It’s old news at this point. The U.S. education system isn’t fairing so well compared to many other developed nations around the world.

We’re 15th in literacy
24th in Math
21st in Science

More than 90 percent of students graduate from high school in places like Finland, Singapore, and South Korea but the graduation rate in the U.S. is 75 percent and it drops to 50 percent for students of color.

This week, I was privileged to play a small part in a panel moderated by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on this topic. Ms. Mitchell kept asking us to identify what things can be learned from the success stories of school systems in other nations. A number of insightful policy wonks and educational researchers had a great deal to offer.

And of course my mind immediately went to the work in which I’m involved—cultural intelligence or CQ. It’s not enough to simply amp up our efforts on teaching kids math, science, humanities, and the arts. The world of opportunities and challenges awaiting today’s students is borderless. And research consistently shows that academic and technical competence is not automatically transferable from one cultural context to another. So a student’s class rank and involvement in extra-curricular activities, while important, plays less of a role in giving them a competitive edge long-term than learning how to adapt and relate to an onslaught of cultural situations. That’s why universities like Columbia, Georgetown, Cornell, and Stanford are working with us to identify culturally intelligent recruits. And companies like Bank of America, IBM and Lufthansa are making moderate to high CQ a requirement for management hires.

Ironically, while sitting at the panel discussion moderated by Mitchell, I was still fighting off the jet lag from a trip to Singapore last week. Educators in Singapore are very intentional about how they prepare their youth to be global citizens who can effectively apply what they learn in a variety of cultural contexts. A similar approach is being used in the other nations with leading scores on how they’re educating their children. Finland’s Minister of Education was also on the NBC panel and readily acknowledged that this is a no-brainer for their educational strategy. There’s an underlying assumption that students have to be equipped to be globally conscious and culturally agile.

The good news is, our research on CQ for the last 10 years proves that anyone can increase his/her CQ. And no surprises here but CQ can most readily be enhanced among youth. We recently assessed the CQ of high school students before and after an overseas experience with People to People Ambassador Programs. CQ, like other intelligences, gets measured in 4 areas (Drive/motivation, Knowledge/cognition, Strategy/meta-cognition, and Action/behavior). The students who participated in the study increased their CQ in all 4 areas. The travel by itself doesn’t guarantee this result. We’ve studied many other youth in various programs where an overseas experience had little impact on improving their CQ and in some cases their CQ scores became even worse. But because People to People take an educational approach to these experiences and use teachers as the program facilitators, the program is uniquely suited to increase CQ.

Among the many other valuable ideas promoted at Education Nation this week, we need to add to our educational mandate the call to increase our children’s CQ. They aren’t simply competing with the kids across town or in the neighboring states. They’re competing with peers worldwide. Intentional, creative approaches to incorporating CQ and global consciousness in youth will pay dividends for individual students, for our nation as a whole, and for the world.

[Portions originally developed for the NBC Education Nation Opinion Page]


Comments are closed