Why Education Is a Global Matter

This year marks the 15th anniversary of International Education Week (IEW), a time to recognize, reflect, and celebrate the important role education plays worldwide.

Educators, families and students are working hard to implement a comprehensive vision for cradle-to-career improvements here in the U.S. so every child can receive a world-class education, and to ensure that our nation remains globally competitive. But U.S. education leaders are also committed to an international education agenda that’s deeper and more collaborative than ever.

In November 2013, at the invitation of Haiti’s education minister, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders.  National leaders in Haiti are committed to expanding educational opportunity and raising educational quality. We saw clearly that children in Haiti want an education and are willing to try despite the odds against them.   Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In November 2013, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders. Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

That is why, during IEW 2012, Department of Education released its first fully-integrated international strategy, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, linking our domestic and international priorities. Increasing the global competencies of all U.S. students, learning from other countries to improve our education policies and practices, and engaging in active education diplomacy will help to strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

Just last month, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating for girls’ education, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. As she said, “We realized the importance of pens and books, when we saw the guns.” What a courageous and amazing young person. All of us – educators, parents, policymakers, and world leaders – desire a bright and happy future for our children and our nations. Education must help to ensure that future: a better educated world is a more prosperous world, a healthier world, and a safer world. When we became a Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Champion Country  earlier this year, we committed to be leaders in this effort.

I’ve seen the difference education makes in my experience growing up in Chicago and later as head of the Chicago Public Schools; during my time in Australia when I worked with wards of the court; and in the communities and schools I’ve visited as Secretary. Two visits from the past year are particularly vivid for me: Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border, where students wake up before sunrise to cross the border for school each day and my trip to Haiti where I saw in the eyes of so many children the desire and commitment to get a basic education despite the odds against them.

I also place a high priority on benchmarking ourselves against other education systems and learning from them to see how we can improve. OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the international assessment of reading, math and science, has been an important yardstick for me because it is taken by 15-year-old high school students around the globe. The most recent PISA results show a picture of educational stagnation for the U.S., a wake-up call against complacency and low expectations. PISA also helps to show that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Canada and Korea can, and do, achieve both.

We know that a key component of educational success is starting early yet the U.S. is 25th in the world in our enrollment of four-year-olds in preschool. This gap highlights the urgency of our efforts to increase enrollment in high quality preschool. Young children in New Zealand, for example, can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week.  Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand’s children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.

We hosted – with international and domestic partners – the first-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession in 2011, bringing together ministers and union leaders with high-performing and rapidly improving education systems from around the world to discuss how to enhance and elevate the teaching profession worldwide. The summit proved such a success that it is now hosted annually by countries around the world.  What we heard at the summits have had an important impact on U.S. teacher policy, including RESPECT and Teach to Lead.

I hope, this week and every week, you’ll find ways to encourage and support the shared vision of International Education Week – that every child, in every country, grows up globally competent and appreciates cultural diversity.

Watch Secretary Duncan’s IEW 2014 message:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.


  1. This is a good initiative to start with.What I think about the US education is that the attainments targets of its curriculum is not enough rich w.r.t. Other countries, in particular in mathematics.
    One more note is the problem that how to engage other educational systems to share their views on education vision:to understand other educational systems in which the right to understand, the right thing critically for every child is recognised. This would surely inspired enhancing the world peace.

  2. It is wonderful to see the Department looking outside our borders for inspiration and ideas to help students here in the United States. The idea of American exceptionalism and being number one in the world is something we’re realizing isn’t always correct, and that unfortunately seems to be the case with education. Just as you mentioned the early childhood advancements in New Zealand, other countries also have practices we can learn from. So, it is wonderful to hear about the International Summit on the Teaching Profession bringing together education leader and ministers from around the world to discuss how to enhance teaching worldwide. On this occasion and every other we should remember that every child, regardless of nationality or race deserves a quality education. I wish we could all be as lucky as you Mr. Duncan and be able to travel the world to experience firsthand the different ways children learn.

  3. Please remember the many charities working on education in the US as well as internationally. These grassroots organizations work directly with students, teachers, and parents. Their programs incorporate years worth of experiences and insights, and many have demonstrated their effectiveness already.

  4. Education is the key to success, no matter the personal definition of success for an individual or society. To cure illnesses we must have educated doctors, nurses, etc. To build bridges we must have educated engineers and construction crews. To have fresh water we must have educated environmentalists. To have fair laws we must have educated legislatures. Greed is taking over the world. To have fairness and equality for all we must have educated citizens. Education is the key to a peaceful society. God bless America and the world.

  5. Dear Arne,

    I am so glad you have posted this. Because I too believe that education is very important regardless of color or gender. I also believe the earlier the better. My daughter went to Kindergarten with 2,5 from monday till friday and from 08:00 till 17:30. They had there nap in the afternoon in Kindergarten. She is very bright and willing and when things get better (our circumstances) she will also do much better.

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