Linking US Global Competence With Education Globally

Statistics can be deadly. In some cases, this can be literally true when it comes to career and health opportunities. Today 61 million young people around the world are not in school, 793 million adults worldwide cannot read these words (64% of whom are women) and 25% of US young people do not graduate from high school in four years (that's about 5 million youth nationwide and the figure rises to 50% in many urban areas). They will be permanently excluded from meaningful careers and will find it difficult to be able to support themselves and a family. Further, they lack information on health, family planning, technology training, and entrepreneurship that can improve both the quality of their lives and lessen the social economic burden that the rest of society bears in their support.

We know that individual productivity goes up, population growth is reduced and health care expenses go down when young people, particularly girls, receive an education. Yet, communities and countries, both rich and low-income, faced with a myriad of issues to address, often focus on other, more immediate, socio-economic and health agenda items. It's understandable in that investments in education often generate demonstrable results only after a number of years -- much longer than the short-term attention span of elected officials and economic bean counters.

Yet, education is the basis of sustained positive change in all areas of development.

What is missing in policy decision-making around eliminating illiteracy and providing access quality education worldwide is leadership. Who is stepping up to speak about the need to allocate the resources required to educate our young people, for both blue and white-collar jobs, whether nationally or globally? What are the two political parties saying about education for all young people?

Thanks to the work of the Asia Society and others, there is significant buzz about global competence these days. There is a growing consensus (if not funding) around the importance of young people in the U.S. knowing the languages and cultures of other countries. And it's not difficult for political leaders to grasp how important global competence is at both the K-12 and university levels for the US to be able to prepare its young people for 21st century careers.

But, taking a more global perspective, it does little good for us in the U.S. if much of the rest of the world has no quality education and cannot play a meaningful role in the global economy. On the economic side, they cannot buy our services and products. On the defense side, they will not know about the complexities of the world and therefore be possible candidates for involvement in violent activities.

And just as importantly, they are not able to share their own cultures and have no opportunity to learn about other societies around the world, knowledge that could give them the global competence to be able to better function in whatever their career choice. They cannot tell their story and they cannot effectively interact with peers outside of their immediate environment. In a world that increasingly demands this competency, a lack of education relegates them to a life of poverty, ill-health, large families and often a life without hope. The Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US), and its counterparts worldwide, are bringing together coalitions of NGOs working in the education field to build awareness of the issue and leverage the education programs they implement to give the often grim statistics a human face and, through collective action, move them in a positive and life-fulfilling direction. By supporting such multilateral initiatives as the Global Partnership for Education the GCE-US is helping to focus attention on how we can collaborate to make the education statistics less deadly.

What if we linked global competence with education globally? Could the effort to build global competence in young people in the US be one tool to expand quality education globally?

In the Asia Society and CCSSO definition of global competence, a key element is taking action on the learning gained about and through interaction with the world.

What if global competency efforts were focused on building awareness of and taking action with countries and cultures where quality education is most lacking? What if we in the US addressed this issue through programs that build schools (like buildOn and the Batonga Foundation) and provide professional development for teachers internationally that are run by the GCE-US coalition members? Our students and educators could gain global competence by learning with their peers in these countries. Reciprocally, young people who will now be in school could share their stories, their cultures, and their languages and thereby contribute to the global competence of the US students. Schools could be linked through technology-enabled and curriculum based interaction of the kind represented by the newly formed "exchange 2.0 Coalition." Organizations like iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) that have decades of experience linking schools and young people worldwide in online educational project work could play a critical role in the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Anyone interested in helping statistics come to life, particularly to the lives of those without access to a quality education?