As our state becomes more diverse and connected in the world, how well are we preparing our next generation for the global reality of work and life?
Today, more than 280 languages are spoken in North Carolina households. Between 2000 and 2010, our population grew twice that of the national rate in part because the state’s foreign-born population grew 55 percent.
As a state, we are also engaged economically with every continent. In 2011 (the last year data was available), we exported $27 billion in goods produced by more than 9,000 companies. In manufacturing, one in six jobs in North Carolina depends on exports. Our major trading markets include Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany. Our fastest-growing trading partner is China, followed closely by Brazil and France. These countries are critical to our economy and the international nature of the job market for today’s young people.
To paraphrase author Thomas Friedman, our world is getting flat. Preparing the next generation to successfully navigate this changing terrain is critical.
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Recognizing this, the N.C. State Board of Education formed a Task Force on Global Education in 2011. In releasing its recommendations last year, board Chairman Bill Cobey wrote, “Our jobs and lives are already inextricably linked to the rest of the globe. Our global relationships will become deeper and more extensive over the next few decades. It would be naive to fall into the trap of believing we can be harbored from globalization and still prosper in the coming decades.”
In reviewing the current state of global preparedness in our school systems, the Task Force had six major findings:
• First, we need to prepare students for a global today (vs. tomorrow).
• Second, pilot programs won’t suffice – the approach to global education must be comprehensive.
• Third, to prepare students for the world, we must adequately prepare our teachers.
• Fourth, we need to regain our status as a leader in language learning.
• Fifth, we need to advance this agenda through public-private partnership.
• And sixth, accelerating global education in North Carolina is going to require a sustained commitment and investment.
Unfortunately, global education is more vision than action. There is currently not widespread access to classrooms infused with global content, effective language programs, and other experiences that build global skills and knowledge – especially in our more rural communities.
Fortunately, our state has a good foundation upon which to build. Organizations such as VIF International Education, WorldView at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Center for International Understanding are providing experiences, training, and proven practices to educators and students to all corners of our state.
For the past 25 years, Chapel-Hill based VIF International Education has been working with schools and educators across the state and nation to prepare next-generation global citizens.
At the Carolina Forest International Elementary School in Jacksonville, for example, VIF cultural exchange teachers from England, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Jamaica and the Philippines work alongside local teachers to integrate global perspectives into every aspect of students’ learning. Carolina Forest teachers also have access to VIF’s online global professional development platform, and the school has partnered with a school in Belize to deepen children’s cross-cultural understanding and relationships through Skype calls and pen pal communication.
With more than 50 percent of Carolina Forest’s families serving in the military, developing their children’s global perspective is a strategy they fully embrace. In recognition of their innovative approach, Carolina Forest was recently chosen as an exemplary school of innovation by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Also in partnership with VIF, Selma Elementary in Johnston County has created a dual-language immersion program for kindergarten through fifth grades and has hired a diverse teaching staff with 14 international teachers. The investment has paid off. Students in the dual-immersion programs, the majority of whom are from low-income families, scored 200 percent higher than traditional students in last year’s End-of-Grade assessments.
To strengthen the training and network of globally oriented educators across the state, UNC-Chapel Hill created World View in 2001. In addition to hosting a multiday workshop for K-12 and community college teachers this summer, World View also took educators on study visits to Japan and Costa Rica. Past visits have included India, Brazil, China and Russia.
And since 1995, the Center for International Understanding based in Research Triangle Park has taken more than 750 teachers to 13 different countries to build global awareness and ultimately translate this understanding into lesson plans and greater cultural appreciation among students.
These are all promising efforts. But are they enough? While 17 school systems have committed to implementing comprehensive plans for global education through the N.C. Global Schools Network, 98 districts have not.
A prosperous future for North Carolina depends on a prepared global citizenry. We have work to do right now to change rhetoric into reality.
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University, and author of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.” Stephen Martin, a director at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, blogs at www.messyquest.com. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.