Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Not Really a Small World

(Editor's note: the following post appeared as a guest post on Education Week)

"There is just one moon and one golden sun,
And a smile means friendship to everyone,
Though the mountains divide,And the oceans are wide,
It's a small world after all..."    

- Walt Disney

With all due respect to the dancing dolls in Anaheim, it really isn't a small world.  It is a complex, multifaceted, diverse, and complicated world. Most of us hardly understand it yet the growing availability of the Internet and low-cost devices to connect to all the world's information brings the complexity of this world to your fingertips.  In 1995, just 1% of the world was online. Today, more than 40% of the world is. It took just 20 years to get three billion people online. This global achievement calls for all of us to understand what is happening around the world, why it is happening, and how it impacts us more than ever.
Local Companies, Global Competition
From a commerce perspective, gone are most organizations that do not compete on a global scale. In fact, there is a good chance our students will work for a global organization at some point in their careers. Even Paul Bond Boots, a small rural cowboy boot store in Nogales, Arizona, has a global customer base! With companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix, and others, most companies who are U.S.-based operate 24 hours a day on a global scale. In education, we often talk about how it's critical it is to teach our students the "Four C's": communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. While I agree these are critical competencies our students should master, what we miss in this discussion is an emphasis on another very important C, global competency.
Even if a graduate never works abroad or in a global organization, we still need to make sure our students are exposed to learning global competency skills. Since its inception, the United States has been comprised of people from all over the world. Whether you just arrived in the U.S. or are fifteenth generation, all of us have one common characteristic: we all have a First Generation story. And it doesn't look like this trend is slowing. The U.S. continues to become more linguistically and culturally diverse. For example, in the next few years, one in four students in our public school system will be Latino. By the year 2045, the U.S. will be a "minority majority" country, meaning there will be more Americans who identify as minorities as a group than whites.
Organizations who will thrive in this global, diverse economy will understand how not only having a diverse workforce will be a competitive advantage, but having a workforce that understands and appreciates people from other cultures and one that can identify and acknowledge different points of view will stay relevant. Companies who focus on awareness and understanding of cultural issues at home and around the world will continue to expand and remain competitive. Having this awareness and understanding will help organizations to design products and services that appeal to a culturally diverse, global audience. 
The Imperative of Global Competency 
So what does a globally competent student look like? Globally competent students can see and understand the interconnectivity and interdependence between what we do here in the United States and the rest of the world.  This means they will understand how problems facing the rest of the world impact us here at home and vice versa. Students who are globally competent have in-depth knowledge and understanding of international issues, an appreciation of people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and the knowledge, skills, and experiences to call themselves global citizens. Most American students, and especially low-income minority students, are behind their peers in other countries in their knowledge and understanding of world issues, world geography, and cultural understanding and experiences. 
We often ask our students, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I do not believe that is the right question. First, all the labor forecasts predict that most jobs of the future haven't been defined yet. Second, we already have jobs most students wouldn't recognize, like "Bio-Medical Engineer" or "Sustainable Materials Architect." Instead of asking our students what they want to be when they grow up, we should ask them what problem they want to solve. We should ask them to think about what knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to solve that problem. We should ask them to think about where they can get the knowledge, skills, and abilities they will need. We should ask them to think about how the problem they want to solve fits into the context of the world.
We need to create a generation of critically-thinking, collaborative problem solvers. Students who know and understand world issues. Students who understand political and socioeconomic systems on a global scale. Students who recognize and appreciate cultural diversity. If we really want to face and solve the problems of this complex, multifaceted, diverse, and complicated world, we need a generation of students who are strong in all the C's: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and global competency.