Few adults would disagree that today’s students need to be prepared for an increasingly global world—a world that is vastly more interconnected and internationally competitive than it was even 10 years ago. Indeed, global awareness is one of the key competencies advocated by proponents of the 21st-century skills movement. And yet raising international knowledge does not appear to be among many U.S. schools’ strong suits.
According to a 2009 survey published by MetLife Inc., to take just one example, nearly two-thirds of teachers rated their students as only fair or poor in their knowledge of other nations and cultures. By the same token, students rated their teachers’ ability to teach them about foreign nations and cultures lowest among the major categories of knowledge and skills. That is not good synergy.
Africa Access: A nonprofit education organization that collects and organizes resources on Africa for schools and libraries. Includes an activity center with research projects.
Council on Foreign Relations: This nonpartisan think tank offers issues briefs on international affairs and regional news pages, plus a host of reports and interactive resources.
ePals Global Community: This site facilitates inter-school online collaboration projects, with member classrooms in 200 countries and territories.
The GLOBE Program: This science-focused site facilitates collaboration among students, teachers, and scientists on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and Earth.
International Children Digital Library: A digital library of world literature for children.
Kids Around the World: A project of the National Peace Corps Association, this site uses multimedia to introduce U.S. elementary school children to the lives of children of the same age in developing countries around the world.
World Almanac for Kids: Compiles kid-friendly facts and data on the world and its people and nations. Includes a games section. A feature for parents and teachers is under development.
World Bank’s Youthink: Provides research and resources geared towards kids on international development. Includes classroom activities and an interactive-collaboration feature.
Words Without Borders: This online magazine publishes translations of contemporary international literature. A section especially for educators is under development.
Worlds of Words: An online collection of international children’s literature. Search by region and age.
SOURCE: Asia Society.
It is to address such trend lines that the Asia Society, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote international understanding, recently published a report titled “Ready for the World: Preparing Elementary Students for the Global Age.”
Fostering ‘Global Competency’
Among other things, the report aims to help schools and teachers get started in moving toward a more international orientation by defining the basic principles of what it calls “global competency” in learning. Here’s the run-down of those principles:
Investigating the world. Students should have the capacity to be aware and take an active interest in the world and international experiences. This includes, for example, “formulating and exploring globally significant questions that address” foreign peoples and cultures.
Recognizing and weighing perspectives. Globally competent students understand that others may not share their own perspective on an issue, and they are able to “identify influences on the development of different perspectives.”
Communicating ideas. Today’s students should be prepared to communicate (both verbally and nonverbally) with diverse audiences characterized by differences in culture, region, faith, and socioeconomic status. They should also be able to speak at least one language in addition to English.
Taking action. By virtue of their growing knowledge of the world, students should also “feel empowered to make a difference in it.” They should be able to understandwhere and how they might be able have an impact in the world and engage in service projects responsibly.
Acquiring and applying disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge. Students should be able to use the content knowledge they acquire in math, science, literature, and history to better understand and inquire into international events and cultural issues.
Seem like a lot to take on? Mary Ellen Bafumo, an education professor at the State University of New York-New Paltz who is the primary author of the Asia Society’s report, says that one of the best ways to get started in fostering a global mindset is simply to incorporate a daily emphasis on current events. “It’s amazing how five minutes a day on what’s going on that we all should know about can transform student thinking,” she says.
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2010 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook