Preparing Children for Global Society
I met with Robert Young, the Head of the School of The International School of Tucson (IST), located in the University area of Tucson, Arizona and was immediately taken by the school’s declaration “Open the World to Your Child”. Considering myself a World Citizen, I felt at home right away.
I was intrigued by IST, wondering what kind of program they would be offering to the children of Tucson and its neighborhood. I was in for a big surprise. Robert Young, the director of IST, is a charming, innovative man from New Zealand who has lived in Nairobi, Japan. He welcomed me and said: “We offer an internationally-based and internationally-grounded bilingual program of instruction in French/English; German/English and Spanish/English.” He told me that the School's philosophy and pedagogical approaches encourage students to investigate topics without being restricted by traditional compartmentalization or methods of instruction, and thus allow the learner to develop global understanding.
It was like being in a dream realizing that the families of Tucson have this incredible chance to have this extraordinary specialized school’s program offered to our children. I asked how old were the children attending the school? Mr. Young went on to say “The International School of Tucson (IST) is open at the Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten levels with full-immersion in German, French and Spanish.
The curriculum of IST has as its premise that as we cannot know what tomorrow's world will be like, nor what tomorrow's world will require of its citizens, what our children know will matter less than what kinds of people they are. Secondly, that as what passes for knowledge today is changing so rapidly, what our children know will matter less than what it is that they know how to do. IST's curriculum is comprised of two parts: the Curriculum Methodology and the Curriculum Contents. The Curriculum Methodology draws on a prestigious international program and the Curriculum Contents are drawn from the Arizona State Standards, the Argentine National Curriculum and the National Curriculum of England and Wales amongst other sources; and also has as a goal the development of an international-mindedness in our students.
You can’t help but feel Mr. Young’s excitement about the school and its universal program, the multicultural teachers and their young students. I was given a tour of the classes and enjoyed watching the children speak fluent French, German or Spanish. His posture gave me confidence that this is the way to go to educate our children of today and in this case, we are talking about the children of Arizona. Amazing!
Young went on to explain to me how the curriculum works. It is influenced by the belief that learners construct knowledge based on personal experience. The IST teacher starts from the point of the child's current understanding and by creating the conditions for learning to occur, devising the activities and providing the materials, s/he leads the learner into new areas of knowledge. This is done through a process of structured inquiry. Asking questions; wondering about things; forming hypotheses or explanations; researching, collecting information; experimenting, testing all hypotheses and explanations; applying all this information into all they do; and observing and predicting what could happen.
“We believe that learning occurs when the student passes through the above stages to the point where s/he reflects on the experiences s/he has had and on the information s/he has gained through a process of discovery. Through the guidance of the teacher, the learner acquires and moves beyond the "core" body of knowledge required, becoming an "educated person."
While talking, Robert Young was drawing on a notebook making sure that I was following him. And I was, because I believe in such programs being the only way for children to understand and become as confident as they can. They need to go through this entire process to be able to evaluate and remember what works or doesn’t. They need to care for one another as consideration for others is a big deal in today’s community and global society.
Young continued with a smile saying “IST, believes that this style of learning is collaborative, social and communicative, and provides an ideal vehicle for the construction of knowledge and the acquisition of linguistic competence. The basic vehicle in the IST approach is through carefully designed activity and questioning, initially generated by the teacher and later increasingly so by the students themselves. These "starting point questions" are What is it like? How does it work? Why is it like it is? How is it changing? How is it connected to other things? What are the perspectives on it and about it? What is our responsibility for and towards it? How do we know about it?”
The Core Curriculum of Language, Humanities, Mathematics and Science is taught through the target languages or Languages. Pre-School classes are taught entirely in French, German or Spanish (with Mandarin Chinese coming soon) so that students entering the Junior School are equally proficient in both English and the non-English Language. Students also learn the basic skills of reading and writing in the non-English Language as these skills are directly transferable into English.
In addition, the Specialist Curriculum of Art, Music, Drama, Information and Computer Technology (ICT) as well as Physical Education are taught through the language of the teacher.
IST's Curriculum Contents are divided into two parts, Topics and Skills. The topics correspond to the traditional curriculum students study today in a traditional school; e.g. knowledge, understanding, creativity, originality, insight and critical response. Skills are essentially a set of expected outcomes or standards and they define what we expect of our students to be able to perform and/or demonstrate.
All language programs follow the same Curriculum although the associated language teaching points may vary, as may the depth or order of Topics. However, the Skills covered are the same. We believe that language is a set of communicative skills, and as a result have relatively few content areas in our Language curriculum. Contents come from the other subject areas; they essentially provide the vehicles for the acquisition, development and practice of the Language's communicative skills.
These communicative skills are: Oral Communication – Listening; Oral Communication – Speaking; Written Communication – Reading; Written Communication – Writing; Visual Communication – Viewing; Written Communication - Presenting
The IST Curriculum has three linguistic mileposts. The first is that the student will have reached linguistic equivalency by the time of entry into Junior School in the school's target languages, particularly in Oral Communication. Currently these are French, Spanish and English with German, Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic planned.
The second is that the student will have reached age-appropriate native-level competence by the time of entry into Middle School in the school's target languages, particularly in Written Communication, and a high level of oral competence in a third language.
The third is that the student will be able to follow a program of university study in both target languages by the time of graduation from High School, which pre-supposes a high level of cultural awareness of the worlds represented by the two languages, and thus the focus in the High School is on literary study. The student should also have sufficient competence in a third language as to be able to live and work in the places where that language is spoken.
As my attention grew I asked how old are these students? Young replied “We are talking about preschoolers from three to six years old and junior school children from six to eleven years old. This is the best age to learn languages and be free of all sorts of prejudice.”
The pre-schooler program is full immersion with an emphasis on Oral Communication and in particular on speaking. The Junior School language program is a two-way immersion and the emphasis moves to Written Communication. The students spend half of each day throughout the five-year program immersed in English, and the other half in their non-English Language.
While any language will be useful for some jobs or for some regions, French is the only foreign language that can be useful throughout the world as well as in the United States. French as a foreign language is the second most frequently taught language in the world after English. When deciding on a foreign language for work or school, consider that French is the language that will give you the most choices later in your studies or your career. It is interesting to notice that French, along with English, is the official working language of the United Nations, UNESCO, NATO and many other global organizations. French is the dominant working language at The European Court of Justice, The European Tribunal of First Instance and the Press Room at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
I am certainly convinced and so happy that French is one of the languages taught to the children of IST who will benefit from being multilingual business people. Children are the best investment that we have for the future of the world. Your school in Tucson is doing a fabulous job focusing strictly on knowledge, values and skills preparing our children to be true world citizens.
“It’s never too late to learn a language and everyone can study but it is much better to teach someone from a small age. All the children of America should be speaking different languages because it is in the best interest of the public and the country we live in. Knowledge of languages increases intellectual abilities and provides a window of understanding to other customs and cultures. Although once considered basic educational priorities, language education and international studies lack adequate support and recognition as essential components of today's school curriculum” Says Young.
“The world into which today's high school students will graduate is fundamentally different from the one in which many of us grew up. We're increasingly living in a globalised society that has a whole new set of challenges. Four trends have brought us here.”
”Educator, Vivien Stewart said “The future is here. It's multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual. But are students ready for it? The world into which today's high school students will graduate is fundamentally different from the one in which many of us grew up. We're increasingly living in a globalized society that has a whole new set of challenges. We are all connected. Four trends have brought us here. The first one is the globalization of economies and the rise of Asia are central facts of the early 21st Century; since 1990, 3 billion people in China, India, and the former Soviet Union have moved from closed economies into a global one. Science and technology are changing the world and represent a second trend. . Global production teams are becoming commonplace in business. In addition, scientific research, a key driver of innovation, will increasingly be conducted by international teams as other countries ramp-up their scientific capacity. The third trend involves health and security matters. Every major issue that people face—from environmental degradation and global warming, to pandemic diseases, to energy and water shortages, to terrorism and weapons proliferation—has an international dimension. Solving these problems will require international cooperation among governments, professional organizations, and corporations. “
Knowledge of other cultures will help students understand and respect classmates from different countries and will promote effective leadership abroad. Many countries in Europe and Asia are preparing their students for the global age by raising their levels of education attainment; emphasizing international knowledge, skills, and language acquisition; and fostering respect for other cultures. The United States must create its own education response to globalization, which should include raising standards, increasing high school and college graduation rates, and modernizing and internationalizing the curriculum.
Teaching about the rest of the world in U.S. schools has often focused on the superficial: food, fun, and festivals. Today, we need deeper knowledge, such as understanding significant global trends in science and technology, how regions and cultures have developed and how they interconnect, and how international trade and the global economy work. For example, students might consider how increasingly the supply of fresh water or changing forms of energy used in one country could have major effects on another country. Those points are vital for all the people of the world.
Only about one-half of U.S. high school students study a foreign language. The majority never go beyond the introductory level and 70 percent study Spanish (Draper & Hicks, 2002). This results in a serious lack of capacity in such languages as Arabic and Chinese, both of which are crucial to the prosperity and security of the United States.
The United States should do as other industrialized countries in Europe and Asia do—start offering foreign languages in the elementary grades. The growing interest in learning Chinese, as shown by the fact that 2,400 U.S. high schools expressed interest in offering the new advanced placement course in Mandarin, suggests that parents and teachers are realizing the importance of communication skills in a multilingual community.
U.S. students need to extend traditional American values into the global arena. These include a concern for human rights and respect for cultures that differ from the United States. By learning to understand other perspectives, students can develop critical-thinking skills and enhance their creativity. Students should focus on becoming active and engaged citizens in both their local and global environments.
Finally, it is excellent for pre-school and junior school children to start learning language and become fluent. We are educating these children with love and compassion to help them become true citizens of the world. The jobs of tomorrow have not been created yet but what we know is that they will be called upon to travel and work with other countries and deal with different culture than their own.