Twenty-first century education is about connections, collaboration, and problem-solving. As we prepare students for their potential beyond the classroom, schools must approach the future within a global context. Whether inside or outside U.S. borders, our students will need to communicate with and understand people of other cultures throughout their education, careers, and travels. We are indeed preparing students to be college, career, and world ready.
Students in our schools are people of different cultures, experiences, and perspectives. At least 350 languages are spoken in the United States alone. In the “melting pot,” American schools and communities are faced with the challenges—and the opportunities—of multiculturalism. The United States trades with more than 75 countries across the globe, and American commerce and financial stability are closely linked to our relations with other nations. In the future, our students will not only be involved in international trade and business, but also in matters of national security and diplomacy.
How Education Is Changing
Educational systems around the world are realizing the value in preparing students to have a global perspective. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a measurement that aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. The PISA compares teenagers’ abilities in reading, math, and science. For the first time, this year the survey will also test “global competence.” Now, instead of being assessed only on math puzzles and literacy tests, students will be asked questions on topics such as global warming and racism.
International business leaders have warned that American students may be technically competent, but they are increasingly culturally deprived and linguistically illiterate compared with graduates from other countries. This puts American students at a disadvantage when seeking national or international jobs. We need to prepare our students for global citizenship and the global economy; this includes proficiency in languages other than English and the ability to work with people of other cultures.
The next generations will be part of the solutions to worldwide challenges and, without a doubt, these challenges will need collaborative discussions from different cultures around the world. Engaging our students in rich, relevant, global curriculum will not only be life-changing for them, but it will be crucial in helping students to recognize their personal connection to the world.
As we think of all the reasons why we should globalize curriculum in our schools, various questions surface. Questions from our own school and community perspective include: How are we appreciating and celebrating diversity in our schools? How can we best prepare our students for the challenges they will face as they enter the global marketplace? What will they need in order to level the playing field with other job seekers around the world?
Out of respect for families within their community, schools should first strengthen relationships and communication with classmates and their families. Invite new perspectives. Seek additional ways to build relationships by sending communications in multiple languages and hosting cultural events that invite families in to be appreciated, respected, and celebrated. Encourage students to retain—or perhaps even gain proficiency in—their native language and cultural traditions.
In other parts of the world, students are learning several languages during their education, beginning at a young age. It’s clear that global jobs will require employees with multilingual capabilities. An employee who is proficient in multiple languages, and in the nuances of various cultures, will undoubtedly be an employer’s choice of hire.
In more than 30 states so far, students have the opportunity to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, a recognition for students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. This is for all students, regardless of first language. The seal is not only a recognition for biliteracy, but also a great tool to engage families in our school communities, showing appreciation for their contributions to our multicultural society. Additionally, the seal offers support for students who reach proficiency in a language other than English—another reason to begin second-language study early in the elementary years.
The Future in a Global Society
Both urban and rural communities, with or without a broadly diverse population, have the same responsibility to engage their students with the world. And in today’s world, technology is the key. Inviting a global perspective is possible using media to access international webinars, guest speakers, news broadcasts, documentaries, and other classrooms around the world.
How can we use our class time to prepare students for a global society, along with its benefits and challenges? We must ensure that our school culture and curriculum inspire students to be globally minded and prepared to see challenges from multiple perspectives. All curricula can be globalized; consider these examples.
Science. When we are discussing any type of environmental issue, there will always be another perspective. What do the people of Vanuatu or Iceland think of global warming? How has this issue affected their lives? What do these countries believe, and how are they combating this global issue? Or, when discussing scientific research, have students explore where the scientists were from. What was happening at that time in history? What connections can be made with other cultures during that time?
Social sciences. What do students in other countries learn in school about the world wars? How are those perspectives different from what we are taught in the United States? How has this impacted their current government or the way they perceive other countries?
Health. Research of disease and cures is a global initiative. Nutrition, drugs, and food safety are topics across borders. As curriculum in our schools addresses these topics, why not apply globalized thinking? Which countries’ scientists are looking for a cancer cure? Are prescription drugs abused in other countries? Why are certain pesticides allowed to be used in some countries and not in others?
Food consumption and food/water sustainability are also global issues that will impact generations to come. Why not connect with a school in India to compare their viewpoints on food and water with what U.S. students think?
Math. When analyzing math formulas and the basics of math understanding, discuss the source of this knowledge. Who were the minds behind the theories? Where are they from? Put this in a global context. Or perhaps an algebra class could make a connection with a classroom in China, with students on each side of the world collaborating to come up with solutions.
Food and nutrition. Discuss what school lunch consists of in the United States versus Germany. Are there different food pyramids? What do they serve for dinner in other countries? How does this compare with family dinner time in America? Which countries around the world are the healthiest? Research and collaborate with a classroom in Greenland to compare data.
Agriculture. How do cultures around the world affect the growth of food sources? Consider collaborating with a classroom in Australia to compare the soil composition in your state with the soil in their region. How sustainable is the soil in different parts of the world?
Physical education. Discuss healthy activity in other countries. What do people in France do to stay physically fit? What is a typical body mass index in their country? Are differences due solely to physical activity, or does diet also factor into the equation?
Globalizing curriculum does not have to be a cumbersome undertaking. It can be simply a matter of how you look at any topic within the curriculum. Imagine the impact on your school culture and the powerful curriculum options as students witness their multilingual abilities at work, combined with their knowledge of world issues, as they problem-solve across disciplines. Seek out global learning partners or join students around the world with projects such as the NASSP Global Citizenship Initiative (www.makingglobalchange.org). Help your students to think globally and act locally. When we use our curriculum to inspire students to see themselves as a part of the solution to global challenges, that’s powerful stuff.
SuAnn Schroeder is assistant principal at Medford Area Senior High School in Wisconsin and president of the Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers.
Making It Work
Here’s how to implement globalization at your school:
- Find ways to celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages within your school. If you don’t have a diverse population, recognize that there are many cultures elsewhere and we are all interconnected.
- Challenge your staff members to look at their curriculum through a new lens. Global perspectives are everywhere and waiting to be brought into the discussions.
- Create opportunities and empower students to act as global citizens. Help your students realize that they are all a part of global solutions and that they each impact the world in which we live.
The NASSP Student Leadership Initiative on Global Citizenship
The NASSP Student Leadership Initiative: Global Citizenship has inspired students from the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council to complete more than 450 projects, positively impacting the climate and culture of schools and communities worldwide. In March 2018, NASSP released a report, “Creating Conditions for Success: Supporting Students Making a World of Difference,” which details exemplary student projects, in addition to sharing insights and reflections from the first year of the initiative. The report also features points of engagement for school and community leaders. For more information, visit www.makingglobalchange.org.