Create 'National Endowment' for Foreign Studies, Coalition Urges
Washington--The federal government should create a "national endowment for international education and competence" to lead a nationwide push for enhancing foreign-language and international-studies instruction, a coalition of 165 groups in the field argues in a report issued last week.
The "plan of action" by the foundation-funded Coalition for the Advancement of Foreign Languages and International Studies also calls on states and local districts to "internationalize school curricula." And it urges colleges to strengthen entrance requirements in international studies and to train teachers in the field.
"For 150 years, it was one of the strengths of the United States that we were able to be indifferent and oblivious to the rest of the world," the coalition's chairman, Robert M. Rosenzweig, president of the Association of American Universities, said at a press conference here.
But the growing interdependence of the world economy, the report states, demands "a new educational philosophy" that recognizes that an understanding of other cultures and tongues is a "basic requirement" for the next century.
"It is not enough to provide our students with the three R's," it says. "To understand today's world and function effectively in it, our stu4dents must acquire vital international knowledge and skills."
The proposed endowment, modeled after the National Endowment for the Humanities or the National Science Foundation, would serve as the "lead point" for such efforts, the report suggests.
In addition to sponsoring research and advanced study, it says, the endowment would also sponsor school-college partnerships, develop international-education programs for schools, and serve as a clearinghouse for information on effective programs.
Mr. Rosenzweig declined to predict how much the new agency would cost. But he noted that the group recommended that it supplement existing efforts, which should also receive additional funds.
"It's not unreasonable to say this is a bad time" to make such recommendations, he said, noting the government's fiscal problems. "But there is a widely recognized need to change the way we are doing things to improve our capacity to operate in a highly competitive world."
The report issued last week represents the culmination of a two-year effort by the coalition to lay out an agenda for foreign-language and international studies.
'Higher National Priority'
Funded by the Ford, William and Flora Hewlett, McDonnell, and Rockefeller foundations, the group includes business, education, area-studies, and international-exchange organizations.
Other groups, such as the Study Commission on Global Education and the National Governors' Association, have also proposed an increased emphasis on international studies.
But the coalition is the first attempt to "bring together as many of the relevant actors as possible," according to Mr. Rosenzweig.
The report indicates that the coalition arrived at the "unanimous conviction that international education must become a higher national priority, and that much can and needs to be done to make it so."
Based on the recommendations of its three working groups--on federal support, state and local initiatives, and private-sector involvement--the coalition concluded that all sectors of society must play a role in enhancing international competence.
State, Local Initiatives
Specifically, the group urged the federal government to expand support for international, area, and language studies, as well as for exchange programs.
In addition, the report says, the federal government should provide national leadership to "encourage and focus efforts of state and local governments and the private sector."
While there are many examples of successful programs at the local level, states and districts could do more to enhance international education, Frances Haley, executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies, said at the press conference.
"The ultimate goal," the report maintains, "is to develop and implement policies and programs at the state and local levels to provide opportunities for all students at all educational levels to have access to international education."
To achieve that goal, the report proposes, among other recommendations, that:
Schools "internationalize" curricula by adding courses in world geography, world cultures, area studies, and foreign languages, and redesign existing courses to provide an international perspective.
Districts recruit teachers with international knowledge and foreign-language skills.
States establish scholarships or other incentives to enable students, teachers, and others to participate in international-exchange programs.
Civic groups foster "sister school" programs to encourage exchanges with schools abroad.
Copies of the coalition's report, "International Competence: A Key to America's Future," along with reports from the working groups on federal support and state and local initiatives, are available for $3 each from caflis, 1 Dupont Circle, Suite 710, Washington, D.C. 20036.
The report of the working group on the private sector's role costs $10, and is available from the same address.
Vol. 09, Issue 15