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Global Competency Through International Interaction and Education

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The world is capturing our national attention like no other time in recent years. From the natural disaster devastation in Japan to the global economic crisis and the human uprisings in the MENA region, every part of U.S. society is visibly being impacted by world events. These occurrences have again demonstrated how inter-connected our societies, economies and lives are. To be able to deal with these events and issues, our students need every possible tool and skill to understand and deal with the countries and people undergoing these changes. These skills include the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems, familiarity with technology and an awareness of and respect for different cultures and languages.

All of our students need these tools and skills, regardless of their future occupational field and current socio-economic situation. No longer can global competence be limited to those who are old enough or financially able to travel abroad. Among the many demands on our country's resources, few are as cost-effective as global competency through interaction with persons of other cultures in meaningful and structured educational programs.

Our country's security, competitiveness and need for global competency depend on a citizenry that understands and can interact effectively with peers worldwide. However, from language to STEM skills to geographical knowledge and cross-cultural understanding, American youth are ranked below most of their world peers. Very few of today's American youth are prepared to be tomorrow's global leaders. This potential crisis in U.S. global leadership capacity demands a dramatic, yet achievable goal that will resonate with the American public.

The current administration's State and Education Departments are joining the private sector to commit to creating a globally competent citizenry by linking every school in the U.S. with the world through curriculum, world languages, physical exchanges and/or online interactions by 2016 -- an ambitious, yet achievable goal that has been set by the private sector in the Connect All Schools Initiative.

We need to demonstrate what is happening in terms of global competency so that we can build on the international connections in U.S. schools and replicate them 100- or 1,000-fold. Our country must commit to developing a global competency among all of its young people, not leaving this to continue to be the monopoly of those who have the resources to travel and study abroad.

The foundation for such a commitment was laid in June 2009 in a historic speech in Cairo, Egypt, where President Obama expressed his desire to "create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo." The President's speech sparked a great deal of enthusiasm among the K-12 education and citizen exchange communities.

Administration officials undertook an assessment of existing programs and found significant programs in place. These programs build cross-cultural interaction and awareness, while supporting citizen diplomacy through physical and virtual exchanges. They are the basis for expanding global education for all of our students.

Our own educational online network, iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) alone daily engages about 2,000,000 students in 130 countries, including 38 countries with significant Muslim populations, in collaborative online project work. After 9/11, the Department of Education asked iEARN to lead a consortium of organizations (Friendship Through Education) to assist U.S. educators, students and community members in expanding such contacts. For nine years, the Bush and Obama Administrations have encouraged iEARN and its partners to build on the existing online programs and expand meaningful interaction between young people in the U.S. and their peers internationally.

The recent demands for revolutionary change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and other MENA countries have demonstrated how important it is for U.S. students to interact with peers in these countries so that they can better understand change and desires for citizen engagement in the region.

The timing is excellent for a global education "moon shot." The president and secretaries of the Education and State Departments have already increased funding for international exchanges and critical language study programs for teachers and youth. The new National Educational Technology Plan calls for more global awareness and collaboration as key components of a 21st century education. The upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) offers the opportunity to make global engagement a national educational priority. Over 80 major nonprofit and for-profit youth and citizen exchange organizations and umbrella trade organizations have signed on to the importance of such an initiative.

Imagine the possibilities. What if our students studying world languages could practice online with native speakers around the world? It would create a student citizenry that is aware of and comfortable with interaction with peers worldwide. The Partnership For 21st Century Skills, a collaboration between the education community and private sector companies, has identified global awareness, ability to work in teams and a familiarity with technology as some of the skills that our young people will need to have to effectively work in a global environment.

Research now has clearly demonstrated that authentic interaction with the world's students across the curriculum results in enhanced motivation for learning STEM subjects, improved reading/writing test scores by our students and a heightened motivation to learn across the curriculum. A recent doctoral dissertation by an official of the Delaware State Department of Education found that teachers who took an online professional development course on how to use online technologies to connect with classes internationally exuded an enthusiasm for meaningful global connections that translated directly into enhanced student motivation to learn their curriculum subjects.

As our future leaders, U.S. students need to be prepared to work with and understand their peers -- both as students and as professionals in whatever their chosen career may be. How might we raise a generation of civic minded, global citizens? By connecting all U.S. schools with partners abroad to increase meaningful interaction between our youth and their peers worldwide in a cost-effective and dramatic initiative that will have significant impact on a generation of American leaders.

Teachers and partner organizations have a chance to tell their stories so that other teachers can read about what is happening and contact the partner organizations to replicate it in new communities and schools.

Imagine... What if every school in the U.S. were to bring the world into their classrooms so that our students will be better prepared for the 21st century? We must embark on a bold public-private initiative to make this reality. Eighty organizations in the private sector have enthusiastically stepped up to help make this happen!