E.C.S. Seeks International Dialogue on Education
Top education officials from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Russia, and nine Pacific and Asian nations met in Hawaii last week for the first time to discuss their approaches to difficult education issues.
A part of the annual meeting of the Education Commission of the States, the summit was intended as a meeting ground for the national education officials as well as a chance to explore the different ways their nations are dealing with issues of education policy.
"A lot of the international discussion until now has been about achievement comparisons and student and faculty exchanges,'' said Frank Newman, the president of the E.C.S. "We think it's time to focus on policy and what we can learn from each other.''
The American delegation to the two-day international meeting included U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; Joseph Duffey, the director of the U.S. Information Agency; and several state and federal education officials.
Foreign representatives included Jose Angel Pescador, the Mexican education secretary; Jacques Chagnon, the chairman of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada; Ryoko Akamatsu, the Japanese minister of education; and Victor D. Gurevich, the head master of the Sakhalin Regional Administration in Russia.
Other nations represented included Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. American Samoa, a U.S. territory, also sent a delegation, as did Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, both former territories that retain ties to the United States.
Organizers expressed hope that the discussion would go beyond a polite round table. American delegates said they were particularly eager to learn more about school-to-work initiatives and new forms of assessment that other nations are experimenting with.
"Every country is saying that its future depends on the capacity of its people to be educated,'' Mr. Newman said. "So what Korea or Singapore is doing may help us, and we hope that as we describe what we are doing, those programs become clearer to us as we hear questions from new perspectives.''
The delegations were scheduled to discuss issues ranging from immigration policy and national education goals to serving children who are members of minority groups.
Officials at the E.C.S. said the meetings were likely to produce a pact between the North American education officials to continue similar talks, and that they would discuss the possibility of future international meetings.
The journey into international education policy produced only one diplomatic pitfall for the E.C.S., which decided to convene the American-Pacific summit as part of this year's meeting in Honolulu.
The delegation from the People's Republic of China backed out at the last minute after E.C.S. officials were unable to assuage the group's displeasure over the way the Taiwanese delegation was being identified. The People's Republic and Taiwan have been at odds since the Nationalist Chinese forces fled to the island in 1949 after their defeat by the Communists on the Chinese mainland. Neither government has given up its claim on the other's territory.
Organizers consulted several government agencies, and agreed to recognize the group from Taiwan as representing Chinese Taipei, as U.S. officials have done at high-level international summits.
Romer's Collegiate Emphasis
But after the E.C.S. program was printed, the Chinese delegation expressed concern over the titles listed for various officials from Taiwan, which included their affiliations with various "national'' agencies and institutes. This led to the withdrawal of the four-person Chinese delegation.
More juggling was necessary after Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois, the E.C.S. chairman, had to put off participating in the meeting to attend to last-minute wrangling in Illinois over the budget.
Backup arrangements for his participation with the 600 E.C.S. delegates via satellite were further disrupted after the Governor underwent emergency heart-bypass surgery late last week. He was recovering at a Chicago-area hospital, Illinois officials said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, who will serve as the E.C.S. chairman next year, announced that his focus will be on quality in higher education. He said that, all too often, colleges and universities are unable to say how they define and measure quality within their institutions.
"We have lost the real meaning of quality higher education if all that matters is how hard it is for students to get in, not what education they receive and what the results are,'' he said.