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Teachers’ summit aims to add global perspectives to school lessons

As they prepare to compete in the 21st century global marketplace, Arizona students may soon find themselves using tools such as Google Earth to take virtual field trips or learning Chinese from Sesame Street characters on the computer.

About 100 teachers and administrators from schools statewide gathered at the Thunderbird School of Global Management on Friday for the first Global Teacher’s Summit, a day of seminars about the digital and cultural skills students will need. The state Department of Education organized the event.

“The future belongs to the highly educated, and particularly the highly educated who are prepare to participate in the world economy,” said Tom Horne, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The summit stems from Horne’s goal of increasing international education, including creating schools specializing in foreign languages and international business and expanding foreign language programs to kindergartners.

“We have to graduate students who are fluent in three languages so that they can participate in the international market,” Horne said. “Many students graduate without taking any foreign language.”

Though English may be the international language of business, Angel Cabrera, Thunderbird’s president, told the audience that students speaking only one language will miss out.

“If you’re negotiating a business deal in China, the Chinese person across the table speaks their language and yours,” he said. “You only speak yours. They have the advantage.”

Cabrera said the Thunderbird School teaches the kind of international focus all students need to become what he calls global citizens.

“They are interested in meeting new people and learning about other cultures instead of running out of the airport in Shanghai and asking ‘Where is the Starbucks and McDonald’s?’” he said.

For Arizona graduates to compete with students in other countries, teachers need to help them find that international focus, Cabrera said.

“Even people who say they have no interest in ever working outside of the United States – it doesn’t matter; the world will come to you,” he said. “Every industry is going to be affected. It’s absolutely essential that Arizona educators understand this.”

Some attending the summit said they are already taking steps to give students international skills. Fawzia Tung, principal of the Aim High Institute, a charter school opening in Chandler this summer, said her students will learn either Arabic or Chinese from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“They will be bilingual by the end of it,” she said. “And some parents say, ‘Why either/or? Can’t my child take both?’ I was surprised to see so much interest.”

Carmen Chenal, the state Department of Education’s deputy assistant superintendent, said her agency wants students to be able to compete with their Chinese and Indian counterparts. And while education funding took a heavy hit in recent Legislative budget cuts, Chenal said the international focus and digital tools discussed at the seminar aren’t expensive.

“You don’t necessarily need money to do international education,” she said. “It’s the concepts, it’s the way of teaching it and it’s how to integrate those things.”

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