Addressing Achievement Gaps in the Context of Developing Global Competencies

In The World is Flat (2006), Tom Friedman discusses the need for Americans to not only acquire the tools and experiences that will promote their roles as citizens and employability as adapters, synthesizers and collaborators, but also to take responsibility for their own lives, careers and economic security. This implicit call for developing human capital recognizes the importance of reversing the low levels of human capital the United States has experienced since 1975, which Friedman suggests is further compounded by the existence of gaps at many levels, including: a numbers gap, a knowledge gap (education gaps both between high- and low-performing students and within these student populations), an ambition gap, a funding gap and an infrastructure gap. Growing debates regarding these gaps reflects several concerns, including the idea that the United States will be increasingly unable to effectively compete in the global marketplace if these gaps are not systematically addressed.

A new book recently completed with colleagues (Promoting Global Competence and Social Justice in Teacher Education: Successes and challenges within local and international contexts) addresses the knowledge gap, particularly from the perspective of re-conceptualizing the purpose of education to include the attainment of global perspectives and competencies that can contribute to reducing educational gaps both at the high and low end of the achievement distribution. This perspective can inform how MSIs and other higher education institutions operationalize their role in closing the knowledge gap, particularly since

few practicing teachers in the US are prepared to handle the demands of educating students for our changing global context and many do not possess a nuanced, global perspective with regard to their subject areas or pedagogical strategies. The lack of a global outlook limits teachers from accessing available tools with which they can encourage their students to consider multiple perspectives, think critically or cultivate respect and tolerance for diverse peoples and cultures. To address this concern, my colleagues and I discuss here are three types of internationalization experiences that teacher candidates and practicing teachers can integrate in their repertoires:

  1. Opportunities for study abroad, which advocates the development, implementation and evaluation of international experiences
  2. The use of technology-based experiences that facilitate international experiences between practicing teachers and teacher candidates in different parts of the world
  3. The promotion of glocal experiences (i.e., the study of diverse communities in the villages, towns and cities in which students live)

To be sure, these efforts will complement those already underway, including the Lieutenant Governor’s Association support for the creation of a national policy on international education; the Council of Chief State School Officers’ advocacy for preparing students for a global society in which they will both reside and shape; the National Association of State Boards’ recent report urging institutions that prepare and train teachers to expose their candidates to global perspectives; and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills advocacy for global awareness as one of several competencies students should acquire. These organizations are joined by the National Research Council, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Asia Society, who advocate for and support the development of curriculum and instruction in world languages (particularly those that are less common) and sustained interventions that enable the cultivation of global competencies. Towards this end, it is imperative that US schools of education and by extension, teacher educators charged with the training and development of teacher candidates, also cultivate these competencies.

Growing consensus regarding the importance and utility of these strategies for promoting global competencies suggests the need for relevant frameworks, that actively consider what global competence means within a particular institutional context and employing this knowledge to situate curriculum, instruction and assessments within existing and new disciplines (potentially around global studies). It is through these and other efforts, through which minority serving and other institutions, regardless of whether they are public or private teaching or research institutions, can meet the challenges of developing global competencies and reducing pervasive achievement gaps among our students.

Parts of this article are excerpted with permission from Promoting Global Competence and Social Justice in Teacher Education: Successes and challenges within local and international contexts. Lexington Books: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Dr. Beatrice Bridglall is Director, Office of Special Projects, Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, New Jersey.

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