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Growing Global: Reflections on 10 Years in the Field

By Heather Singmaster and Tony Jackson

The two of us recently reached the same milestone—ten years of working at Asia Society and of working in the field of international education. We thought this would be an appropriate time to reflect on the state of the field and the growth we have seen over the years in programs and policies that promote global competence. This is what we will endeavor to do over the course of the next nine weeks in this blog—look at where we are and from where we have come, how we have grown, and the challenges we still face.

Thirteen years ago, Asia Society's report, Asia in the Schools, was released to much fanfare by a bipartisan advisory committee representing business, policymakers, and the K-16 education field, including many national education groups. The report laid down a baseline for our work and pointed out the huge gap between the strategic importance of Asia—the largest, most populous, and fastest-growing area of the world—and Americans' disproportionate lack of knowledge about this vital region. It analyzed the state of teaching about Asia and laid forth recommendations for improvement.

On the heels of this seminal report, Asia Society's education department redoubled its efforts to provide content and professional learning about Asia for teachers and students. But with that came the realization that for US students, knowledge of cultures and histories alone is necessary but insufficient to promote a deep understanding of Asia, as it would be for any other region in the world.

To know Asia and to know the world requires a set of underlying skills that allow students in the US, Asia, and globally to access and critically examine information from around the world, to recognize and weigh perspectives, to communicate and collaborate across cultures including in each other's languages, and a disposition to apply knowledge toward the common good. Our work since Asia in the Schools has focused on that, to develop students' global competence en route to graduating high school ready for college, careers, and citizenship in a global environment.

In 2011, together with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we took time to really define what global competence means and what it looks like in action. A seminal moment came shortly after that when the U.S. Department of Education released a first ever, fully articulated international strategy, which began by adopting our definition of global competence.

 Across the country we see national organizations like P21 and ACTFL adopting their own global competence platforms. More schools and districts are seeking professional development to help teachers integrate global into their classrooms. Chinese language programs are booming. States are examining their policies and looking at how to add a global dimension.

The explosion of interest is not just happening in the US—places like Seoul, Toronto, and Singapore are taking a deep look at their education systems and where global learning fits into them. The UN Global Education First initiative has elevated global competence education as a goal equal to putting every child in school and improving the quality of learning. The field is truly taking hold and expanding.

But why and why now? Perhaps it started, at least for Americans, with the horrific wake up call of 9/11, that the world's actors and issues can have a profound impact on all of us. Since then, it has become increasingly obvious that we live in a global economy and that in neighborhoods and nations, diversity is the new normal. To document just how global we are, Asia Society, in collaboration with the Longview Foundation and the data analytics company SAS, created Mapping the Nation. Using almost a million data points, the map allows anyone to see the direct impact of the global economy on local jobs in their state or county. It also shows the growing diversity of people across the land and the languages they speak. In short, it shows the world is here, and to succeed, we must embrace it, be knowledgeable about it, and understand both the assets and challenges of an interdependent planet.

But even with the growing momentum and the data to support the need for global competence education, many remain unconvinced and opportunities have gone unrealized. The Common Core barely includes the global dimensions of math or ELA. Funding for world language programs continues to be cut at all levels, from local districts to the federal budget.

Yet there are champions who have been successful in overcoming these challenges, often in creative way—by using technology, by shifting existing funding to cover new priorities, by using data (and student anecdotes) to convert the naysayers. It is possible and the time is now—if we want our students to succeed, we must give them the world. 

We look forward to sharing these posts with you over the next few weeks and hope you will join in the conversation.  To start it off, feel free to share in the comments section your sense of the field today, and a response to the question:  What's needed most to move the development of global competence from the margins to the mainstream in American education?

Heather Singmaster is Assistant Director, Education, Asia Society and editor of the Global Learning blog. Tony Jackson is Vice President, Asia Society.

Follow HeatherTony, and Asia Society Education on Twitter to receive updates on the blog series!

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