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Internationalizing Colleges of Education

Teachers are at the center of providing students with a global perspective. Here, Caitlin Haugen, Executive Director of the new Global Teacher Education organization examines the complexities and promises of providing teachers with the global knowledge they need. I encourage all who are involved with teacher education to register on this site.

By Caitlin Haugen

Colleges of education in the United States are slow to respond to internationalization efforts, and this is reflected in the lack of global competency skills in our students.

University administrators in the United States are increasingly identifying internationalization as key a component in their strategic plans, and they are working to develop international programs and offices at their institutions to support these goals. They are beginning to recognize that globally competent graduates are more marketable in today's workforce. Institutions are working to provide more study abroad and exchange opportunities, develop partnerships with institutions overseas, bring international students to their campuses, and infuse curricula with global perspectives.

Some of these efforts are showing positive trends. Students are studying abroad in record numbers. According to the most recent Open Doors data, nearly a quarter of a million students studied abroad during the 2010-2011 academic year, a 1.4% increase from the year before. The most recent study by the Modern Language Association (MLA) reports that foreign language enrollment increased 6.6% between 2006 and 2009. These statistics illustrate that students are beginning to understand the value that global perspectives and experiences have to offer, and that they are taking advantage of more of these experiences every year.

Students in higher education are being provided the opportunities to develop global competency skills, but they are not necessarily receiving the same opportunities before they enter college.

A majority of American high school graduates in the United States lack basic global knowledge. According to a National Geographic-Roper poll, 88% could not find Afghanistan on a map, and 63% could not find Iraq—and the United States was engaged in conflict with both countries at the time of the poll. Over 60% do not speak another language, and 82% erroneously identified English as the most commonly spoken language in the world (it is Mandarin).

These students understand they need to develop their global competency skills. In a recent World Savvy poll of high school graduates, 60% percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 reported they would be better employees if they had a stronger understanding of different cultures. Only 12%, however, indicated they strongly agreed that their middle and high school educations helped them to understand the roots of global issues that affect their lives today. Fifty-four percent felt their high school teachers incorporated global perspectives into their classrooms or knew about international events, and 74% wished their classes had a more global approach.

These findings suggest that our students need a global education starting in their early years. They also suggest that our teachers appear are not teaching international perspectives to our students, and that our colleges of education may not be teaching these skills to our educators.

There appears to be a gap between wider internationalization efforts in universities and those in colleges of education.

Teacher preparation programs face unique challenges when working to internationalize. They require specific courses, certification tests, state requirements, and student teaching—all elements that often discourage education majors from studying abroad or seeking out courses that offer global perspectives. It is not surprising to learn that Open Doors reports that only 4% of education students studied abroad during the 2011-2012 academic year. A recent study of 40 U.S. campuses indicates that over 60% of education students have no foreign language requirement, and that very few study another language.

I interact with faculty and deans all over the country who are seeking innovative solutions to these challenges in an effort to internationalize their teacher preparation programs. Some campuses are offering student teaching experiences abroad, providing global certificates for pre-service teachers, and infusing courses with global perspectives. See our website for more strategies and methods that colleges of education are using to encourage their teacher preparation students to become more globally competent educators.

I am continually encouraged by deans and professors determined to develop opportunities and curricula that provides future teachers with global perspectives. I am also daunted by the work that stills needs to be done to support internationalization in colleges of education in this country. These efforts are vitally important because they are the crucial first steps in developing globally competent Americans.

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