and uniform standards for teacher preparation.

Symposium participants also called for the three agencies to:

  • Examine the resources available for education in the member countries and help coordinate their research on school finance.
  • Take up issues related to standards and assessments, establish a trinational student-registration system, and set benchmarks for dropout rates, achievement levels, and bilingual literacy.
  • Work to link existing technology networks, set standards for competency in the use of technology, and seek to insure equal access to technology for all students.

In the area of higher education, symposium participants called for more student and faculty exchanges among the three nations and the establishment of an inter-American education fund to assist in linking their higher-education systems.

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