Global Competency and World Savvy: A Call to Action
October 18th 2010
A message from World Savvy’s Co-founder and Executive Director
World Savvy is a global education nonprofit, educating and engaging thousands of youth and teachers annually in community and world affairs. Our work prepares the next generation of leaders to thrive as responsible, informed and engaged global citizens—a necessity in our interconnected and interdependent society. The need for global competency in the 21st century is apparent all around us -- it’s evident in what we eat, what we wear, the impact of our consumption, of our domestic and foreign policy—all of which are personal, local, and global. If you never leave the borders of your own neighborhood, you are living in a global community. I want to take this opportunity to answer some of the questions I am so often asked about our work.
So, what is Global Competency? What does it look like?
Global Competency is Knowledge: of world geography, conditions, issues and events and their history, interconnectedness and interdependence.
Global Competency is Skills: Technical skills –like research - to learn about the world, critical and comparative thinking skills, and effective Communication and collaboration with people from different cultures and backgrounds, especially those unfamiliar to us.
Global Competency is Attitudes and Dispositions: Empathy, compassion, Sensitivity and respect for personal and cultural differences and multiple perspectives.
How does education in the United States prepare youth to be globally competent?
The truth is that we are not preparing the next generation to thrive in this diverse, interconnected 21st century – not by a longshot. Though the topic of education reform is incredibly complex, with plenty of arguments for various solutions -- data shows us that most reforms and trends in the last 40 years don’t significantly improve student outcomes.
I’ll cite one example from Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby. She reviewed overall reading and math achievement of 17 year olds from 1970-2010–and plotted that data against various reform initiatives enacted during that time period- funding reduced class size, student teacher ratio, or increased per pupil spending. Results showed achievement held relatively constant in those 40 years regardless of the reform enacted, with no significant achievement gains. During this same time period, public education in the US shifted focus to a more test driven climate, and began cutting breadth and depth of subjects to focus on “basic skills”.
This is also the time, however, that the US began to fall well behind in comparison to our international peers –in terms of academic achievement, college access and completion, and ‘innovation’ in the global economy. So, this begs the questions, what are these countries doing that we’re not in the United States?
Research tells us more about this, and some of the findings may be surprising. These countries are offering a well rounded, globally focused education—beyond math and reading --rich in the study of history, science, literature, geography, civics, mathematics, the arts, technology, and foreign languages. They have not reduced time spent on specific disciplines or subjects, or narrowed the breadth and depth of content to focus on test scores. They’re students are learning real world skills and knowledge through multiple perspectives – all the things that we at World Savvy consider quality global education. These countries are not only preparing students for a globalized world—they are consistently producing graduates who are outperforming and out-innovating American students.
Consider that fact this in the context of our changing communities in the United States – and the realities of today's classrooms. More than one in three students in the public elementary and secondary schools is of an ethnic or racial minority and by 2050 they’ll be the majority of the K-12 student population. Immigration trends virtually guarantee that every community in our country will be become more ethnically and culturally diverse. And we know that the world we’re preparing students for is more global, in every respect—culturally, economically, politically and socially. This is no longer preparation that is a pre-requisite for life as a diplomat or a foreign policy wonk—but for any one of us, in any community, wherever we call home.
What is Global education, and why is it the solution?
People are often confused by the label: global education. Is it travel and study abroad? Is it speaking other languages? Is it teaching geography? The truth is, our mission would be achieved and our work would be done the day we didn’t need the ‘global’ to describe the kind of education we’ve envisioned, and type of learning we support in our programs. Education that ensures we’re preparing individuals to thrive, succeed and contribute to an undeniably global society in a positive way.
The Carnegie Corporation summed up the case for global education nicely in a recent study by stating that "building students' world knowledge enriches the curriculum, engages students, improves school performance, and helps children deal with the increasingly diverse communities in which they live…but their success will require that they understand how culture, religion, politics, and history influence the world's social and economic well-being.”
What is World Savvy doing about it?
Building true global competency for all students may sound daunting, but it can be done, and is being done in the schools and classrooms involved with World Savvy programs around the country. Here’s what that looks like on the ground:
Take Shawna Gallo, teaching students in a HS geometry class. They’re linking the study of geometry to its historical roots and practical (and fun!) applications in both the natural environment and in cultures around the world, including Islamic art, African tapestries, and Native American art and design. Or Charlotte Nehm, teaching a dance class to Middle and High School students at International studies Academy —through the lens of geography and history; examining the spread of colonialism and its impact on the adaptation of dance in colonized regions. Or Joel Key at Impact Academy in Hayward, inviting his students to lead a critical comparison of how race and class impact integration and segregation of their city as compared to San Francisco. Or the students at Lighthouse Academy in Minneapolis, most of whom are refugees, examining the issue of water scarcity through the lens of the push and pull factors of migration, and their own personal experience leaving home. These types of connections make learning interesting, relevant, engaging and practical –and show students the ‘real world value’ of knowledge. This is what global education –and World Savvy –does for students around the country.
For the last eight years, World Savvy has worked tirelessly to change the landscape in K-12 education-- to truly prepare the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. We’re doing what research and so much practical wisdom shows is best practice in education –instead of making learning narrower and more ‘basic’ for students, we’re coupling skill development with content knowledge; we’re helping teachers maintain the rigor but increase the relevance for students –to their lives outside the classroom walls, and to our interconnected global society. And there is no mystery to our success, it’s simple:
We’re focused on supporting teachers—through engaging professional development, high quality curriculum and resources and ongoing collaboration and coaching. We’re engaging students and preparing them for leadership through our World Affairs Challenge, and giving them an opportunity to look at issues of consequence through a creative lens, in our Media and Arts Program. We’re supporting systems change through our work with schools and districts, to bring global competency front and center in teaching and learning. World Savvy is raising the standard for quality education nationally. Our call to action is simple: if we want students to be prepared for the 21st century, let’s change the way we teach and learn to be more responsive to the world we live in. That, in essence, is global education.
This past year, with the support of donors and advocates across the country, World Savvy has passed the milestone of 10,000 students and 1,400 teachers served since founding, welcomed five new staff members to expand programs offered in our three active cities—San Francisco, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and New York-- and received our first U.S. State department grant for an exchange program. In 2011, we’ll take 30 of our students and 5 teachers from the US to Bangladesh, to explore climate change in a country where this issue is at the heart of livelihood and basic survival. They’ll work cooperatively with Bangladeshi students on actionable solutions that they bring back home to their communities in the US in spring 2012, and connect this to their learning in our youth programs, which are appropriately focused on the theme of Sustainable Communities. For the first time, we’re expanding our customized consulting and professional development offerings around the country to share best practices. World Savvy is a model for high quality, impactful global education, and a leader in the movement to close the global competency gap in K-12.
I want to thank the hundreds of teachers, students, donors and advocates who made this work possible. The returns on this investment will have a sustainable impact on the lives of thousands of students –who are prepared to learn, work and thrive in our global community. As we begin our Fall campaign to raise more than $200,000 in support of this critical work, I am grateful every day for the world savvy individuals and institutions who make this a priority, and a foundational part of teaching and learning in our schools today.
Please consider supporting this work with a donation today.
With respect and appreciation,