Striving for Inclusive Global Education

Global education experiences can be transformative for college students, helping them expand their world and gain valuable skills they can apply in an increasingly international economy. However, too often these experiences have been available to a small group of students.

Inclusive education has been central to my work and research for a long time. After I received my bachelor’s degree in special education, my first job was in India where I worked with rural children with disabilities in Northern India. It was there where I became passionate about better serving underrepresented groups and improving upon global education. When I returned to school at Syracuse University, my academic focus was on inclusiveness. I wanted to look at how society and our educational system put up barriers for certain groups of people, and how to go about removing those barriers.

At the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), I study how all students can participate and achieve in education settings. In general, educational systems are designed to be efficient, which means aiming for what is considered the “norm.” Students who may work outside of preconceived norms may struggle in school. Too often, this struggle is associated with the student, when what we should examine is our institutions. What are we doing that creates circumstances that prevent students from equally participating and benefitting? Are we creating an inclusivity gap?

This trend is also present in our global and study abroad programs. Looking at how university students in our country participate (or don’t participate) in global education in the U.S., it’s clear that we are not including a diverse student body in our programs.

Higher Education Around the World

For today’s college students, access to international education is vital. In addition to the opportunities for personal growth, global education programs teach students how to work across cultures. Imagine working in a different country and a school environment, and being required to work in new ways. This experience teaches valuable skills in navigation and communication, as well as learning to overcome adversity and meet new challenges. Universities and institutions have been enthusiastic about providing these opportunities for their students. However, if we are serious about achieving true educational equity, these opportunities must be developed with inclusivity in mind.

There are many factors that prevent a student from taking advantage of global education. The typical student participating in studying abroad is white, middle class and non-disabled. Conversely, students who are first-generation college students, students of color, are low-income or have a variety of disabilities are under-represented. Some may have trouble with the financial demands of studying abroad; others may have difficulty taking time off from their responsibilities outside of school.

A less obvious aspect that keeps these students from an international education is the lack of a broad personal and professional network that can connect them with opportunities. To bridge this gap, we must constantly evaluate how we recruit and develop programs in our field.

Overcoming Common Obstacles

There are many parts to a successful global program: students from the U.S. going outward, international students coming to the U.S. to study, a curriculum that needs to be implemented, and partnerships that need to be forged. All require students to adapt and cope with a system that may not be properly designed for them. Here are a few of the factors of a global education program that need to be examined if we are serious about making these experiences more accessible to all students:

  • It’s important for students to feel like the program they are interested is right for them. They want to feel like they would be a valued member of an experience. When a student feels as though they’re a part of a unique experience, it’s better for both the university and the student.
  • We often assume that the curriculum or way we teach is right for everybody. However, it may not be effective for students who are working across borders.
  • Universities must examine the partnerships they have with other institutions around the world and determine how effective they are. Historically, international education has dictated that similar universities partner up with each other. For example, if the University of Minnesota is a major research institution, we should find another major research institution to join with overseas. However, in some cases, it may also benefit students if the school partners with another that doesn’t have the same set of resources or goals. For global education programs to be successful, the question of what type of work and partners will help reach goals should be the focus, rather than settling on a static, formulaic approach.

How You Can Help Create Global Education Opportunities for Students

We’re committed to opening doors to global education experiences for all students. As we continue to improve our programs to be more inclusive, we also need your help. The CEHD Undergraduate Global Learning Scholarship provides resources for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to study abroad. The scholarship will be focus of CEHD’s Give to the Max Day efforts. We’d love for you to donate and help spread the word on November 17 by following Dean @JeanKQuam and @UMN_CEHD on Twitter. The funds raised will help open international education experiences for a new generation of our future leaders

Christopher Johnstone, Ph.D.

About the Author

Christopher Johnstone, Ph.D.

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