Preparing Young Leaders for the Global Economy
Our nation’s future competitiveness depends on preparing young people to be engaged citizens in an era where knowledge of the world’s interconnections is becoming a new basic skill. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, our public schools are doing a woeful job of teaching students about other world regions, languages and cultures. Surveys conducted by the Asia Society and the National Geographic Society show a huge gap in most students’ knowledge about the growing importance of Asia and other world regions to our nation’s economic prosperity and national security.
Fully 25 percent of our college-bound high school students could not name the ocean between California and Asia. Eighty percent did not know that India is the world’s largest democracy. Young Americans were next to last in their knowledge of geography and current affairs compared with young adults in 8 other industrial countries.
Meanwhile, K-12 language instruction does not reflect today’s realities: Only about half of today’s high school students study a foreign language, the vast majority at the introductory level. Moreover, a million U.S. students study French, a language spoken by 80 million people worldwide, while fewer than 40,000 study Chinese, a language spoken by 1.3 billion people.
These trends have serious consequences. Although our children’s preparation for new jobs and informed citizenship matter now more than ever, the United States is in danger of handicapping itself in the increasingly interconnected global economy. In the 21st century, young people who understand the dynamics of global economic and inter-cultural relations will have a distinct advantage in securing good jobs. Those with knowledge of world history, languages, global health, and international affairs will be able to make informed decisions as voters about domestic issues influenced by global circumstances.
While most schools are behind the curve on their international content, some pioneering work is already underway. For example, the Asia Society and the Goldman Sachs Foundation have introduced The Goldman Sachs Foundation Prizes for Excellence in International Education.
The purpose of the awards is to provide national recognition to the best of the growing number of innovative examples of international education for K-12 students and teachers and those who are working to scale these models up. The identified programs will quickly become widely known, and provide important momentum to the growing field of international education in the schools. Over 400 public, private, and public charter schools and organizations in rural, suburban, and urban locales in almost every state have applied for $125,000 in prize money.
To help replicate and expand these innovative international learning programs in other school districts and states nationwide, an emerging knowledge base of “best practices” is documented in Asia Society/The Goldman Sachs Foundation forthcoming report, States Prepare for The Global Economy. In the United States today learning more about China, India and other parts of our “flat world” is no longer a luxury reserved for diplomats and business leaders. It is a necessity for all Americans.#
Michael Levine is Executive Director, Education at Asia Society in New York City. More information on the Goldman Sachs Prizes and the Society’s research on international research can be found at www.internationaled.org