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.

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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.