Global Competency

By Liz Perelstein

The Slow Road to Global Competency:

Global education has become a catchphrase in the education arena.  As the internet and technology bring the world together it has become increasingly important that children understand the customs and cultures of other countries.  The explosion of international business has brought with it corporate expectations that future employees know multiple languages, be well traveled and willing to take on an expatriate assignment.  Study abroad, once the exception, has become a mainstay of a university education; even some secondary schools offer credit for an overseas educational experience.  The increasing emphasis on community service as a component of the school curriculum has led students to travel to developing countries to assist in building infrastructure or to improve the local quality of life.

So it comes as no surprise that schools around the world are trying to internationalize their curricula.  From its inception in 1968, the international baccalaureate organization has grown to offer international education in 2,815 schools in 138 countries.  But creating an international school is not easy.  Introducing authentic measures that provide more than lip service to this idea requires true understanding of other cultures as well as willingness to abandon time-honored traditions in favor of practices that may be very difficult to implement.  Learning about other countries in the form of geography, history, literature and language is the easy part.  To be meaningful, globalization must occur throughout the school community in addition to the curriculum.  Creating cultural diversity among teachers as well as students is crucial in a truly international environment.  Different teaching methods and languages are indeed barriers to internationalizing education, but they can be addressed because they are easily recognized.  The subtly different customs and cultural nuances of schooling in different countries are not easily anticipated, however, and make true global diversity difficult to attain.

Integrating the Faculty:
Teaching practices common in one country may not play well in another.  Mandarin has become the foreign language of choice in many American schools and growing business opportunities in China have made it highly relevant to American families and schools.  But consider the complications inherent in actually integrating Chinese teachers into an American school.  In local Chinese schools teachers commonly read aloud or present the lesson to a class of passive learners. Children seldom speak out except to answer the teacher’s question. Teachers evaluate children by quizzing them. Students are allowed to ask questions, but learning is based on memorization. The students spend a lot of time listening to teachers and writing down what the teacher tells them.  Drilling down on the idea of a genuinely integrated faculty shows the complexities of this notion.  Transplanting a teacher from a Chinese school to one in the US might result in practices that would be out of place in American schools where interactive learning is valued.

Understanding Another Country’s Educational System – Know What You Don’t Know:

Moving with children is a terrific way to promote global awareness.  But caution must be exercised here as well.  An expatriate family selecting a local school Spain to teach their children Spanish may not have the experience they seek unless they know in advance what questions to ask.  In areas of the country where there is a co-official language (Catalan, for example), public and semiprivate schools are beginning to teach a majority of academic hours in the co-official, local language or dialect.  This means the student would not necessarily become proficient in Spanish, but instead, would learn the regional language.  In Dubai all students until age 14 must study Arabic – even in an international school.  And the school week runs from Sunday to Thursday.  Or consider the example of a family moving to the US from the UK, unaccustomed to separation of Church and State.  It may come as a surprise that the children cannot obtain a religious education in American public schools.

It takes a great deal more than wanting to teach global competency in order to develop truly global children.  The first step is knowing what you need to know.

For more information contact School Choice International –


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