Got Global Competency?

By Hunter, William D. | International Educator, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Got Global Competency?

Hunter, William D., International Educator

Creating globally competent U.S. citizens capable of thriving in the twenty-first century workforce is an undeniable thrust of international education. But what exactly comprises the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences necessary to become globally competent?

DESPITE PREVAILING VIEWS that U.S. business drives the global economy and that U.S. culture is pervasive worldwide, there is a plethora of domestic commentary-spanning decades of research and writing-arguing that while U.S. ingenuity and capability have led to worldwide economic and military dominance, the nation's college graduates largely remain unprepared to join the global workforce. Not surprisingly, U.S. employers have recognized this shortfall in the U.S. educational system and have spent millions of dollars on intercultural or language training for their employees to help make those employees-and the companies as a whole-globally competitive.

Illusion of U.S. Dominance

Sure, U.S.-owned businesses such as McDonald's restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops, and GAP clothing stores can be found in most major cities worldwide, dominating the market in their particular product categories. And yes, U.S.-made movies are shown on a far higher percentage of screens around the world than are local film productions, and U.S. songs and television shows are very popular (and often controversial) throughout the world, too. The stirring contradiction is that what began in the mid-twentieth century, with Trans World Airlines (TWA) and International Business Machines' (IBM) global expansion, leading to the "McDonaldization" (Rizvi and Lingard 2000), or Americanization, of much of the world, doesn't mean that U.S. students entering the workforce can be effective if they are only domestically competent. Success stones of big American businesses and pop culture aside, globalization has made the world a tougher place to do business, unless of course, you're globally competent.

The problem sounds easy to solve: just bone up on global competencies and you'll be able to meet the needs of a globalized job market. Not so fast. There is currently no agreed upon definition of what it means to be globally competent or how to obtain such worldwide savvy.

Fifty Years Hasn't Been Enough

The U.S. government's initial recognition of its educational system's failure to educate citizens who were globally competent came immediately following the Soviet Union's October 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world's first satellite. The launch served as the impetus for spontaneous and dramatic changes in the educational focus of the United States, as prescribed by the passage of the National Defense Education Act by the 85th U.S. Congress (U.S. Code Congressional and Administration News 1958). The Act acknowledged the nation's need to confront serious deficiencies in many fields, including the training of scientists, the production of military might, and in particular, U.S. citizens' understanding of international relations as it pertained to geography and foreign language. The Defense Education Act proclaimed that, "It is no exaggeration to say that America's progress in many fields of endeavor in the years ahead-in fact, the very survival of our free country-may depend in large part upon the education we provide for our young people now."

As evidence of the inability of the United States to communicate with foreign audiences, the Act noted that only 15 percent of all college students were studying a foreign language at the time. To rectify the concern regarding foreign language learning, the Defense Education Act provided for the establishment of foreign language learning centers at universities around the country and the enhancement of the study of geography, history, and economics. These language centers were designed to teach U.S. citizens the languages of their nation's friends and foes. Underpinning this initiative was the presumption that through language acquisition and geographic awareness comes crosscultural understanding.

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