What is global education? I was given the task of answering this question during a presentation to Colombian teachers. It should have been easy –I have spent the past year participating in a fellowship program that is focused on this topic. But somehow I felt that the tables should have been turned. Over the course of my time observing the Colombian culture and education system, I had come to realize that they had much more to teach me about the topic than I them.
Globalization is a reality of the 21st century. We will need to prepare our students for a world where they will need to consider other perspectives, communicate and take action to solve problems. From what I have seen here, Colombian teachers are already well on their way to infusing these competencies into their teaching practices. There is a huge push from the government to promote English language learning with a Bilingual 2020 Initiative. They are bringing English speakers from around the world to assist teachers in their classrooms. Their English language curriculum is meant to be project based and includes many global topics. They are even working to making education authentic and purposeful by requiring 120 hours of community service for school completion.
Something that I am trying to instill in my students is a curiosity about the world. I see this as a great need in the USA in general. Our limited proficiency in foreign languages and our lack of understanding about other countries and cultures has real economic and political implications. There is a striking disparity between what North Americans know about Colombia and what Colombians know about the USA. I include myself among those whose knowledge of this country was limited to stereotypes, (violence and the drug trade) before coming here. In contrast, the Colombians I met were very knowledgable about US culture and politics. Many of the teachers I met actively sought out ways to learn more about the USA. One place they went to do this was the Colombo Americano Center in Armenia. This is a cultural organization that is supported by the US State Department and the Colombian government as way to promote language learning and cross cultural understanding. They sponsor exchange programs, discussion groups–even movie clubs.
They run an incredible English Language training program called Access. High school students who come from the most vulnerable economic levels are given priority to participate in a rigorous course that includes cultural and career training. Rural students are provided with transportation and snacks and materials are included. The caliber of the students who were selected for this program was extremely high. Most participants accomplish the highest rating of English language proficiency and are able to go on study at the university level. (My teaching partner Ryan Linton wrote a great blog post about a lesson he observed there). I wish we had an program like this in the States. A place where students could go and not only learn to speak other languages fluently, but also to consider the perspectives of other countries and cultures in their relation to ours.
Meanwhile, I am excited to go home and do everything I can to tell the story of the Colombia that I have seen on my trip here. A country of warm and generous people, a country of stunning landscapes and abundant resources–(the best of which are the inquisitive and energetic future doctors, teachers, lawyers and diplomats that I have met here.)
Question for kids: What country in the world do you know the most about? What country would you like to learn more about?