An Urgent Call for Globally Competent Education Leaders

Promoting thoughtful engagement among students and equipping them with skills, habits of mind, and competencies that will enable them to flourish in their lives—and be happy in their lives—is among the most important things we can do as educators. It might be job number one.
— Rick Swanson, Principal, Hingham High School, MA 

Global education is just good teaching. Global education answers the “So what?” Why does what I’m learning apply to me, every day, in the world? We are charged with helping students see the “so what” of education. What’s a better way to do that than global education? High schoolers know that they are pursing jobs and careers where they are expected to interact and work with other cultures. Why not start them here? Why not get them comfortable in the world?
— Chris Balga, Assistant Principal, Harris Road Middle School, NC

Why a Global Focus in Education?

The time has never been more urgent for schools to equip students with the mindset, knowledge, and skills they need to thrive in a diverse, interconnected world. Whether you believe school should prepare students for the workforce, for citizenship, or for both, students will need to develop empathy an appreciation of diverse perspectives and cultures knowledge of conditions, cultures, and events in their own communities and around the world and an ability to communicate, collaborate, and problem solve with people from diverse backgrounds and in various settings. Embedding these mindsets, knowledge, and skills, or global competence, into everyday teaching and learning is vital for each student’s overall success and well-being. The following economic, technological, demographic, and other societal trends point to why.

Career Readiness. Jobs of today and of the future require cross-cultural skills, flexibility, critical thinking, and problem solving. Globalization has redefined and reshaped the job market and how goods are produced, and services rendered. Over 40 million U.S. jobs are tied to international trade, and industry leaders share broad consensus that multilingualism, international experience and skills, and the ability to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds are desired employee attributes and vital to companies’ bottom lines (Asia Society & Longview Foundation, 2016). A 2015 Sodexo Workplace Trends report points to a globally connected world as one of six drivers of change relevant to future work skills, and cross-cultural competency, virtual collaboration, and new media literacy are key skills for the 2020 workforce. Likewise, The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 Pearson report contends that interpersonal skills and higher-order cognitive skills will be in great demand by employers due to globalization and demographic changes (2017).

Digital Connectivity. Recent technological advances connect individuals from all corners of the globe at lightning speed. Over a decade ago, Thomas Friedman predicted in his book The World is Flat, “Globalization 3.0 makes it possible for so many more people to plug in and play, and you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part” (2005, p. 11). His words certainly ring true today. With more than 2 billion monthly users (Chaykowski, 2017), Facebook is just one example of the proliferation of social media sites and apps that youth and adults log into on a regular basis to upload, download, share, comment, and connect on ideas, news, jobs, pictures, videos, music, and more. Sixty-eight percent of all adults in the United States use Facebook, 28 percent use Instagram, 21 percent use Twitter, and over half of social media users engage with multiple sites. The use of messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp are also on the rise, particularly among adults under age 30 (Pew Research Center, 2016).

Youth today are digital natives, and have only known a world of instant connectivity. Given these trends, a Varkey Foundation survey of youth ages 15–21 in 20 countries found that 80 percent of youth in the United States and 76 percent of youth worldwide considered “greater and easier communication between people throughout the world” a factor that made them more hopeful for the future (2017).

Demographic Diversity. Global migration is at an all-time high. In 2017, the number of international migrants reached 258 million, a significant increase from 220 million migrants in 2010 and 173 million in 2000. Two-thirds of all migrants live in 20 countries, with 58 million residing in North America (The United Nations, 2017). This migration boom has led to further diversity within local schools and communities. One in four children under the age of 18 in the United States is a first- or second-generation immigrant, the population of children under the age of 5 is majority minority, and 350 languages are spoken in homes (Child Trends, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). These demographics don’t only affect regions with long histories of immigration, such as California, Florida, and New York. States and small communities with little history of accepting newcomers have seen significant increases in migration over the past 10 years. For instance, Adams County, Washington, has the same percentage of people speaking a language other than English at home as does Dallas, Texas. Cross-Border Challenges.

Pandemic disease, climate change, political unrest, war, famine, economic inequality, bigotry, violent extremism. These problems that play out in our local communities transcend borders as well—and require global solutions. Those leading the charge will need to communicate and collaborate across cultural and national divides in efforts to solve them. Fortunately, youth today have a desire to tackle these challenges, as 71 percent of youth in the United States, and 67 percent of youth globally, consider making a wider contribution to society important or very important (Varkey, 2017). As these trends show, each one of us is inextricably connected with our community, country, and wider world. Whether you live on a small rural farm or in a bustling urban metropolis, these globalization trends affect you, your students, and your community. Our present reality, and our foreseeable future, is one where we live, work, and cooperate with people from diverse cultures and countries. Future-ready students are global-ready students.

As such, schools have an obligation to effectively equip students with the global-ready skills to thrive in our complex, interconnected world. The question is, how?