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!

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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.

Connecting US Classrooms Globally for National Security

Connecting US teachers and students with their peers worldwide will lead to a more prosperous and secure United States. But how, exactly?

This blog has made the case that connecting US classrooms to partners around the world bolsters US public diplomacy, an essential component of national security. Many others have made similar statements to the effect that global awareness among K-12 youth is needed to prepare future leaders who will help mitigate environmental, financial, and global health crises that will impact national security.

The US Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security have stated that US K-12 educational system isn’t meeting their needs for its current national security challenges. Still, policy-makers rarely address the need for international education in US schools, and programs that help teachers and students learn about the world are not funded at the level of other national security priorities (not even close). Here are four recent articles for policy-makers that explicitly link US national security to our students’ global competencies. Are these compelling arguments? Are there more for this list?

  Enhancing Foreign Language Learning
“The promotion of foreign language instruction should be a national priority. “
Terrence G. Wiley, Sarah Catherine Moore, and Margaret S. Fee, Center for Applied Linguistics
  Supporting Education Reform
“Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”
Joel I. Klein and Condoleezza Rice, Council of Foreign Relations’ Sponsored Independent Task Force
  Promoting Study Abroad
“I believe that our national security rests upon the foundation of a well-educated electorate with a broad and sophisticated worldview.”
Rick Steves, Travel Writer
 
Improving Access to Education Worldwide
“Could the effort to build global competence in young people in the US be one tool to expand quality education globally?”
Dr. Ed Gragert, Director, Global Campaign for Education, US Chapter

Classroom-Powered Diplomacy

The recent demise of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was—and not without a little irony—barely noticed. Even though the commission reports and Matt Armstrong’s efforts to explain public diplomacy may seem like inside baseball to most US citizens, the loss of the commission is a lost opportunity to help more people better understand how public diplomacy impacts their lives. We need new approaches to engage the general public about the need for a robust public diplomacy that helps us collaborate effectively with peers worldwide to address pressing global challenges.

Now imagine both the short-term and long-term impact on public diplomacy if we set a goal in 2012 to internationalize education for all US students.

One definition of public diplomacy is that it “seeks to promote the national interest of the United States through understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences.” Public diplomacy, which is part of “soft power,” “smart power,” and “civilian power,” comes in many flavors, such as “cultural diplomacy” (arts, educational and sports exchanges), and overlaps with and supports “citizen diplomacy.” Successes include Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership exchange programs, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the Peace Corps. New efforts to engage the next generation of young people include multilingual Tweets, tech camps, the @america center in Jakarta,  and mobile learning programs. Despite its effectiveness from the Cold War through the Arab Spring, public diplomacy remains a less respected partner of a US foreign affairs approach dominated by development, defense and intelligence. How do we help raise the profile of public diplomacy?

What if we tap the enormous goodwill and peer-to-peer power of 7 million US teachers and their 80 million students? What if we engaged our 130,000 schools to help build a more valued public diplomacy, one that more Americans would more clearly understand, participate in, and respect?

Here is one example of the impact of global classroom connections. Last April, we were honored to host U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith A. McHale at the Peapod Academy in Redwood City, California with a virtual exchange between Adobe Youth Voices students in California and Pakistan. Diego Petterson, an Adobe Youth Voices educator who leads the journalism program at the Peapod Academy, observed that the virtual exchange had a profound effect on the students in California, who were immediately able to look past accents and appearances to find common ground with their peers in Pakistan:

“Many of the students in our program have come from difficult backgrounds, and they made the association between the ways they have been stereotyped and labeled ‘gangsters’ and the stereotype of being a ‘terrorist’ if you are from Pakistan. The students here expressed a great sense of connection with their peers, wanting more opportunities to connect virtually and to meet them in person, inviting them to the United States,” said Diego.

 

Efforts like this to debunk stereotypes and facilitate mutual understanding starting at an early age will pay foreign policy dividends for generations.

Connecting US classrooms to partners worldwide provides our students with valuable 21st century skills; it’s also good foreign policy. Teachers and students are an important resource to help us understand and inform foreign audiences. Let’s tap American “classroom power” to lift to prominence US public diplomacy, one our nation’s most important foreign policy efforts to ensure our long-term security and prosperity.

UPDATED: Check out these two recent articles on this topic. The first is from By Robin L. Flanigan Education Week, U.S. Schools Forge Foreign Connections Via Web

“It’s really easy to hate what you don’t know,” said Lisa Nielsen, an international speaker on innovative education and the co-author of Teaching Generation Text, published in 2011 by Jossey-Bass Teacher. “In the future, I think there are going to be big changes in the way countries are defined, because people around the world are going to be connecting and bonding with each other in a way that doesn’t involve places, but their ideas and passions.”

The second is from travel writer Rick Steves, who writes in USA Today:

Americans who want our next generation to be hands-on with the world — grappling constructively with international partners against daunting challenges that ignore political borders, working competitively in a globalized economy, and having enthusiasm rather than anxiety about other cultures and approaches to persistent problems — can get on board with the movement to help our students get a globalized education.