Lives Without Limits

11191674463_78ef62dac1Today, December 3, 2013, in recognition of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is launching the “Lives Without Limits” campaign to promote the importance of including persons with disabilities in international exchange programs. The includes stories and features video testimonials from alumni and current students.

President Obama has made disability rights a core part of U.S. foreign policy. The partners of the Connect All Schools Consortium are committed to making all of their virtual and physical exchange programs inclusive and accessible. Join us this month and share stories #WithoutLimits!

Mapping a Nation of Global Connections

Is the U.S. ready for a global future?

Answers to that question may be found in a fascinating new free online resource that was introduced yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education as part of International Education Week celebrations. “Mapping the Nation: Linking Local to Global,” is the new state-by-state, country-by-county visual resource from Asia Society, the Longview Foundation for Education in World Affairs and International Understanding, and analytics leader SAS. Created with “nearly 1 million data points,” that “tell a cautionary tale,” the mapping project has set out to “prove what parents, businesspeople, and policymakers already know: American students must be globally competent to succeed in the interconnected 21st century.”

A quick click on the “California” link resulted in an infographic that gives a quick snapshot of the state’s global connections, including a rather surprising (and dismal) fact about the number of California students who take part in study abroad programs:

The “Global Competency” section concludes with a clear and urgent message:

Learning about and with the world occurs within and outside of school, and it is the work of a lifetime. Globally competent students are life long learners. They are able to adapt and contribute knowledge and understanding to a world that is constantly, rapidly evolving.

Global competence is a crucial shift in our understanding of the purpose of education in a changing world. Students everywhere deserve the opportunity to succeed in the global economy and contribute as global citizens. We must fashion a more creative and visionary educational response to the interconnected world of the 21st century, starting now.

The entire site is worth exploring, especially for educators, parents, and students seeking information, tools, and visuals about why we should connect all US schools to schools worldwide, starting now.

Education’s Connected Moment

Digital Promise’s Karen Cator concludes her thoughtful LinkedIn post, “Education is Having Its Internet Moment,” with the question, “Are we ready?”  The fair answer for education systems worldwide is, “no, but we are working on it,” and that is one of the purposes of this October’s Connected Educators Month.  Since the publication of the National Educational Technology Plan by Cator’s team at the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, connected education has gained prominence and advocates across all levels of education. In the past few months, the practice of “anytime, anywhere” teaching and learning has accelerated. More than just having its Internet moment, education is having its “connected moment.”

As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — expanding upon Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech — made clear in August at the USAID Education Summit, “If we want both justice and peace, then we must work for education.”  Secretary Duncan’s speech, arguably the best speech of his term in office, laid out an inspiring vision of what education can accomplish. A few days later, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision to connect everyone to the Internet. These visions recognize connected teaching and learning as a powerful and effective development strategy, especially for marginalized urban and rural youth, youth with special needs, and women and girls.

Our country is not ready for Secretary Duncan’s or Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, but the Connect All Schools Consortium and others are working toward the goal of meaningful connected education for youth worldwide. New platforms and social media channels are connecting teachers and students worldwide in creative ways at increasingly huge numbers. We still need much more investment in our country’s international exchange programs, global awareness curriculum developers, and cross-cultural professional development providers. Disappointingly, Federal funding for international training and education has been cut by 41% in the past four years. While private sector investment in education’s connected moment is crucial, this investment is much more effective when leveraged with local, state, and Federal government investment. If we want justice and peace, we need connected education to be funded as a top national security issue.

Connected education also needs to be represented in the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core have no mention of learning about the world (global competencies), interacting with the world (global collaboration), or working with peers to address justice and peace (global citizenship). While the Common Core are not curricula, the Standards do reflect what we think are important for our next generation to learn; In short, our values. As standards, the Common Core are adequate, but as a roadmap for what American education can contribute to justice and peace, the Common Core come up short.

The good news is that 9 out of 10 students want more world affairs, foreign language, and international education in their classrooms. These students know future employment and tackling global issues like climate change, require global competencies, language skills, and connections with peers abroad. These students want to make the world a safer, more prosperous, and more hopeful place. Let’s follow their lead, connect, and embrace this transformational moment in education together.

The Real Value of Connecting All Schools

This Is Water

“The real value of a real education,” American novelist David Foster Wallace asserts in his now-viral 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech about empathy, “has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness.” Most everyone who has studied abroad, especially those who have lived with host families, understands this concept acutely.

The positive, life-long impact of study abroad on young people is undeniable. Each year, however, less than 2,000 US high school students—roughly 1 in 10,000—travel abroad for a semester or year-long experience. Students younger than 15 years old, students with special needs, and students from geographically isolated and socio-economically challenged areas of the country have few opportunities to have the perception-altering experience that study abroad provides.

The efforts of the Connect All Schools consortium and like-minded programs, such as Flat Classroom, Edmodo, Twitter chats, Global Read Aloud Day, Skype in the Classroom, Microsoft’s Partners in Learning, Global Classroom Scrapbook Project, and the Intel Teach Program, have vastly increased the diversity and number of students gaining global awareness and empathy beyond what would be possible through study abroad alone. Still, only small fraction of U.S. K-12 students currently have access to some kind of international experience, whether physical or virtual.

“It is unimaginably hard to do this,” Wallace adds, “to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.” It is difficult for educators in the day in and day out of teaching, testing, and trying out new technologies to commit their students to a collaboration with their peers around the globe. We must give teachers the space to do so. We need more than just 1 in 10,000 youth to be aware of what exists and what it feels like—even virtually, even for a short-time—to be outside our country’s borders. We need an empathetic, globally aware citizenry capable of working with their counterparts in other countries to meet the economic and geopolitical challenges of this century.

This is a real value of a globally-connected education.

Only 1 in 10,000 US high school students study abroad

[Source: Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET)2012-2013 Report]

Internet Freedom and the Education of Hope

Kids in Lajan Village, Kurdistan, Iraq,

Team Antenna in Lajan Village, Kurdistan, Iraq, cheer a green light on their modem! The group is participating in Touchable Earth, the first digital world book for kids where kids in each place explain all the facts about it. The Christopher Stevens Youth Network will support efforts like this in 20 countries.

[Thanking @craignewmark for mention of this post on @HuffPostTech]

One day, the “globally connected classroom” will simply be known as “the classroom.”

January 18th is Internet Freedom Day, and we’re celebrating the Connect All Schools Consortium. The Consortium is a leading the effort to move our country closer to the goal that every school in the United States have global connections so that every student have an international experience to gain critical skills, knowledge, and hope for a prosperous and secure future.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Ed Gragert saw the Internet’s potential for teachers and students:

The power of the Internet is in its human connective potential. By connecting us as global citizens and local community members, we learn better. We open ourselves to new ideas and in turn shape the thinking of others through diverse input. We and our students become empowered to apply learning within our societies and in the global community in ways that can impact powerfully and positively on lives and environments.

In short, the Internet has the potential for creating an education of hope.

If we want to nurture a critical mass of young people who trust and respect each other, we need an Internet that fosters freedom of expression. If we want to empower future leaders to work together towards a healthier and safer planet, we need an Internet that supports an open and fair exchange of ideas. If we want our efforts to promote peace and conflict resolution through programs like the new Christopher Stevens Youth Network, we need an Internet that encourages empathy, meaningful collaboration, and an education of hope.

If we want every young person to believe that his or her voice matters, we need Internet freedom.

The Diplomatic Core of US Education

This month, the International Affairs Office of the US Department of Education released its new strategy document, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, which: 

… outlines the U.S. Department of Education’s International Strategy for 2012-16 and affirms the Department’s commitment to preparing today’s youth, and our country more broadly, for a globalized world, and to engaging with the international community to improve education. It is fully integrated with the Department’s domestic agenda and designed to simultaneously attain two strategic goals: strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

The strategy document lists four objectives:

Objective 1: Increase the global competencies of all U.S. students, including those from traditionally disadvantaged groups;

Objective 2: Enhance federal, state and local education policy and practice applying lessons learned from other countries to drive excellence and innovation in the U.S. and abroad;

Objective 3: Advance U.S. international priorities in strategically important countries through active education diplomacy; and

Objective 4: Develop, monitor and continuously improve ED’s international activities in an integrated and coordinated manner.

The concept of “education diplomacy” is one that the Connect All Schools consortium has championed at the classroom level. So, too, the idea that internationalizing US classrooms advances our national security, while strengthening our overall education system. The strategy document, however, does not mention the role that technology can play in attaining the Department’s two strategic goals. It’s a conspicuous oversight considering that US Department of Education’s 2010 National Educational Technology Plan highlighted that teaching and learning was becoming increasingly global, networked, personalized and mobile, and called for more investment in preparing administrators, teachers, students and parents for globally networked, personalized “anytime, anywhere” learning. The Department also highlighted the role of technology in internationalizing education in August during Connected Educators Month. In fact, the US Department of Education launched International Education Week in 2000 with the US Department of State specifically to promote “the wise use of technology internationally.”

It is difficult to conceive of how the US Department of Education will effectively support education diplomacy—which it calls a “core element” of its work—without using modern technologies or supporting educators to use modern technologies effectively in their classrooms. For example, the strategy document calls for increasing international exchanges, but it makes no mention of virtual exchanges, which are increasingly seen as a powerful new tool to scale diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding, especially for traditionally disadvantaged groups and children too young to travel abroad.

Still, the strategic document is another step forward from the US government in advancing the idea that ALL young people should experience international collaboration as part of their education. And, the commitment by the US Department of Education to “walk the talk” and collaborate closely with their peers globally is important. Why is both classroom and government-level education diplomacy critical? Simply,

… so that we have a nation, and a world, that is informed, engaged, and prepared to deal effectively with the global challenges that will face us.

Knitting the World Together a Million Relationships at a Time

Two global education champions, Asia Society’s Tony Jackson and Soliya’s Lucas Welch, have published blog posts this week that go to heart of the mission of our Connect All Schools consortium. Both posts are stark reminders of how little US and Muslim relations have changed since September 11, 2001. Both posts, however, are also optimistic in how much more capable we are—with new tools, resources, and knowledge—to positively affect these relations.

Both Tony and Lucas zoom in on the recent Libya tragedy and importance of young Americans understanding their peers worldwide. In his Education Week blog, Tony focuses on empowerment and taking action in our communities:

The most promising approach to changing this is to make the need known. Students, parents, businesses, communities, national security, and every other stakeholder should identify education as a primary means to greater global competency, security, and stability. Specific focus is needed on integrating into the curriculum, knowledge and skills that further understanding of the world and how it works. Find models that work for your communities. Demand that decisions and investments are aligned toward goals that include global competence.

Let’s take what we know about the world today and create opportunities for the next generation to make it better.

On Huffington Post Religion, Lucas begins his eloquent post on the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens with a focus on building respectful long-term relationships using new technologies. He asks: 

Chris has shown us the power of relationships, but we need to translate that power into the age of social media. We need to determine how we can leverage the power of these new technologies to emulate the way he interacted but at a vastly larger scale, so the hateful bile of fringe Americans is not what defines us, and so our actions as a society are more informed by a respect and understanding for the people they affect.

What if all of the Arab youth who have taken to the streets in recent years had an American in their life who listened to them, showed respect for their values and cared about their rights? And what if our next generation of policy-makers, journalists, and religious leaders had Arab friends and worked to ensure our policies and pronouncements genuinely lived up to the ideals we espouse for them?

The Connect All Schools consortium was formed to assist schools build the relationships and global competencies Tony and Lucas write about in their posts. Since 9/11, consortium members have led the development of hundreds of new programs and projects to foster strong relations between the West and the Islamic world, efforts that focused on building trust, mutual understanding, and a commitment to shared goals.

In the weeks following 9/11, organizations and relief programs with strong global communities—People-to-People International, NetAid, Sister Cities International—joined with programs using new technologies to connect classrooms worldwide—UN CyberSchoolbus, ePals, Global Schoolnet Foundation, Worldwise Schools, iEARN, Schools Online, World Links, Global Nomads—stepped up their support of virtual and physical exchanges with countries with Muslim populations. A priority was helping primary school-aged youth to share their stories and to take action at a traumatic time of national shock and mourning.

These school-to-school programs were widely publicized and generally praised at time when post-9/11 anxieties and the hangover from the dot.com bust led to a number of polls that showed Americans engaging in more online communities, but feeling both ambivalent by online interaction and disliked by their peers in the Muslim world. George Packer writing in the April 2002 New York Times Magazine captured the mood:

The globalization of the media was supposed to knit the world together. The more information we receive about one another, the thinking went, the more international understanding will prevail. An injustice in Thailand will be instantly known and ultimately remedied by people in London or San Francisco. The father of worldwide television, Ted Turner, once said, “My main concern is to be a benefit to the world, to build up a global communications system that helps humanity come together.”  These days we are living with the results – a young man in Somalia watches the attack on the south tower live, while Americans can hear more, and sooner, about Kandahar or Ramallah than the county next to theirs.

But this technological togetherness has not created the human bonds that were promised. In some ways, global satellite TV and Internet access have actually made the world a less understanding, less tolerant place. What the media provide is superficial familiarity – images without context, indignation without remedy. The problem isn’t just the content of the media, but the fact that while images become international, people’s lives remain parochial – in the Arab world and everywhere else, including here.

… But at this halfway point between mutual ignorance and true understanding, the ”global village” actually resembles a real one – in my experience, not the utopian community promised by the boosters of globalization but a parochial place of manifold suspicions, rumors, resentments and half-truths. If the world seems to be growing more, rather than less, nasty these days, it might have something to do with the images all of us now carry around in our heads.

Contrary to Packer’s assertion, however, the images of that young globally-connected children were now carrying around in their heads were images of hope and caring, in the forms of drawings, quilts, and photographs that were shared by tens of thousands of their peers. Furthermore, new curriculum materials were developed and professional development workshops and courses were provided for thousands in the US and countries with significant Muslim populations on how to integrate international collaboration in their classrooms. Online interaction and collaborative publications flourished, and US educators and students began to visit Muslim countries for the first time. Schools in the US began to teach Arabic.

At a time before social media fundraising platforms, US students used new technologies to mobilize their communities to provide humanitarian relief to Afghan schools and Iran earthquake victims. The World Wide Web was an important tool to both share information and enable teachers and students in the US and countries with significant Muslim populations to identify programs fitting their interests and needs. The 9/11 attacks were the most intensive online event in history, and organizations like iEARN became key “exchange 2.0” resources to which teachers turned for information on how to link with and learn about countries with Muslim populations. The growth of connected classrooms hasn’t slowed since.

The success of this burst of post-9/11 classroom connections was amplified a year later when Congress introduced legislation to support programs focused on traditional high-school and university-level exchanges and language programs. In early 2002, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced The Cultural Bridges Act to fund new exchange programs with countries with significant Muslim populations. The bill died, but informed subsequent legislation that funded the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, the Global Connections and Exchange Program, the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) and the Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP), which focused on “critical languages” such as Arabic, but also Urdu, Farsi, Hindi, Pashto, Russian, Chinese, and Korean.

Today, the influence of all these post-9/11 programs continues to be felt at the White House and the Departments of Education and State. In April 2011, at the first Exchange 2.0 Summit, former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale remarked:

We need to explore more ways to strategically and consistently incorporate connective technologies into our exchange efforts. As President Obama has said, we need to “create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.” With the help of many of you in this room, we have already started down this path at the State Department. Our Global Connections and Exchange Program has been in operation for ten years. This landmark public diplomacy initiative connects students who may never share a lunch table or walk home together. But with online classrooms, there are no limits on sharing their ideas. Together, they learn to be positive forces for change in their local communities.

Last week, eleven years after 9/11, Newsweek (and Twitter) reminded us that we live in a world of Muslim Rage. In that eleven years, though, much has changed. The number of organizations connecting classrooms worldwide has increased ten-fold, as has international funding for educational technology. Mobile learning, open data, cloud computing, social media, MOOCs, and other tools and resources are evolving and changing teaching and learning at a remarkable pace in both developed and developing countries. More than 6,000 YES program scholars from 40 predominately Muslim countries have returned from a year of high school in the United States, and they are inspired to serve their communities. Thousands more US teachers and high-school and university students have traveled, studied, and lived abroad in these same 40 countries, and they too are inspired to make a positive difference in their communities.


Still, Lucas explains, we need to do more:

Exchange programs are the primary way we have traditionally sought to foster these relationships. But in our hyper-connected world, vastly more people can directly influence relations between our societies, and the costs and logistics of study abroad make it inaccessible or unappealing to all but a select few. (Approximately 2 percent of American students in higher education study abroad, for example, and less than 2 percent of those go to the Middle East and North Africa.) Even if we were to vastly increase the number of students studying abroad, which we should, it would still only be a drop in the bucket of public opinion.

Over the last year, a coalition of organizations has formed to advance exchange 2.0 – a next-step in international education that leverages the power of new technologies to vastly increase the number of youth who have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education. Each of these organizations … has developed “virtual exchange” programs, which are integrated into curriculum and have demonstrated significant impact cultivating relationships and developing cross-cultural respect and understanding. Based on the cost-efficiency of these programs, it is conceivable that such programs could become a fundamental part of education in the coming decade and literally millions of new relationships could be fostered across the divides where they are most needed.

 It may seem from the protests and violence of the past two weeks that there has been little progress in increasing trust and respect among people in the US and in predominately Muslim countries. But we have made progress, and we will continue to do so, led by young people using new tools and resources to connect us closely and help us build enduring relationships, as the examples above show.