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Global comprehension is the key to global competition

Washington state is big on international trade, the largest exporter per capita in the U.S. with about one in three jobs linked directly or indirectly to international commerce. We are indeed a globalized state.

We constantly hear that our educational system today should be geared toward keeping the U.S. “internationally competitive” in the global economy. Folks attending a Wednesday Seattle Chamber of Commerce event on education and the workforce will likely hear it again.

But what often gets left out of this mantra is that you can’t really compete in the world if you don’t understand it.

“What we need is a new way of thinking,” said Bookda Gheisar, executive director of Global Washington, which as part of its mission to strengthen Washington state’s efforts in global development and international affairs is now targeting education.

What do you think? You can have your say in this as well, but you’d better hurry.

The Global Education Initiative is an effort launched a year ago by Global Washington in collaboration with leading academic institutions, educators, policy experts, business leaders, non-profit organizations and major manufacturers like Boeing or Microsoft aimed at coming up with a consensus strategy for improving global education in the region.

Gheisar said that there are many different initiatives out there aimed at giving students and young people more of a globalized perspective, and the skills they need to find jobs. But there is little coherence in all this and no overall strategy based on consensus.

The Global Education Initiative, Gheisar said, will produce a report based on extensive interviews done over the past year, analyses and the evidence. It is important to hear from all perspectives, she said, and all members of the community so she hopes those who have not yet done so will take the survey.

But what exactly is meant by “global education,” you may well ask?

“It isn’t just about competitiveness, though that’s mostly what you keep hearing,” said Eleni Papadakis, executive director of Washington state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board. “That isn’t really how the world, or business, works today.”

Business today is just as much about collaborating as it is about competing, Papadakis said, and most businesses today have to at least pay attention to some aspects of the global market. Understanding the cultures, the politics and the social values of your collaborators — or competitors — is key to success, she said.

Echoing Papadakis is Victor Johnson, an international education specialist, in this article entitled The Neglected Dimension of Competitiveness:

In America, we like our buzzwords—and “competitiveness” is one of the buzzwords of the day. When we think of this buzzword, certain things are, by now, accepted wisdom: We all know that the United States faces increasing international economic competition; that the economic world is flattening; and that we need to take steps to maintain and enhance our competitiveness if we are to prevail in the competition….

Yet the idea that international competitiveness could depend at all on international knowledge is at best a subtext of the discussion, if it’s there at all. Surely the anomaly must strike us: Our competitiveness depends on success in a world of which most Americans are remarkably ignorant, and on selling things to people whose languages we don’t speak.

That’s the problem the Global Education Initiative seeks to address.

What do you think we need to do to stay competitive, and become more collaborative? Go take the Global Washington survey and have your say. Here’s a video featuring what others have to say:

Global Education Is | Global Washington from eric becker on Vimeo.

NOTE: KPLU last week partnered with student journalists at Pacific Lutheran University to cover a symposium on water, called Our Thirsty Planet. As you can read here, many of them are already well-traveled and inclined to bring a global perspective to every issue they confront.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.