Eric Robelen’s Ed Week post “David Who? Survey Finds Young Adults Lack World Knowledge,” contains a surprise (12 September, 2012). Most of us would probably think that middle and high school students would have a greater knowledge of the world given access to the Internet, social media, cable television news, and other such resources that are only a click away.
The survey Robelen discusses made the following positive discoveries about student attitudes toward global knowledge:
• 75% expressed the wish that their high schools had taken a more global approach.
• 86% agreed that what happens around the world affects the U.S. economy.
• 80% said they are curious about world events.
• 60% said their favorite subject studied was foreign language and that they wished they had been given more time and opportunity to learn a foreign language.
• 70% indicated they have more knowledge about the world than their parents.
The irony within this context, however, is that the survey also showed that:
• Most don’t know that Afghanistan is located in Central Asia, or that Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language on the planet.
• U.S. students typically don’t hear much about the rest of the world in school.
• A majority of respondents (62 percent) said world events were not “regularly discussed” in their high school classes.
• Only about half, 54 percent, agreed that their high school teachers “knew a lot about global events and incorporated a global perspective into their curriculums.”
• Almost half disagreed somewhat or completely with the notion that their grades 6-12 education helped them understand the “roots of global issues that affect my life today.” (Robelen, E., 12 September, 2012)
The disconnect between student interest in the world and their actual global knowledge is troubling. This survey of over 500 high school graduates, ages 18-24, was conducted by Colligan Market Research between June 29th and July 6th of this year, and it was commissioned by the World Savvy and International Baccalaureate organization. The survey makes a surprising conclusion: “We are not preparing today’s graduates for the reality of a global economy and workforce” (Robelen, E., 12 September, 2012).
The obvious question then becomes, how do educators overcome the disconnect and provide students with the increased world knowledge they desire and need?
The Global Economic and Workforce Development Coalition (GEWDC) provides a good place to start. As “a nonprofit voluntary collaboration of interested stakeholders—business and industry cluster groups, labor organizations, education and the public sector agencies—who share the belief that investing in economic and workforce development is key to becoming world-class competitors” (2012), the GEWDC seeks to address the disconnect between the need for and the lack of world knowledge among our students. The organization offers these suggestions for how this collaborative effort can be accomplished by these stakeholders:
• Speak to groups of employees, trainees and/or participate in school and public career days.
• Provide site tours, job shadowing and internships for employees, students, trainees, teachers
• Participate in focus groups and resource panels.
• Support School-to-Career through Smaller Learning Community/Academy systems
• Integrate national skill standard development and certification into strategic training plans.
• Create mentors to support employees, trainees and/or teacher.
• Invite trainees/teachers to participate in your company-sponsored training.
• Help educate schools/training facilities on skill requirements for your industry.
• Contribute materials and/or equipment to local schools.
• Extend corporate leadership to serve on Industry Advisory Councils.
Having participated as both a student and educator in programs of this type, I know they can provide a valuable connection between the student, the curriculum, and the global community. In fact, a collaborative effort is most effective.
The above activities do take some long-term planning and coordination. What can educators do today or in the short term to increase student world knowledge? The Colligan Market Research Survey cited above provides a few clues.
• Faculty must become more knowledgeable in world events, and they must make connections between them and the curriculum. For example, when discussing the need for proper documentation of sources in a composition class, faculty could discuss with students how the advancement of technology has created a context that encourages plagiarism. Instructors could also give an overview of the attitudes other cultures have toward plagiarism.
• Educators must spend more time discussing world events, cultures, geography, and other such global topics. This can be done within the classroom or via special presentations. As S. Goya commented on the Robelen post, simply bringing back the current events discussions and Weekly Reader type articles can help tremendously (14 September, 2012).
• Geography must be included in daily instruction and the school environment as much as possible. The National Geographic Education Blog offers some ways to do this. Also, simply posting various maps or laying out areas of the school according to geographical locations is an easy way to expose students to the world’s regions on a daily basis.
• Foreign language must also be supported. This means going beyond the middle school exploration courses or the belief that English and Spanish are the only two languages in the world. This also means moving beyond the “take a foreign language to build your vocabulary” argument that is so prevalent in schools. As Robelen points out, Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language in the world, and there are many more critical needs languages that go largely ignored in our schools.
• Take full advantage of Digital Age technology. Certainly technology and the Internet provide us with advantages for engaging globally that are unprecedented in human history. Educators should be asking themselves if they are taking every advantage of options such as online virtual tours of parts of the world or engaging in social media to connect their students and lessons with other parts of the globe.
The world is clearly not as small as we may think. In spite of the Internet, social media, and global travel within hours, there is still much to be learned about our world. Not all of this knowledge can be shared within the timeframe of the typical school day; however, educators must do as much as possible to prepare graduates for the global economy and workforce.
I have shared some ideas for increasing students’ world knowledge. Please share some more ideas in the “comments” area below.
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