Closing the Familiarity Gap Through Global Education

A few weeks ago I attended a China Now forum hosted by the 1990 Institute.

The goal was simple: To make connections and deepen my understanding of Chinese culture, history, and tradition. Over the last few years I have made six trips to China, visiting Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong in the service of our partnership with Beijing Normal University and SKT Education.

In a pointed dig at the general lack of U.S. cultural competence, one of the speakers at the event said that most Americans’ familiarity with China is based on their frequent visits to Panda Express. It got a laugh, but it got me thinking.

In July we launched the Global Schools Network in an attempt to connect schools around the world who care deeply about global competence, global awareness, and linguistic competence.

We want to close the familiarity gap. We will use virtual and physical exchanges along with real-world and online meet ups to achieve that goal.

The Global Schools Network will be a community of schools committed to inclusive and equitable quality education for all with a focus on global awareness, global competence, cultural competence, and linguistic competence. Our goals are clear:

  • Increase global connections between teachers, students, and educational leaders;
  • Increase global competence, global awareness, and linguistic competence among teachers, students, and educational leaders;
  • Expand recognition of successful organizations and program models.

As Tom Vander Ark and Lydia Dobyns so ably point out in their new book, Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning, networks are one of the most effective ways to effect sustainable change and generate transformation.

We seeded the launch of the Global Schools Network with hand-picked schools from around the world who work hard every day to close the familiarity gap. Here are some highlights from our founding cohort:

Kamla Nehru Public School, founded in 2007, is a K-12 coed school in Delhi, India. The school has won the British Council International School Award for three successive terms and is a Microsoft Showcase School. Much to our delight, KNPS and its team of 110 educators are shaping 1,610 students to become responsible Global Citizens and to be the Ambassadors of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

As head teacher Ms. Paramjeet Kaur Dhillon says, “My job is not just to teach. I am preparing my children for the future. The world is changing so fast and we need to innovate in our classrooms.”

She uses a phrase that the GSN is eager to adopt when describing these children. Not Gen X or Gen Y or Millennials. She calls them the SDG Generation.

Gimnasio Los Cabos near Bogota, Colombia, uses a secular Catholic education delivered in both English and Spanish to help students become entrepreneurial and influential leaders in the service of their country and the world, with a sense of purpose, a solid structure of values, committed to the common good and the social transformation of their environment.

In yet another sentiment shared by the GSN, Technology and Innovation Director Gabriel Diago says: “There are more problems in the world then people willing to solve them, if someone is solving the same problem you are they’re not your competition, they’re your colleague.”

Bullis Charter School, led by longtime P21 colleague Wanny Hersey, was founded in 2003 in Los Altos, CA, with the intent of becoming a model of educational innovation. A focus on global education is written into its mission statement: “Using a global perspective to teach about the interconnectedness of communities and their environments, the BCS program nurtures mutual respect, civic responsibility and a lifelong love of learning.”

According to Hersey, “BCS utilizes project-based earning/design thinking curricula that integrate S.T.E.A.M. and the UN Sustainable Development Goals in order to provide students a real-world lens for meaningful and relevant learning on issues that are imperative for them to be successful global participants in a linguistically, culturally, economically, and politically interconnected twenty-first century.”

Randersgades Skole is a public school located at Oesterbro in Copenhagen, Denmark. Randersgades has operated with a global focus since 2008, programmatically enshrined in two practices that are near to the heart of our Global Schools Network: Every student learns English from first grade onward and French and German beginning in fifth grade; the school incorporates all 17 of the SDGs into its curriculum via lessons and projects.

As School Coordinator Rikke Villumsen says, “Basically, it’s important that Danish schools are one of the pillars in our democracy. Society has become more ethnically diverse and with larger global opportunities and challenges, it’s essential for our future that the educational system be the basis for giving students the competencies that enable them to be critical, analytic, curious and come up with solutions for global challenges. Learning about the SDG’s teaches our students to look out into the world and also back at ourselves to understand each other better, and understand the link between local, regional, national and global perspectives”

In their own way, but beginning in their own backyard, each of these remarkable schools is trying to close the familiarity gap, moving away from a superficial multicultural education focused on heroes and holidays.

And we are looking for more. Take our free GSN pre-assessment to see if your school is a likely candidate for our network. And if the results are positive, we strongly suggest that you complete the full application and become a member of our Global Schools Network. Help us close the familiarity gap.

For more, see:

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David Ross

David Ross is a global education consultant and former CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

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