George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Three Expert Perspectives: The Importance of International Education

February 8, 2007

Stephanie Bell-Rose | Gary Knell | Michael Van Krey |

Stephanie Bell-Rose

President, The Goldman Sachs Foundation

Why is the growing emphasis on international education important, especially since September 11th?

International education is going to be the primary means by which we are able to bridge the cultural and linguistic divides that exist not only within our country, but also globally. Without an appreciation for other cultures, other languages, national history of other countries, and the problems and contributions of other countries, we think that school children in America will not be able to become effective global leaders. We need them to become effective global leaders and we believe that 9-11 was a very vivid illustration of the compelling case for promoting a better understanding of and appreciation for other people, other cultures, other religions, and other geographies.

Can international education be integrated into core subjects and does it promote basic skills?

Awareness of international cultures and strategies in international education really do complement the core curriculum in educational objectives of public and private schools in our country. Some of the early research that we have seen demonstrates that some of the most exciting educational innovation in international education actually promotes basic reading and writing and math skills, which all of our school leaders are very concerned about.

What is the role of business and foundations in supporting efforts to expand international education?

A: The business and philanthropic communities share the onus, as well as the opportunity and privilege, of promoting some of the best practices that can be found in international education for the purposes of encouraging broader replication and directing their funding towards some of these best practices.

How does international education promote more diversity in the curriculum, as well as support the learning of students from diverse backgrounds?

To the extent that international education reflects some of the backgrounds of children from diverse populations, it's a positive for them to be in an environment where they can see and be exposed in a very proud way to their own history and culture. I think our traditional education approach, which tends to be more monolithic, stands to gain tremendously in terms of effectiveness with disadvantaged kids if they can see their own cultures represented in the curriculum in a very positive way.

We also think that children from diverse backgrounds will benefit from the larger educational gains that come from high-quality, international-based education content, that there can be a significant gain in the basic reading, writing, and math skills that we worry about so much, and very often these kids unfortunately are not able to benefit from creative strategies to promote their gains.

Can technology play a role in international education?

Technology makes international education reachable by far-flung districts that wouldn't otherwise have the ability to access knowledge and information about other cultures and other peoples. So that's a very exciting opportunity. One of the segments of this prize program has been media and technology, because we consider that area to be a very important catalyst for the next generation of innovation in international education.

The two schools receiving awards in the first year of your prizes, John Stanford International School in Seattle, and Evanston Township High School in the Chicago area, emphasize both learning about other cultures and nations as well as learning a foreign language. Is this dual focus important?

As our country becomes more diverse and we have greater opportunities to take advantage of the linguistic and cultural contributions of a more diverse range of populations, I think it's terrific to see schools that are on the cutting-edge in developing curriculum that brings that culture and that language into the environment.

As the sponsor of a prize for the best international education efforts in this country, do you hope more schools, universities, and media/technology groups will emulate the winning programs?

We're definitely hopeful that the inspiration that comes from seeing a well-established, well-run, and extremely effective international program will enable other schools to give this kind of education a try. We think that there are lots of opportunities for replication once the materials have been documented that actually show teachers and school leaders how to do international education in the classroom.

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Gary Knell

President, Sesame Workshop

Why is international education important for our schools?

We live in an extremely complex world that is misunderstood and very difficult for Americans to really comprehend. I think if there's one criticism of our education system over the decades, it's that we haven't done enough to really show our own children and teach our own children about other cultures, other languages, exposing them to the interelationships, both economically, politically, and culturally, that influence our activities in America.

That has to start with the youngest of children, to begin to build into their own minds what the world is about. International education is probably the most important thing. It's about foreign languages, it's being able to work and travel in other countries, it's being able to understand what other people are saying, it's about listening, which is very important as we move forward in a much more complex world. If we're going to fix the problems that we have in our own world so that we can have a secure, progressive, and a growing economy in this country, it's going to have to be done by teaching our children through international education.

Gary Knell: This year we have the privilege of introducing our furry, loveable, old friend Grover, who is bringing the world to American children. Grover, would you tell about some of the places you've traveled around the world this year?

Grover: I have been all over the place! I am racking up the frequent flyer miles, that's for sure. I have been to Trinidad, I have been to China, I have been to Spain, and I have been to Egypt. I've been to Trinidad, did I mention Trinidad? You know what I learned in Trinidad? I learned how to stilt walk!

Gary Knell: Was it hard?

Grover: It is simple! It is simple. You would not believe how simple it is. Getting down is another story. You really need a crash helmet.

Grover: What is so important about learning about other cultures? I will tell you. It is very important because then we get to know our neighbors. The world is really just one big neighborhood. And, you know, it is not really that big, either. The world is really a small place. I mean, it is not as small as, say, that globe paperweight that you gave me last Christmas, but it is small.

Gary Knell: And there are many people who look different or look the same?

Grover: People look different, yes, but deep down inside, we are all the same. Yes -- if you pinch me -- Ow! If I pinch you.

Gary Knell: Ow!

Grover: See we are all the same! You know what would be a better idea? Hugging.

Gary Knell: Thank you, furry, loveable Grover, for traveling the world for all our children.

Grover: It is my pleasure. Next time, give me the return flight, OK? I am tired of swimming across the Atlantic.

Gary Knell: Will do. Bye!

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Michael Van Krey

Teacher, Evanstown Township High School

Why is learning another language important to learning about other people, cultures, and nations?

Learning another language is one true way to get into a different culture's mindset. It's fine to study a culture from your native point of view, reading books on, or seeing videos, or things that can enliven your experience. But to actually get into the skin of a different culture through the language, it just opens up doors and cracks open world views that you really can't understand until you actually try to learn a language in that deep of a manner. It really does also aid in higher critical thinking skills. There's a certain degree of perseverance and desire to learn something as difficult as a foreign language, [it] teaches kids' skills on very many levels in terms of global perspectives of the world.

What role can technology play in fostering language learning?

In terms of deeper level cultural studies, technology plays a huge part in bringing Japan into our classrooms. We have a connection with our sister school, it's been over ten years strong with one school, which is quite phenomenal. Our second year curriculum, for example, is all focused on the question of, "What's it like to be a Japanese teenager? What kind of things do they do? How do they live their lives?" This really intrigues the students. It's something that's very real. Everything they learn, whether it be vocabulary or grammar, is based around that central question. The whole year they spend unit-based themes with e-mail contacts back and forth between our sister school and my students. So they really learn about the language through these interactions.

Very simple things, introducing themselves is obviously a very simple thing in second year, but then it moves on to themes of school, family, and geography, what they do in their free time. All those kinds of things are wound together. Finally [they present] a large PowerPoint® that weaves how their lives and the lives of Japanese students are both similar and different and every student has to speak for 15-20 minutes entirely in Japanese. We put some of these up on the Web and students at our sister school will watch how their lives have been portrayed by these Americans on the other side of the world. It's a fascinating way to look at it.

Are there other ways in which you make learning of Japanese relevant to the lives of American teenagers?

I also have a fairly interesting third/fourth year project in one of my two alternating curricula that looks at how American products are marketed in Japan. So you take McDonald's or you take Denny's or Dominos, and things that we have here, they're also in Japan. How does culture affect marketing? My students did a phenomenal job the first time we went through this, just really digging in and finding out how culture affects something as simple as marketing. What's appealing to the Japanese as a society? How is that really deeply reflected in the culture? And it's all done through the language.

How do you respond to educators who say that learning of an Asian language is inherently more difficult for American students than the more popular Spanish, French, or German?

It's a lifelong process. It's something that I want to instill in them, that this is something that you will carry with you for as long as you choose to keep it going. It's never done, you never finish learning a language, in the same way that I have to look up words in English or I have to continue to read and keep up on things. It doesn't change in that fashion.

Yes, the [Japanese] writing system can be daunting, but even now, with the age of technology, we can have a reading proficiency of these languages, regardless of the fact of whether or not we have to actually hand-write them. Now with the technology, we can type in these characters as long as you know how they sound, they will come out in the correct fonts. You can choose, OK, this is the kind of character I want to mean what I'm saying, it really has allowed us to become much more facile and to be able to have the communications abroad. So even if that is one obstacle, we're very much in a position now that that can be overcome. It is a lifelong journey and it needs to start as young as possible, and if high schools can attempt that beginning, all the better.

Could you give us a demonstration, by commenting in Japanese, on the importance of international education?

In terms of international exchange, languages such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean are terribly important. Connections like those between America and China or Korea have recently increased. Beyond that, in terms of connections among the people of these countries, being able to get along [is important], and since there is a variety of viewpoints, if the people in these countries can have a common understanding, I think it would become a nice world to live in.

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