Education & Democracy Go Hand in Hand

By Riley, Richard W. | Presidents & Prime Ministers, May 2000 | Go to article overview

Education & Democracy Go Hand in Hand


Riley, Richard W., Presidents & Prime Ministers


In the course of my two-week trip to Asia, which included separate visits to China and Thailand, I had the opportunity to talk with education ministers from many developed and developing countries. Let me give you a report card of what I saw and heard on specific areas of interest: technology; academics and social development; teacher quality; decentralization, access to higher education, and the importance every nation places on increasing exchanges.

Technology: There is a clear recognition that technology can and will transform education. As a result, many countries are investing heavily in information technology. There is a widespread recognition that technology can be a powerful addition to teacher training and preparation. At the same time, there is growing recognition that many teachers lack the skills they need to take advantage of this new technology.

These leaders also recognize that more information does not necessarily translate into an increase in knowledge, much less the wisdom to discern what is important and to be valued. This suggests that we must do much more to give teachers and students many of the skills they need to analyze and understand larger volumes of information.

There was also a great awareness about the digital divide within countries and between developed and developing countries. Many ministers expressed a strong desire to use technology to create classroom-to-classroom connections via the Internet as away to build cultural awareness and to foster bilingual and multilingual language study. And it goes without saying that distance learning will reshape -- and at the same time offer -- us many new opportunities to expand the scope and breadth of international education.

Academics and Social Development: Educators from China, Japan and Singapore are reevaluating their educational systems and looking for a new balance between academics and social development. For generations these nations have put a premium on academics and a rigorous testing system. There is now growing recognition in these countries, however, that these current practices limit opportunities for creativity and innovation. And they, like us, are increasingly interested in civic and moral development along with academics.

There is a great deal of interest in these countries in our efforts here in the United States to create after-school programs, to promote character education, to encourage family, community and business involvement, and to expand arts education. The art exhibited here today through the generosity of the International Child Art Foundation, clearly shows us that when we allow children to explore their creativity through the arts, they shine.

Almost all nations are eager to make sure that their students learn additional languages, particularly English. The ministers of several nations including Russia, China, and Thailand are interested in examining ways that we can help them develop high-quality English instruction.

I will be the first to tell you that we Americans have much to learn from other nations when it comes to learning new languages, and we are just as eager for help. More than any other developed nation, the United States has fallen behind when it comes to teaching our students the importance of learning an additional language. My two assistants -- Erica and Alyson -- are more the exception than the rule and we need to change that.

Teacher Quality: Like many educators and policy makers in the United States, my counterparts in other nations have a growing concern about recruiting and preparing the next generation of teachers. Like the United States, many nations face a growing shortage of teachers in specialized fields like math and science and helping children with disabilities.

There also seems to be a growing degree of dismay about current practices in teacher education, the preparation of new teachers entering the profession, and the lack of real professional development. …

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