A converging set of powerful economic, technological, demographic and national security developments requires a workforce that is far more internationally savvy and expert in foreign languages and cultures. But the United States’ top business leaders and future workforce are woefully unprepared to meet the challenges of globalization.
“In today’s global economy, foreign language skills have become vital to our children’s future as members of the workforce and to our nation’s future success in the world,” said John J. Castellani, president of Business Roundtable. “It’s time for business leaders and concerned community members to sound a new clarion call that will wake up policymakers and educators to the importance of teaching foreign languages to our children.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, one in five jobs is tied to international trade. In 2007, U.S. exports of goods and services rose almost 13 percent from 2006. Meanwhile, overseas profits for U.S. companies continue to grow each year: In fact, statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis confirmed that earnings on foreign assets grew 20.3 percent in 2007.
Over the past decade, this figure has increased by more than 78 percent and far outpaces the growth of domestic profits by U.S. companies. Research from the Department of Commerce showed U.S. exports to Asia alone are more than $250 billion – a figure that exceeds U.S. merchandise exports to the entire world in 1987.
In this current climate of globalization, new skills are needed to achieve business and professional success. Talk to almost any chief executive of a Fortune 500 corporation, and he or she will describe the critical importance of basic skills such as reading and writing, but say these are not enough to compete in a world where profits depend on knowing your market – a market that is often overseas.
Individuals entering the workforce should be able to:
● Work in teams and collaborate in international settings.
● Be creative, innovate and speak other languages.
● Think critically and communicate clearly.
Unfortunately, despite the reality that these skills are necessary for our global economy, a CEO survey conducted for the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award found that much improvement is needed. Many CEOs believe they and their peers need to improve their performance on a broad range of international skills including the ability to think globally (72 percent), flexibility in a changing world (63 percent) and the ability to develop appropriate strategies (60 percent).
The leaders of the next generation are no better off. U.S. students risk falling behind peers in other nations in their preparation for new jobs because critical skills needed to compete in the global marketplace have not yet been adopted in most U.S. schools.
Asia Society and The Goldman Sachs Foundation released a report in early 2006, titled “Educating Leaders for a Global Society,” which details how U.S. workers in virtually every sector face competition from those who live just a mouse-click away in Europe, China, India and in dozens of other countries with rapidly growing economies. This report also showcases examples of schools who are defining their mission as producing students who are prepared for work, citizenship, and leadership in the global era.
These schools were identified through The Goldman Sachs Foundation Prizes for Excellence in International Education, an awards program created in 2003 with the Asia Society to highlight schools, states, and organizations that are innovative examples of international education for K-12 students and teachers in the United States, and those who are working to scale these models up. The winners are models for other schools around the country trying to prepare their students to graduate as productive workers and citizens.
Examples of current and past winners include:
· Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, is an ethnically diverse inner-city school. Students take four years of a world language and experience home-stay exchanges with sister schools around the globe. Advanced technology, including the use of video-conferencing, connects Payton classrooms to students and experts around the world.
· Eugene International High School, Eugene, Ore., is a school-within-a-school across three high school campuses, in that it serves approximately 1,300 students. Each grade level focuses on a particular region of the world through coursework and students develop a culminating research project and engage in internationally oriented community service during their senior year.
· Metropolitan Learning Center, Hartford, Conn., is a small, public, interdistrict magnet school for grades 6 through 12. The school features an integrated global studies curriculum, intensive study of world languages and extensive use of technology.
· The International School of the Americas (ISA), San Antonio, integrates international content throughout the curriculum. In addition, sophomores participate in a Model UN, and all juniors and seniors are required to complete an internship with an internationally oriented employer.
Such programs, rare a decade ago, are increasing around the United States today. And they are replicable. The teachers and administrators at these schools are but a few of those who know the vital importance of reaching beyond America’s borders in defining the topics for instruction. They aim to teach about global topics not as separate courses or “add-ons,” but as an integral part of regular instructional activities.
These programs are reaching well past the demands of basic standardized tests and lecture classes, the framework of so many middle and high schools, to define the skills and competencies today’s students will need both for the workplace of the 21st century and for the opportunities of global citizenship. A connection to a school in another part of the world has become a common classroom tool in these schools. Language classes are starting at earlier ages and are focusing on communication, rather than on grammar alone.
Major global companies based in the U.S. have long been supporters of school reforms based on standards and accountability. To promote these critical international knowledge and skills, business leaders and philanthropies should ask policymakers to emphasize their importance and help schools to “scale-up” innovative programs. Corporate philanthropy is well positioned to play an essential part in encouraging giving that supports international studies, world languages and technology-enabled exchanges that link students in the U.S. to peers throughout the world.
The stakes involved in meeting the challenges of our flattened world could not be higher. For today’s students and tomorrow’s business leaders, knowledge of the rest of the world is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.