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.
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.