Corrected: This article misidentified the U.S. Department of Education program that supports the development of foreign-language and geographic-region study. It is Title VI of the Higher Education Act.
The United States must look beyond its borders to seek new ideas in learning, information to bring home to students, and strong educational relationships with other countries, Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in a speech last week.
The speech, though short of specific proposals and details about funding, nonetheless was a significant and much-needed rhetorical foray outside U.S. education borders, according to groups that work in the field overseas and those that promote international education in the United States.
Mr. Paige’s ideas were “like Mom and apple pie to us,” said Christine Vogel, the vice president of AFS Intercultural Program/USA, formerly the American Field Service, a New York City-based group that promotes cultural exchange. “We’re thrilled to hear Secretary Paige espousing and encouraging the kinds of things we’ve been doing since our founding. “
During the Nov. 20 speech, given to celebrate International Education Week, Mr. Paige said the Department of Education would make new efforts to seek close educational ties with other countries and participate in international projects and studies. The goal is to increase U.S. students’ knowledge about other regions, cultures, languages, and international issues, as well as to share information about U.S. education policies with other countries.
In today’s world, education must reach across the world, Mr. Paige said. Ongoing concerns about terrorist attacks mean students must become more attuned to international issues, the secretary said.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed, and our role in it changed,” Mr. Paige said. “No longer can we afford to focus only on the domestic.”
Despite that need, recent studies, including one released last week by the National Geographic Society, show American students lagging significantly when it comes to their knowledge of current events and geography. (“Afghanistan? Young Americans Can’t Find It on Map, Survey Finds,” this issue.)
“International education shouldn’t be an add-on,” Mr. Paige said. “International content can be integrated into the teaching of many subjects.”
He cited, in particular, dual-language immersion programs, which include lessons taught in two languages.
Mr. Paige in the speech did not address the possibility of increasing American aid for the education of children in poorer countries, a proposal that a group called the Basic Education Coalition has been urging on Congress in recent months. (“Congress Mulls Aid for Education Overseas,” Sept. 18, 2002.)
Secretary Paige said schools should emphasize international education throughout students’ K-12 years, rather than limit such exposure to high school and college.
That is a new and welcome emphasis, said Michael H. Levine, the executive director for the New York City-based Asia Society’s National Campaign for International Education in the Schools. Mr. Paige gave last week’s speech to the first-ever gathering of the States Institute on International Education in the Schools, a coalition of 22 U.S. states convened by the Asia Society.
“If you think about most of the major problems—the spread of weapons of mass destruction, solving health crises, or managing world conflicts—it’s going to require that students have a greater knowledge of regions, cultures and languages,” Mr. Levine said.
The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which Congress is scheduled to take up next year, provides an opportunity to link universities and K-12 schools more closely, said Lenore Y. Garcia, the director of the international-affairs division at the Education Department.
The department plans to look closely at Title XI within the Higher Education Act, which supports the development of foreign- language and geographic regional study with grants. In the future, colleges and universities could apply for grants in partnership with K-12 schools to promote cooperative international education programs on all levels, Ms. Garcia suggested.
“If the K-12 schools are not in on the planning from the beginning, any outreach [by colleges and universities] may or may not be meeting their needs,” she said.
But Ms. Garcia said many of the details for Mr. Paige’s proposals had not been worked out. New funding, in particular, remains up in the air, she said. The fiscal 2003 appropriations bill that includes education was among a number of spending bills that, although the new budget year began nearly two months ago, have yet to make it through Congress. Lawmakers instead voted last week to extend fiscal 2002 spending levels into January.
There are opportunities to increase funding for international education programs within the fiscal 2003 appropriations legislation, Ms. Garcia said.
But others worried that while Mr. Paige’s proposals were important, paying for them would be difficult.
“He didn’t talk about how they might pay for all this increased attention, but let’s hope there will be resources to do more,” said Stephen F. Moseley, the president and chief executive officer of the Academy for Educational Development. The nonprofit organization, based in New York City, works on international and American education issues.
Mr. Paige, scheduled to be in Mexico this week to swap education ideas with his Mexican counterpart, also said this year he will begin honoring one teacher annually for his or her outstanding efforts to help students grasp world issues and cultures.
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Paige Urges New Focus on International Education