The Importance of Training Globally Competent Students

April 11, 2012

Too many students are graduating from the American public school system unprepared for post-secondary studies. While strengthening basic skills is one area that requires remedial attention, global competency is another area that, while it receives less attention, is essential for success in this 21st century. Goodman, the President and CEO of the New York-based Institute of International Education, has put forth four suggestions pertaining to all incoming American undergraduate students. In his ideal university, he says students would be required to arrive on campus with a passport and use it during the course of their studies, students would be required to undertake an immersive and intensive foreign language experience, and faculty and student advisors would be globally minded.

For many realists, these suggestions are unpractical for locally minded students, uninteresting for patriotic students, and unaffordable for many more. What needs to be stressed is that being globally competent is necessary for all citizens of the world. Even if they aspire to work domestically, the American culture is becoming increasingly diverse and being able to relate across cultures is an undeniable asset both in the workforce and in the community. Being complacent and ignorant are detrimental skills in today’s increasingly flat world.

Globalization is one of the, if not the, most important phenomena of the 21st century and it shows no signs of relinquishing its influence. With the world becoming increasingly integrated largely thanks to the rise of the Internet and technological advances, employers can both outsource cheap labour and hire the most competitive candidates from across the globe.

Many East Asian countries are fervently dedicated to hard-work and accomplishment. While they are not without their flaws, the overall trend is that students from South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and China have some of the world’s most successful and accomplished education systems. It is undeniable that they are raising some of tomorrow’s most accomplished leaders. This is not to say that the American students and companies are in permanent decline but they are losing their competitive edge by not improving their global competency.

Scholars and think tanks alike have been emphasizing the importance of producing globally competitive students for some time now but such global skills have not yet been indoctrinated in to the curriculum. The focus within the past few years has been on the promotion of student adequacy in reading and math through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and Race to the Top (R2T) by Presidents Bush and Obama respectively. The idea behind both initiatives is that the quality of schools would improve if students were tested regularly and the results made public. While there are benefits to testing, they are outweighed by the shortcomings. Reliance on test scores resulted in an overemphasis of teachers’ skills; there were no provisions for difference in socio-economic status or health. This pressure to meet testing targets has resulted in an over-emphasis on “teaching to the test” and a reduction in classroom time allocated for subjects such as history, civics, foreign languages and geography. These subjects are precisely what is needed to raise strong American global citizens.

While it is true that students might bring international experiences and interests with them to college, regardless of the curriculum, it is inadequate to believe that this is enough. Unfortunately, the assessment tunnel vision has rendered lessons on global issues pushed to the side. While many high school textbooks do contain chapters regarding important historical hallmarks such as the decolonization of Africa and the rise of Asia, there is often no class time left for the issues that would be most impactful on a students’ understanding of the world.

While there are a growing number of initiatives dedicated to improving the number of students who study abroad, the current level of societal understanding of its need is lacking. In recent years, American policies have lowered the country’s popularity abroad. Teachers, parents, and students alike must insist that international students are viewed as a vital part of education for every citizen today. Some scholars go one step further by suggesting that study abroad should be a requirement for all students who study at college or university to improve their intercultural competency. The bottom line is that new and expanded sets of skills are required to succeed in an ever shrinking world. 

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