Riley Urges U.S. To Rejoin International Education Group

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The United States should step up its efforts to collaborate with other countries in improving education worldwide, including rejoining UNESCO, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley urged in a speech here last week.

"Education has taken its place, along with trade and economics, keeping the peace, ... and other major issues on the agendas of international meetings," Mr. Riley said April 19 at the Embassy of France. "The growing importance of education is a new international development, and I do not see it going away."

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 1984 because of the agency's perceived anti-Western political views and concerns about fiscal mismanagement. The Department of State estimates that it would cost $68 million to rejoin the Paris-based organization, an action that President Clinton called for in 1995.

"UNESCO offers the broadest world forum for action on making education for all a reality, and the United States should have a seat in that forum," Mr. Riley said to the nearly 300 people who attended the speech, including ambassadors, embassy officials, and representatives of various U.S. and international groups.

Mr. Clinton later signed an executive memorandum stating the government's commitment to international education policy. The departments of State and Education announced they would host a series of meetings to further the goals.

The speech highlighted Mr. Riley's recent two-week trip to Asia, where he attended two meetings with other education leaders and visited schools.

He reported that he had shared ideas on a wide range of topics that have also challenged the leaders of those countries: the use of technology and the "digital divide" between wealthy and poor nations, a dissatisfaction with teacher-training and professional-development efforts, attempts to balance academics with social and moral development, and alternative ways of assessing students' readiness for higher education.

During the trip, the secretary visited schools in Singapore, one of the countries that have outperformed the United States in international mathematics assessments, to study instructional strategies there. Those teachers, he said, spend more time working with their students in depth on one concept, instead of trying to cover many concepts at once.

"Many experts believe America's math curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide, and that we do not challenge our students enough. My visit to Singapore confirms that opinion," he said.

The United States is also lagging behind other industrialized nations in teaching its students a second language, he added.

Mr. Riley wants colleges and universities to set a goal of sending 20 percent of their students abroad in exchange programs. He also sees a dire need for American teachers to teach English in other parts of the world, partly because of the growing use of computer software written in English. Mr. Riley encouraged educators, particularly recently retired teachers, to consider an assignment abroad.

Worldwide Interest

The speech capped a personal interest of Mr. Riley's in international education issues and hundreds of visits from foreign educators to the Education Department during his seven-year tenure. ("Federal File: International Appeal," Nov. 17, 1999.)

Secretary Riley will continue his international travels next month, when he is scheduled to visit schools in Italy and Ireland and meet with education officials in London.

Vol. 19, Issue 33, Page 31

Published in Print: April 26, 2000, as Riley Urges U.S. To Rejoin International Education Group
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