By Heather Clydesdale
The revolution that is reshaping education today is of a Copernican magnitude. The world is shifting to a knowledge economy as sophisticated technologies and continual migrations tighten connections between peoples and cultures. Once the purview of language specialists and international studies majors, global competence today is mandatory for students hoping to pursue public health, law, human resources, environmental science, and other professions. This has deep implications for K-12 and post-secondary institutions as they endeavor to endow all students with tools, skills, and knowledge to collaborate across cultures. By understanding global trends, national strategy, and current realities, teachers can more mindfully play a role as their institutions adapt to an internationalized world.
Dr. Donna Scarboro likens today’s paradigm shift to that of the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, when discoveries fundamentally altered European and American views of nature and inquiry. “We are at a moment like that. The importance of global understanding has become an imperative,” says Scarboro, associate provost for international programs at George Washington University.
She adds that internationalization is permeating institutions at all levels: “Things that were untouched 10 or 15 years ago by this force are now being changed. It’s not just curriculum and it’s not just research. It’s really the fabric of how campuses do business.”
Bradley Farnsworth, director of the Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement at American Council on Education (ACE) agrees that “institutions should address internationalization in all aspects.“ Farnesworth, who helps institutions design cohesive approaches to internationalize teaching, research, and service, notes that institutions commonly identify China as a top priority. He encourages Chinese language teachers in particular to investigate their institution’s strategic plans for engaging China, and to become directly involved. Doing so can lead to professional development opportunities as well as exchanges for students. He cautions teachers and institutions, however, to be aware of potential pitfalls, noting that partnerships are frequently driven by a few individuals and therefore can be fragile.
Internationalization in education is not only an amalgamation of local responses to global forces, but is being steered at the national level. Not surprisingly, bolstering American students’ Chinese language and cultural competency skills is a prime concern. The 100,000 Strong Initiative, announced in 2009 by President Obama and launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, seeks to both diversify and increase the number of Americans studying in China. Carola McGiffert, senior advisor and director, points out that Chinese students studying in the United States outnumber American students in China by ten times. “We are behind,” admits McGiffert. “We don’t have the cultural understanding we need.”
Despite widespread urgency to remedy this disparity, the United States faces barriers. Americans, notes McGiffert, “value autonomy in education.” Even more significantly, the prevailing climate of fiscal austerity and specter of budget cuts has further compromised efforts to implement a unified vision for internationalization of K-12 and post-secondary education. In response to uncertain prospects for government funding, the 100,000 Strong Initiative actively nurtures private-public partnerships. McGiffert urges teachers and administrators who are frustrated with lack of funding at local levels and in their institutions to channel their energies into garnering support from local businesses, who have immediate and vested interests in preparing a proficient workforce.
Farnsworth agrees that these partnerships are valuable for programs on local levels, conceding that “raising money from corporations [requires] a different set of skills, but it is worth it.” When asked how educators or administrators can convince community businesses to invest in the internationalization of education, Farnsworth recommends calling attention to studies on the demands for international skills.
Scarboro acknowledges that this is prudent, but then confesses, “I get impatient with this because I want to say, look at the world that you’re in and ask yourself what an educated person needs to understand, and you’re done! I’m not sure how many studies are needed to demonstrate that we’re in a globalized world.”