First Lady Laura Bush, Secretaries Rice, Spelling & Hughes Co-Host College Presidents’ Summit on Language Initiative
A first-of-its-kind U.S. university presidents summit, recently held in Washington DC co-hosted by Secretary Rice and Secretary Spellings, with First Lady Laura Bush as guest speaker focused on a National Security Language Initiative. The Secretaries engaged with 120 academic leaders on significant areas of partnership, including how the US can continue to attract foreign students and talent to the United States, encourage U.S. students to study abroad and prepare U.S. students to be globally competitive through language skills and an enhanced focus on international education.
Over 120 university presidents, from all 50 states, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. represented leading private and public institutions, research institutions, as well as community colleges, historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
Attendees also included senior officials from the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and Education.
The origins of the National Security Language Initiative came from Dr. Rice who believes that we need to think about challenges to America’s standing in the world and the degree to which America can compete. Her thoughts turned to creating a partnership with the private sector, with foundations, with the government as well as the academic community, in order to ramp up the study of critical languages, of Arabic, of Chinese, of Russian, of Hindi and Farsi.
After working on this for the better part of a year, the government now has the elements of this National Security Language Initiative. The initiative encompasses three elements. One, to expand the number of Americans who are mastering critical need languages and start them at a younger age. This includes pilot projects to start them at the kindergarten level and work them up through elementary school, middle school, high school and colleges.
Second, to increase the number of advanced-level speakers of foreign languages with the emphasis of critical needs languages.
The third component is to recruit more teachers to teach foreign languages. Less than 2 percent of high school students in the United States combined today study Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Korean, Japanese, Russian or Chinese.
This initiative is in partnership with the Department of Education, the Department of Defense and with the DNI, Director of National Intelligence. The DNI portion came as a result of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The Defense Department interest came as a result of their need to train in basic foreign language skills nearly 3,000 people a year. The needs at the State Department are for Foreign Service officers that have sufficient expertise in foreign languages. It is economically better to take kids at a very early age and expose them to the study of languages rather than start them when they become Foreign Service officers.
Students participating in these programs will receive financial aid and have to commit to a government job or go into a civilian linguist reserve corps in which they could be called from six months to four years if their help is needed in a critical language. This corps would also be open to retired Foreign Service officers and retired military individuals. If students have mastered these languages, they can also apply to be placed in high schools. The Department of Education is attempting to set up a structure modeled after Teach for America. Thus, if you have a school that needs a Farsi teacher and somebody has studied Farsi, the program will provide the funding to the teacher to get a teachers certificate and then serve as a clearinghouse to match that teacher with a school district.
If an American student wants to go to Beijing to study Chinese, they can do so through the Fulbright exchange or the Gilman Scholarship Exchange Program, which enables underserved American students to go abroad.#