By Davey Young at A.C.E.–The past few weeks have been monumental for the realm of International Education. Important observations were recently made from international education conferences to the highest levels of government, and even in our own backyard.
At the Quality Assurance Agency Annual Subscribers’ Meeting in Belfast on June 3rd, Dr. Don Alcott, Jr., Chief Executive of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, gave a presentation on the myths and realities of international education. He observed that currently Asia, the Middle East and Gulf States are more actively sending students abroad than any other regions. He also argued, quoting Ian Gow, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of West England, that China is actively trying to host Western students and researchers. Interestingly, he noted that international students are not necessarily attracted to an institution by its reputation, but rather by a historically sound relationship between institutions or countries. It is important, then, to cultivate and maintain relationships at various levels to promote educational exchange at the global level.
Such cultivation must be performed from the ground up. That is to say, from the classroom. Karen Kodama, the International Education Administrator for Seattle Public Schools and founding Principle of the John Stanford International School, pointed out at the A.C.E. International Symposium on May 23rd that global education is not simply about exchanging students and ideas, but rather about teaching with an international model as a precursor to exchange. This means teaching content, such as math or history, from both Western and non-Western perspectives. She also stressed the importance of integrating technology in the international classroom. Without a doubt, the global educational landscape is transitioning into just such a paradigm.
There are, of course, economic concerns permeating the international climate these days. At this year’s NAFSA conference, held the week following Memorial Day, Dr. Jack Scott, the chancellor of the California Community College System, spoke about how the economy is impacting two-year institutions. Perhaps counter-intuitively, Dr. Scott remarked that such institutions are finding themselves at the forefront of international education as international students are focusing more and more on workforce training in anticipation of the inevitable recoil from the global economic downturn. As foreign currencies gain strength against the U.S. dollar, more students from overseas than ever before can afford to study in America. This fact was felt at this year’s NAFSA, the largest one yet with over 600 booths and nearly 7,500 people in attendance.
At Associates in Cultural Exchange we can identify these trends among our own students. The vast majority of our Language Institute students come from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Our students often say that they are here to learn English so that they can participate in global commerce. This summer, our World Language Program is offering free summer camps for 11-14 year-olds in Farsi, Urdu, and Arabic–and seats are filling fast. None of what we do would be possible without properly utilizing current technology to both recruit and instruct our students. Even regional leaders in the business world are taking note, as A.C.E. hosted an ambitious cultural and commercial Study Mission to the Sultanate of Oman in March.
Indeed, international education professionals are not the only ones seeing the bigger picture. In his incredibly publicized speech at Cairo University on June 4th, President Obama stated: “On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.” This quote is a significant recognition of the trends in international education today. The Obama Administration understands that “education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century”, that “[i]n ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education”, and finally, that “Islam has always been a part of America’s story”. We can see, then, the importance of recognizing that Asia, the Middle East and the Gulf States send more students overseas than any other region, that an international perspective and technology must be ingrained in our educational paradigm, and that international education is not an expenditure, but an invaluable resource.