Archive for Global Education

WorldStrides Summit on Global Awareness & Leadership

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Last week, our global programs director Brian and I spent two days at a WorldStrides-sponsored event in Philadelphia, at which we studied questions about optimal program design and student experience. The presenter lineup featured organization and school experts in global travel, providing a rich range of perspectives and wisdom on the topic.

Some highlights:

  • What is the overall purpose of your program? Curriculum, experience, or service?
  • What does your school community value? Is your global program aligned?
  • How much is global education represented in the rest of the school curriculum? Do students see the travel program connected to the rest of their school experience?
  • Has your school thoroughly studied student health and safety preparations and plans?
  • Do groups travel during or outside the school term?
  • Where does student leadership live in your travel program?

We have returned with a decent list of outstanding school travel programs of different types:

At UPrep, we are implementing the first large shift in our signature Global Link program in 10 years. Our new Intensive terms allow Global Link to travel during an intensive term rather than over spring break. So far, two trips have migrated into the January intensive, with plans to continue moving trips next year.

Adding a specific subject’s curriculum to the trip is a new feature of Intensive Global Link. Our first three examples are Human Rights in Colombia, Global Link American South, and Storytelling in Samoa. As a result, schools that have established strong curricular connections for global travel are of specific interest to us right now. From the above list, these include Ideaventions, Lawrenceville, and Trinity Palmer, at a minimum.

Finally, Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) Executive Director Clare Sisisky presented three times on insights gleaned from GEBG’s 250 member schools, including broad perspectives on global program outcomes, school partnerships, conceptual frameworks, assessment instruments, and examples from model schools.

[Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash]

Maru-a-Pula Scholars in the U.S.

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Edward “Ned” Hall founded the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula in 1974, just two years after Maru-a-Pula itself opened its doors in Gaborone, Botswana. In the 40 years since, AFMAP has helped Maru-a-Pula develop into one of the best secondary schools in southern Africa. The school’s role in the region has also changed beyond its original purpose of racial justice to now include top academic performance and education for social responsibility. In recent years, MAP has extended the gift of world-class education to dozens of orphan scholars who lost their parents.

Since 1981, AFMAP has quietly played another key role in the lives of Maru-a-Pula students. A recent article from Taft Bulletin tells the story of the MAP Scholar program. Since 1981, deserving MAP IGCSE graduates have been selected to spend a senior year in top U.S. independent schools. On average, seven MAP students become U.S. scholars each year. While these schools have underwritten tuition and boarding fees, AFMAP has provided these students with a familiar face and, when needed, a helping hand.

MAP Scholars have startled and impressed their U.S. hosts with their academic preparation, leadership skills, humility, and sense of social purpose. Our students have not only completed the rigorous programs of top U.S. independent schools but have also become leaders and proceeded to top colleges and graduate programs at institutions such as Harvard, Williams, MIT, and Stanford. A number of MAP Scholars previously received Orphans and Vulnerable Children scholarships at MAP. The outstanding support of AFMAP donors has changed these deserving students’ lives.

It should not surprise you that many MAP Scholars have dedicated their lives to helping others. They have become experts in global health, medicine, finance, and East Asian studies. Four serve on the AFMAP board, including president and secretary. In my time, I have been privileged to know MAP scholars Neo, Portia, Thomas, Ernest, Urban, Lollise, MK, Kush, Mmaserame, Tumisang, and others.

I had the incredibly good luck to start my teaching career at Taft in 1991, in the company of former Maru-a-Pula teachers Emily and Gordon Jones and MAP Scholars Tebogo Phiri, Thomas Lukoma, and Urban Dabutha. I then traveled to Botswana and joined the Maru-a-Pula staff for two years. MAP has remained a vital part of my life and career to this day.

 

The Smartest Kids In the World

Each summer, U Prep faculty members read a choice of three books to kick off the professional development theme for the following academic year. This year, our professional development theme is “Teaching for Understanding,” defined as curriculum design and teaching practices that lead students to acquire deep, enduring understanding of subject matter and skills. The first book, The Smartest Kids In the World, asks what the United States high school education system can learn from comparisons to three countries: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Written by a journalist, the book meets our summer reading criteria of readability, thoughtfulness, and connection to our professional development theme for the year.

book-photo-smartestSome authors, it seems, try to write a book from material that would have done just as well as a magazine article. The Smartest Kids In the World is no such book. Impressive in scope, Amanda Ripley explores and connects several topics worthy of a full volume. Ripley begins by explaining the origin of the PISA test, the basis for recent comparisons of student performance among different countries. In several subsequent chapters, she tells the stories of three American high school students who each study abroad for a year. The three stories weave in and out through chapters organized connected to principles from education research. Making specific connections between research and practices supports Ripley as she explores the implications of the three students’ experiences. The appendices provide information useful to parents, such as Ripley’s take on things to look for when you observe a school and what PISA reveals about beneficial parenting habits.

Ripley repeats her primary message throughout the book: national education reform is possible, because here are three countries that have made massive changes over relatively short periods of time. Finland rocketed up the standings by overhauling its teacher selection, preparation, and induction programs. Poland committed to rigor and student accountability in order to emerge from the damage wreaked by political instability. South Korea is portrayed as two systems: formal schooling that students largely ignore, plus night tutoring centers that do the real job of teaching students. Ripley, the journalist, observes, summarizes, and then concludes, lending support to her recommendations.

Ripley sees several lessons that the U.S. should learn from these three educational systems. High expectations are critical for both teachers and students. Ripley’s students find themselves behind as a result of moving from the U.S. to these countries. National testing enforces high standards, leading to rigorous study habits and high quality instruction. Each of these countries has a high-stakes, national exam toward which students are constantly working. Unlike in the U.S., the national exam has direct career implications for students, so that they have high motivation to work hard and succeed. High standards for teachers make it possible to uphold high standards for students. Finland’s teacher education programs have high entry requirements. In South Korea, a second, the most effective night tutors profit directly from these business ventures. Poland provided teachers with curricular freedom while implementing more rigorous standards.

Common Core notwithstanding, the U.S. education system is primarily directed by individual states. Can these reforms, found in other countries, work in the U.S.? Ripley finds such a state in Minnesota. This completes her argument: if three U.S. students find more rigor abroad, and a U.S. state can similarly improve, then this must be the way to go. At the same time, Ripley pulls no punches in her criticisms of the dominant mindset in U.S. education. Ripley repeatedly cites examples of a failure to commit to high standards, hold students individually accountable for their performance, and select the best teaching candidates and prepare them thoroughly for teaching.

Ripley’s argument passes the “common sense” test. High standards, teacher preparation, and accountability certainly makes a good formula for improvement in education systems. The book also serves as a useful introduction to international comparisons. As a New York Times best seller, this message has broad reach. However, her book is less useful for the purpose of making actual education reform in the U.S., as Ripley’s argument skirts a number of important additional questions required to reform education systems.

Let’s start with PISA, the foundation for these international comparisons. Does PISA predict future economic success for individuals? The path to employment in the U.S. is very different from other countries. For some industries, high school math preparation may lead directly to professional success, particularly in those professions in which accurate completion of tasks is most important. However, new, information-based industries have fueled more recent growth in the U.S. economy. Procedural, and even conceptual, mastery of high school curricula may not build the thinking skills that individuals require to be economically successful adults. Ripley does not extend her thesis to adults and their professional success.

With all of the education scholars that Ripley cites, her omission of Yong Zhao is particularly notable. Zhao also compares education systems in other countries and finds that some, like China, are actually looking to reduce their emphasis on rigor, performance, and long hours of study and emulate the U.S.’s focus on education options and creativity. While the two approaches reflect different conclusions from international comparisons, Ripley could strengthen her position by addressing Zhao’s work.

While Ripley supports her main points well with evidence, some minor points read as pure opinion. Her argument that students in other countries have gained strong conceptual mastery and critical thinking skills is not well-supported. Any standardized test is limited in its capacity to measure higher-order thinking skills such as making connections among different ideas, inventing new ideas, and identifying themes within and among disciplines. While the PISA may do a better job of assessing higher-order thinking than other tests, the format has unavoidable limitations. Ripley also does not address the subject area strengths in the U.S., for example literary analysis and writing, which typically do not receive as much attention in other countries.

U.S. education systems emphasize choice and student direction. Diverse elective course offerings are a hallmark of U.S. schools, allowing students to personalize their own education based on their interests. The emphasis on choice continues into college. Is this part of the reason why the United States has succeeded in generating dominant, new industries over time? In most other countries, students commit to a specific professional track early and subsequently lack the flexibility to shift disciplines as they learn more about themselves and as national economic needs change. Finally, Ripley’s suggestion that teacher kindness towards students undermines teaching effectiveness is suspect. While the U.S. system places the burden of motivation on individual students, and does not serve all students equally, it also offers many avenues for achievement and excellence. Many examples exist of benefits to students who have strong relationships with their teachers.

With The Smartest Kids In the World, Amanda Ripley makes an welcome contribution to popular education literature. Now the opportunity exists for U.S. education systems to give teaching higher status and support in order to achieve higher standards and student success that most would like to see.

Insurance’s Outsize Influence on Global Travel

It seems that each year, insurance requirements increasingly affect our school global programs in a way that threatens their emphasis on social responsibility and global citizenship. This year, our school cancelled its annual student trip to Colombia because our insurance company would not cover travel to a country that is on the U.S. State Department’s warning list. From the State Department:

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota and Cartagena, but violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural areas and parts of large cities.

For the insurance company, this is a blanket rule. If the country is on the warning list, for whatever reason and region, the company will not insure the school for travel to that country. From our point of view, no insurance results in no trip. This was difficult to swallow when we had been traveling to Colombia for years, in partnership with a local school, and in a manner that maximized student safety. It is not easy to sever the close, personal relationships among staff members of these schools for these reasons.

Presumably, the Hotchkiss suit of 2013 played a role in changing insurance company attitudes toward global student travel. One $41 million case likely had an outsize effect on their practices, and consequently, school travel abroad. On the optimistic side, a business opportunity now exists for an insurance company to design travel insurance that considers the nuances within the State Department travel warning list.

I am also seeing these effects as I organize the fifth U.S. tour of the Maru-a-Pula Marimba Band. This year, schools have inquired whether Maru-a-Pula School holds international travel insurance. I also had a college theater that we are renting require liability insurance, to protect the school in case an audience member were injured at our show. It appeared that we might have to cancel the show, until we discovered that the college also provides a one-time, $50 liability insurance purchase option. I have a hard time understanding how our $50 purchase protects the college from a million dollar lawsuit, but clearly the insurance industry is operating on its own particular economic models. Each trip, it becomes more onerous for a volunteer such as myself to bring a marvelous student marimba group from Botswana to the U.S.

Twenty years ago, independent school global travel was dominated by language study and cultural immersion to Spanish and French-speaking countries. Since then, most independent schools have completely transformed their global travel programs, updating their missions for social responsibility and global citizenship. This has resulted in travel to Asian, African, South American, and other destinations. Most destinations are selected because a school community member has a personal connection with the target country. Will insurance companies adapt to the travel patterns of independent school global programs, or will schools have to adjust their destinations to stay in line with State Department warnings?