Education plays a crucial role in integration of different societies across the world. With the onset of globalization and technological advancements, education has emerged as a key driving force behind the socio-economic and political development witnessed in several countries around the world. Some of the emerging superpowers, like China and India, are banking on effective education systems to produce workers who can not only multitask, but also who can work in any cultural setting around the world. Multiculturalism is, thus, emerging as an important element within the education sector to equip students with multiple skills including foreign languages. It can enable them to interact with as many people as possible across the world. This calls for incisive decisions by education stakeholders like teachers and the government to invest deliberately in multicultural issues within their education system if they are to achieve the real global outlook. This paper describes the challenge of teaching foreign languages in the US education system as an element of multiculturalism and globalization that is defining modern day global leaders.
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The state of Foreign Language Education in the US Schools
Foreign languages have recently emerged as powerful tools in the contemporary globalization as witnessed by an increasing number of students who are taking one or two foreign languages in addition to what they use as their first language. In Sweden, 89 percent of students have either one or more foreign language proficiency. This is in stark contrast with the US, where only a mere 36 percent of students have a foreign language. The sharp contrast in foreign language proficiency has seen Sweden exporting more international workers when compared to the United States. The role of education is to prepare students to develop global knowledge and skills. This, therefore, means that students must have a second language which they can use to communicate with other people (Zhao, 2009). According to Bernanke (2006), “the traditional distinction between the core and the periphery is becoming increasinglyless relevant . as the mature industrialeconomies and the emerging-market economies becomemore integrated and interdependent”. With this independence comes the need to reach out to the other societies through communication and interaction. This is the reason why a second language is important in contemporary education system. The US government has already identified this as a challenge to its education system. Even though students are required to learn a foreign language at lower classes, this has not been the case even as the plan is crippled with underfunding and a lack of goodwill from parents and teachers to support this program. The result is a staggering low number of students in the country who have understanding of a foreign language when compared to other countries in the West.
The need to develop global competence and continuation of the US superpower in economic and social matters were the leading reasons why the government, under the leadership of President Bush, initiated educational changes. Such changes were meant to “encouraging our young people to participate in activities that increase their knowledge of and appreciation for global issues, languages, history, geography, literature, and the arts of other countries” (Zhao, 2009). This kind of educational change to encourage more students to learn about the culture of other countries and specifically their languages is not captured in the No Child Left Behind Act, even though a different initiative “Strengthening Education: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World”, was launched to specifically pursue this goal. The initiative was informed by the fact that the US government recognized the need to educate its citizens about the cultures of other people around the world to prepare them to take leadership positions in within the international community platform. The other initiative is the launch of the National Language Security Initiative, which aimed at addressing the problem of inadequate number of foreign language speakers in the country. The initiative was also aimed at “encouraging earlier and stronger coursework in critical-need foreign languages right from kindergarten through post secondary education” (Zhao, 2009). The government intended to increase not only the number of foreign speakers, but also their proficiency in foreign languages by providing incentives to teachers who teach foreign languages.
Successful Change Processes and Leadership Skills
The successful change process was the government’s launch of conscious initiatives such asStrengthening Education: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World andNational Language Security Initiative to support the growth of foreign language within the education sector. Through these initiatives, the Education Department’s invested $5 million to enable 1,000 new foreign language teachers to start teaching in classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Despite the numerous challenges like underfunding and lower priority given to foreign language, when compared to other areas such as science, math, and engineering, coupled with a lack of actual appreciation of the importance of foreign language and multicultural talents in the country, the initiatives are a first step towards the right direction (Bernanke, 2006).
Unsuccessful Change Processes and Leadership Skills
The initiatives have failed to receive the anticipated enthusiasm from teachers, parents, and students in the country. It happened partly because the government has failed to provide enough funds to support the programs. On the other hand, there has been little effort from the stakeholders to emphasize the importance of foreign language in the globalization agenda, and many students still believe that they can work anywhere with English as their only language. This is evident in their lack of recognition of other significant languages such as Chinese Mandarin, which is a widely spoken language in the world. The NCLB act also does not mention the importance of foreign language as a tool of globalization, and this has led to the failure in the capture of urgency of foreign language proficiency in the country (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
Leadership Lessons about Planning and Implementing Change
In planning an educational change such as introducing foreign language in schools, it is important to have consultation with all stakeholders, so that they can support the programs towards this direction. The government also needs to give equal importance to foreign language, just like it does with science, math, and engineering. Moreover, for matters as important as educational change involving foreign language, the government needs to allocate sufficient resources. This is because lack of enough personnel with foreign language proficiency will affect the economic and social position of the country in the international community.
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