Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making a case for the Global Education Achievement Certificate

In a rare consensus, Wisconsin leaders in business, government, and education, among others, agree on the necessity of preparing students to become globally competent citizens – that is, citizens who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to live, work and interact in a diverse, interconnected world.
The Governor’s WITCO Task Force on International Education made that clear with its 1998 recommendations, as did the State Superintendent’s International Education Council in its 2005 report, Global Literacy for Wisconsin.

Increasingly, students are recognizing that acquiring global skills and knowledge can open doors to greater educational, career, and personal opportunities – and they want access to these pathways.
The recommendations include not only beefing up instruction in world languages and social studies, but also infusing global perspectives across the curriculum. After all, many of today’s challenges are international in nature, from health and environmental science to business and commerce, and our educational system needs to reflect this.

Educators, community and business leaders brought together at the April 2011 meeting of the Statewide International Education Council and at the Wisconsin Global Education Summit in February 2012, and high school students who attended the first Wisconsin Global Youth Summit in February 2013 called for doing more to foster the development of global citizenship across the state.

In response, State Superintendent Tony Evers this fall unveiled the Wisconsin Global Education Achievement Certificate – the first statewide policy of this kind in the nation – to provide a framework for schools to begin translating years of recommendations into practice.

The Global Education Achievement Certificate enables graduating high school students to earn recognition for successfully completing a broad international curriculum and engaging in co‐curricular activities and experiences that foster the skills and knowledge that today’s marketplace values.

Under the policy, each district defines its own criteria for awarding the Global Scholars designation, within the guidelines. Mindful of the diversity among districts across the state, the policy provides flexibility, while maintaining sufficient rigor to ensure that the certificate has value.

Aware of today’s fiscal landscape for public education, the working group that shaped this policy sought to ensure that districts could implement the certificate program at little or no added expense.
As architects of the policy, we recognized that our schools already have many of the key curricular components for global education. We set out to provide a framework to tie these pieces together, while also encouraging schools to strengthen international content where possible and appropriate.

The co-curricular and service components of the certificate program are intended, in part, to encourage students and schools to identify and reach out to international resources within their communities and around the state. In addition to universities and colleges, these resources can include businesses with international connections, immigrants, cultural organizations, and individuals with international interests, experiences and expertise – such as returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Many of us who are engaged in international education believe that Wisconsin already has significant capacity to advance the goals that have been repeatedly articulated, if only we connect these resources in a coherent framework. The Wisconsin Global Education Achievement Certificate policy aims to do just that.

Kerry G. Hill
President, Global Wisconsin, Inc.
Member, State Superintendent's International Education Council
Director of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of International Studies

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Foreign Language Policies Around the World

Note: This contribution was posted in Education Week on March 7, 2013. We are cross-posting with permission from the author. Heather Singmaster grew up in Ripon, Wisconsin, and is a graduate of Ripon High School.

On the occasion of International Mother Language Day, we have been looking at the importance of languages in schools. Today, Heather Singmaster, senior program associate, Asia Society, looks at how other countries are examining their language policies as part of workforce development strategies.
By Heather Singmaster
It is no secret that Americans lag behind in learning foreign languages despite urgent calls from the business and national security sectors. Yet it is barely a part of our policy discussion here—much to our detriment.
In other countries, this conversation is not only happening, it is a prominent part of the national discourse. Why? They see foreign language as key to economic development, even if their first language is English. They don't feel they can rely on their native tongue alone—nor should we.
A Continuing Discourse
Australia has had an ongoing conversation about the need for students to study Asian languages. The latest development happened last November, when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard released the Asian Century white paper, listing key goals to allow the country to take advantage of nearby Asian markets. The paper calls for students to be given the opportunity to study one of four languages throughout their entire school career: Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, and Japanese.
A flurry of articles met this call, with most experts agreeing with the reasoning, but citing huge obstacles, including the US$1billion price tag for implementing such a requirement for just half of Australia. Adelaide University Asian studies expert Kent Anderson says this would be a tall order, but a crucial one: ''what is really important about learning a language is learning empathy for someone else, and learning empathy for another culture. You are able to understand, which will make you a better business person and makes it easier to have longer-term relationships.''
Meanwhile, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on businesses to set quotas on the number of employees they hire who can speak an Asian language, reasoning that this would encourage students to learn them. (Incidentally, he announced this idea in a speech in China, delivered in fluent Mandarin.)
In Scotland, a recent study by the British Council showed a decline in foreign language study as well as a tendency of Scottish companies to only export to English speaking countries. Not wanting to miss out on economic opportunities, the Scottish government is responding with an examination of their foreign language requirements. Currently study of a second language is required beginning in grade six, but a new proposal would change this to grade one—allowing students to start a third language in grade five.
When examining the change to the policy, two issues are being considered: capacity of the curriculum and the role of languages in supporting the economy. Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: "This government has set an ambitious target to increase the value of our international exports by 50% by 2017, and ensuring our workforce has the right skills to compete internationally will play an important role in achieving this." He continues, "This is why we are committed to reinvigorating language learning and helping more Scottish pupils learn a second language such as French, German, Spanish or Chinese in primary school."
Language Required
Neighboring England, in response to a study showing their students are less likely to study a second language to a decent level compared to their European peers, will require all English primary students to learn a second language starting in 2014. Schools have the choice of offering one of seven languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin, and ancient Greek. Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, said: "We must give young people the opportunities they need to compete in a global jobs market—fluency in a foreign language will now be another asset our school leavers and graduates will be able to boast."
Similarly, in Czechoslovakia, students are currently required to take a second language beginning in third grade (most take English). A third language used to be optional, however the government announced in January that it is now mandatory, beginning in eighth grade or earlier.
Expanding the Conversation
In most Asian countries, children begin learning a second language, usually English, in the primary grades. That doesn't necessarily mean that parents are satisfied. In Japan, a recent study showed that 90% of parents just aren't happy with their children's English language classes. Parents feel their children aren't gaining enough practical language knowledge and they lack the opportunity to actually speak in class. The study showed that parents are highly supportive of learning a second language and producing globally competent students: "93.6 of parents want their children to have a global viewpoint and 83.3% want their children to be globally competitive."
Similarly in China, students may be learning English in school starting in grade three, but many parents feel this isn't enough. Students are sent to expensive centers for learning English after school and increasingly, students in middle and high school are being sent to the United States to study. According to China Daily, 65 middle school aged children studied in the U.S. in 2005, that number increased to 6,725 in 2010. Parents feel their students will need to be able to compete internationally when they grow up and therefore need a global outlook.
With all of these conversations happening around the world, can Americans afford to continue to turn a deaf ear?
Follow Heather Singmaster and Asia Society PGL on Twitter.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono has never done anything in his life but prepare sushi and develop his restaurant of only a dozen seats into a Michelin 3-star temple for sushi lovers. In his documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” David Gelb paints a wonderful portrait not only of the 85-year-old master sushi maker but also of his two sons, his suppliers at the fish market, and the training of his apprentices. “It took me ten years before they even let me try to make egg sushi,” says one of them. Ten years of intense preparation every day, learning to cut, carve, flavor, and whatever else makes a perfect sushi chef. Ten years before being allowed to try making egg sushi. Jiro’s dedication to perfection and mastery of his trade is rivaled by that of the vendors at the fish market, each of whom is a specialist in different kinds of fish. “I know how to make sushi,” says Jiro, “but they know so much more about the fish we use in the restaurant than I do. I depend on them.” His rice supplier was offered a lucrative contract by the Hyatt hotel chain but declined. “What good is it if they buy my rice but don’t know how to cook it?” he asks and adds, “I would never sell rice to anyone without Jiro’s permission.” And at age 85, Jiro says he has never felt he wanted to do anything in life other than prepare sushi. “I am still learning to make perfect sushi, he says. “I have much more to learn.”

This intense dedication to a craft may sound extreme to most of us, yet there are no shortcuts to perfection. I got engrossed in another documentary during the holiday break, “Wagner’s Dream,” that follows the staging of the Ring Cycle at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Again, the absolute dedication to detail and perfection from stage hands, carpenters, producers, and performers is about hard work, pride, and absolute attention to detail. Whether or not you like opera or appreciate Wagner, you will come away inspired by the level of professionalism of everyone involved in the production of the world’s most challenging operatic work.

Most of us will not be able to perform at the level of these chefs, craftsmen or artists. Some of our students, however, may have the kind of talent it takes to excel at what they do. It is our obligation as teachers to give them a chance and to pave the road for them. How we do that, how we want to bring out the best in our students, is the perennial crucial question in teacher education and in our education system. The study of the craft and the life of Jiro Ono, raises several interesting questions for our own craft, teaching languages, and the answers may help us refine what we do on a daily basis. In this model, assume you are the master and ask yourself the following questions:

·         Why do I do what I do?
o   What is my own personal interest in languages and cultures?
o   Why do I think my students should learn about other cultures and learn to speak their languages?

If we don’t love what we do, we will not be the best teachers we can be. Imagine the sushi maker who still comes to work every day at age 85 loving every minute of it.

·         What can I do to become a better
o   Speaker of my second, third or fourth language?
o   Expert on other cultures?
o   Role model (master) to my students?
Whatever the minimum licensing expectations for language proficiency and study abroad may be, we should not be satisfied with the lowest expectations of ourselves. If we truly love what we do, we want to perfect our craft every day. This is not an expectation from the outside, it is our own expectation of ourselves.

If we live by the principles and the set of expectations of ourselves that Jiro Ono has set for himself, we will indeed be the best role models for our students. We will not allow them to simply meet minimal expectations, but we will push them to do their absolute best because we ourselves do our absolute best. We show our students that we take pride in what we do, and we ask them to develop pride in what they do. This pride comes through accomplishment, through a sense of achievement, and from an accepted expectation that learning is both hard work and fun. It cannot be one or the other.

Before you call me naïve and ask me what planet I might be living on, let me tell you that I fully understand the environment in which we all operate. We will be facing a model of teacher evaluation that will be quite controversial. We will again be asked to demonstrate why it is important to learn and teach world languages, and we will be asked to craft our message differently for different audiences. We will, once again, be asked to define the value of our craft in terms of external reasons, the economic and the defense argument. We understand that situation. But I maintain that living through all those conversations will be much easier if we have a clear sense of what we are about, and if it is clear to everyone inside and outside our classrooms that we take great pride in our craft. The lessons we can learn from Jiro Ono are clear: We do what we do because we love what we do, because we are good at it, and because we will get even better. The alternative does not look too good to me.

Watch “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and let me know which lessons you take away from it. “Wagner’s Dream” should be next on your list, even if you have no interest whatsoever in German opera.