Strategy aims to make US students more globally engaged

The US Department of Education (DOE) appears to be recognising that a globalised world requires its graduates to have truly global world views and has released, for the first time, an international strategy.

The strategy, Succeeding Globally through International Education and Engagement, aims to prepare American students to succeed in a globalised world, and to improve the US education system, from kindergarten through college, by collaborating with other countries.

Maureen McLaughlin, senior advisor to the secretary of education and DOE director of international affairs, said in a blog entry that the strategy is guided by two main goals: to strengthen the country’s education system, and to advance America’s overseas interests.

“Our interconnected world stage requires us to look outwards as we work to develop globally competent students who can compete for good jobs, work to address global challenges like climate change and health epidemics, as well as support our national security and diplomacy,” she said.

According to the strategy, graduates face a unique set of challenges: a highly competitive job market where students are competing with peers from around the world; the need to communicate and collaborate with people from other countries to address serious global issues such as natural disasters and climate change; the need for technological and international expertise that are essential to national security and diplomacy; and the ability to communicate and work with immigrants (there are currently 50 million immigrants living in the US).

Patti Peterson, American Council of Education (ACE) presidential advisor on internationalisation and global engagement, praised the DOE for taking this step.

“For the United States to be a really active and vital participant, we must have students who are prepared to interact with people from all over the world,” she said.

Peterson said the job market had changed, and that most big-name companies were looking for employees with a more global mindset.

“They talk about wanting employees who are comfortable in multicultural teams, and working and interacting with staff in other countries,” she said.

The strategy outlines a few main objectives to advance the larger goals. One is to equip US students with the skills to succeed in a multicultural environment by enhancing their understanding of other cultures and religions and different points of view. According to the strategy, students should be encouraged to study in such areas as the arts, civics, geography and history, and to pick up foreign language skills. Students should also have the opportunity to travel and study abroad to deepen this understanding.

The DOE also plans to engage in what it calls “education diplomacy” with other countries, by creating more partnerships with overseas universities, and increasing international exchange of students and academics. For example, the US and China launched the ‘100,000 Strong Initiative’ to increase the number of Chinese and American students in each other’s countries.

“I am convinced that education leaders can better boost student learning by working together and sharing best practices, than by working alone,” wrote Arne Duncan, DOE secretary of education, in the strategy.

The strategy, which spans the next four years, offers few specifics on how it plans to achieve these goals, especially in the higher education sector.

“The real question will be: How do you take these broad directional statements and fashion them into something that is truly supportive at all levels of higher education?” Peterson said.

“How will this fall to real people and real institutions, with the support from the government and the DOE?”

She said that it will be especially interesting to see how the strategy affects students at community colleges, who typically are not trained to become language or country experts. These students make up nearly 50% of the US student population.

“What does it mean to help them understand the world?” Peterson asked.

Many of the study areas that help students become deeply informed about other countries – language, culture and different political ideologies – were eliminated in recent years at many of the country’s universities as a result of widespread budget cuts. Peterson said the strategy provides a glimmer of hope that these studies could be reinvigorated and reformulated.

“As broad as the language may be, it’s a signal that the DOE thinks this is important,” said Peterson.