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Symposium: Global awareness an increasingly important skill

Francesc Pedró urged educators to look to other countries as an opportunity for collaboration.
Francesc Pedró urged educators to look to other countries as an opportunity for collaboration.

Educators need to rethink how they look at the global community, said Francesc Pedró during the ninth annual Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) International Symposium: Do they view other countries as competition, or as an opportunity for collaboration?

“Whatever happens in the classroom depends on our values and how we look at other countries,” he said.

Pedró, who is a senior policy analyst for the Center for Research and Information with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the global education landscape no longer looks like it did in years past. For example, in the 1960s the United States education system ranked at the top, with Korea ranked at No. 27; in the 1990s, the U.S. dropped to No. 13, with Korea climbing up to the top spot.

This was owing to a large investment in education by the Korean government, Pedró said—not only financially, but also through a policy push explaining to Korean families that education was the most important thing that could be passed on to their children.

Pedró’s presentation began a day full of discussions about how educators can use information and communications technology (ICT) to develop global awareness and understanding among their students—an increasingly important skill for students to possess in a global economy and workforce.

He spoke of how tools such as European Schoolnet’s eTwinning portal, a platform that allows teachers and students to work together with people in other countries, can harness Web 2.0 technologies while increasing students’ global awareness.

Other tools highlighted at the symposium included ePals, Taking IT Global, and NASA’s GLOBE program.

Pedró emphasized the need for teacher colleges to be at the vanguard in preparing future teachers to think globally, as well as the need for policy makers and school leaders to rethink assessments for the digital age.

“Technology is an enabler; assessment is the driver,” he said. “[But] we’re not going to be able to assess 21st-century skills unless we use technology in the assessment.”

Alexis Menten, assistant director of the Asia Society, echoed Pedró’s assertion that the education landscape is not what it once was.

“We’ve seen a sea change. The world has changed, so the education system also needs to change,” she said during a panel discussion explaining why global competencies are critical for today’s students. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent.”

Brett Pierce, who focuses on improving global competency in 4- to 7-year-olds as the executive director of Panwapa, a product of Sesame Workshop, said it’s important to begin by exposing children to their local community and working to increase their curiosity of the global community.

A child needs to get to a point where he or she “doesn’t see difference or otherness in a negative or indifferent light,” Pierce said.

But there are some barriers in place that make it hard for educators to work to increase global awareness among their students at any level.

A survey of the more than 100 international education professionals at the symposium showed they thought these barriers included reluctance from administrators to implement new programs, lack of involvement and understanding from parents and the community, and lack of funding.

Karen Cator, director of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education, said finding a better way of teaching is a bigger issue than lack of funding.

“We need to build a more efficient way of teaching. Right now, there’s no incentive to do things any differently,” she said. “So we need to build a more cost-effective way of serving kids.”

Sasha Connors, an English teacher at Burlington County Institute of Technology in New Jersey, was able to find a cost-effective way to have her students interact with students in other countries by using iEARN to connect with other schools and Skype to hold IP-based calls.

“I had seen students form opinions based on what they see in the media. They had a limited knowledge of how the world works,” she said. “Web 2.0 allows students to interact with students from around the world. Skype allows meaningful global exchanges.”

She said that after interacting with their peers in places like India and Afghanistan, her students not only achieved a better understanding of those countries, but of themselves as Americans.

But she acknowledged that she was the only teacher at her school using Web 2.0 technologies to interact with the global community.

“Many teachers feel that technology can be used inappropriately by students. [Yet] building an interest in global connections and communication is very important,” she said.


Consortium for School Networking

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Asia Society

U.S. Department of Education

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