The Guardian featured a great article on government support of internationalizing higher education institutions in Japan. ”Beyond student mobility, however, internationalization has been less developed in Japan, especially in terms of curriculum reform,” said Hiroshi Ota, director of Global Education Program at Hitotsubashi University. We’re seeing a change here in the USA with organizations like NAFSA crafting proposals to increase the number of American students studying abroad while also increasing the number of incoming international students.
While I fully support the missions of organizations that focus on increasing studying abroad numbers, which are at a dismal 1% in the US, I believe that this single approach is not enough for substantial change. There are financial barriers and issues of student access with study abroad programs, and these opportunities usually favor countries like the UK, Italy, Spain, France, China and Australia — six countries that claim nearly 50 percent of the total US study abroad pool (IIE, Open Doors 2011).This leaves a group of countries, which might not have an established partnership, isolated from becoming a part of the ‘global network’. For example, no country in Africa is in the top 25 leading destinations for US students studying abroad — yet the continent is incredibly diverse, rich in history, important to world affairs and open to such exchanges — which is why One World Youth Project is concentrating expansion efforts in Africa for the 2013/2014 program year.
Depending on the student and the program, the study abroad experience could change perspectives or could simply be a prolonged summer, semester or year of partying with other Americans in a foreign nation. It takes dedication from the students, a sound host family (if this route is even chosen at all) and an intentional program that allows cross-cultural engagement to really create an intercultural experience. Nonetheless, the focus of this article is not to completely undermine or berate the concept of study abroad. In fact, I myself am a product of some amazing study abroad experiences which changed my life and career trajectory. I would not be working for OWYP if it weren’t for the opportunities I’ve had to go abroad. Organizations that promote study abroad continue to work tirelessly to extend these opportunities and we at OWYP are in solidarity with them concerning this same mission: global citizens with global competence.
The point I’m trying to make, which echos Ota’s conclusions in his article, is that studying abroad isn’t the only way to internationalize a populace. There needs to be an internationalization of a curricula throughout the educational pipeline from pre-school until university graduation. There need to be activities in schools that promote diversity, cross-cultural exchange and working with individuals of different cultures. The challenge is two-pronged and we cannot achieve one without the other. The government needs to take global skill sets and a 21st century education seriously, so that public education systems can adapt appropriately.
Ota’s column reiterates this when he states that “…the Japanese government is expected to continue to support the strategic initiatives of university internationalization in order to provide a catalyst for the functional transformation of Japanese universities towards meeting the demands of the 21st century’s global knowledge-based society.”
While governments around the world like Japan are focusing such efforts on their educational system, it seems the US is falling behind and focusing too much on areas like STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), and although important for economic development, even engineers need global competence to operate in the reality of the integrated and globalized world we now live in.