Bridging cultures, ‘knowledge gap' for teachers

BOWLING GREEN, O.—An innovative new degree at Bowling Green State University is addressing the “international knowledge gap.”

The University's College of Education and Human Development has created a master of arts degree program in cross-cultural and international education (MACIE) to prepare educators to effectively teach an increasingly diverse group of students and, at the same time, prepare them to be successful in an increasingly internationalized world.

“There is a pressing need for this,” according to Dr. Patty Kubow, one of the program's founders. “The international knowledge gap has been identified as one of today's most urgent problems in education. American students lack awareness of international issues. In fact, a recent educational study reported that 25 percent of college-bound students could not identify the body of water separating the United States from Japan,” said the associate professor of educational foundations and inquiry (EDFI).

The only one of its kind in Ohio and surrounding states, the MACIE program is designed to meet the needs of classroom teachers who plan to stay in the classroom, as well as people involved in educational outreach to disparate groups.

The degree's designers, Kubow and department colleague Dr. Peggy Booth, chose to focus on providing the broad knowledge base that future educators will need when working with other cultures. The program builds on the existing strengths of Bowling Green's faculty, who have extensive international research and teaching experience and speak 10 languages among them.

MACIE students will take core classes in cultural studies in education, comparative education, and cross-cultural human development and learning. They will also choose from numerous other courses that contribute to the cross-cultural and international knowledge and insights.

The program will equip classroom teachers to deal with the growing number of students from around the world who have come to the United States—and to enhance their American students' global knowledge.

“The population is becoming more diverse by the day,” not just in national background but in social strata of immigrants as well, Booth said. With the influx of highly skilled workers from Japan related to automobile and other manufacturing, many children come from families with high educational expectations. Others are from low-skilled families, on academic exchanges or are political refugees. “For example, there's a big population of Somalis in Columbus now,” Booth pointed out.

In addition to understanding students from other countries, the teachers will learn to relate to students from under-represented cultures within the United States, such as Native Americans or migrant workers. “Our teachers have to have a better understanding of their students' lives, homes and neighborhoods,” Booth said.

Gaining cross-cultural sensitivity is a key goal for the program's enrollees, Kubow said. Teachers with the MACIE degree will be able to help internationalize their schools' educational practices and curricula by incorporating more diverse and different cultures into the course of study, whether those cultures are from inside or outside the U.S.

International students are encouraged to enroll in the program for mutual benefit. “The international students will enrich our American students,” Kubow said. In fact, the first student to enroll in the MACIE program is Annette de Nicker, from South Africa.

A grade 12 history teacher and head of her school's Department of Human and Social Sciences, History and Geography, de Nicker said what attracted her to the MACIE program was its cross-cultural and international aspect. "While apartheid is officially over, the country is still very much segregated," she said. "People continue to be intolerant of other cultures and other ethnic backgrounds. I hope to use the experience and the knowledge gained through this degree to help bring acceptance of diversity. It saddens me that some of my students still think in terms of ‘us' and ‘them.'”
 
“Only a few of the top 50 colleges in the United States require coursework in non-Western history for students who are preparing to teach history,” Kubow noted. “Cross-cultural education enables students to see the connections between the issues.

“One of our goals is for our students to see the relationship between education and globalization,” Kubow added. “With the widening economic gap, globalization has the power to unite but also to be divisive. It's important for classroom teachers to understand both the barriers and the benefits, to understand the relationships between the developed and developing people of the world, and to understand how people in the rest of the world see events through their own historical background.”

In addition to classroom teachers, “we're very open to people who are not traditional classroom teachers but who are involved in education in another manner,” Booth said. These might include returning Peace Corps volunteers or nongovernmental organization employees, people interested in doing extension work with adults for literacy or agriculture, or those who are involved in public health campaigns such as AIDS education.

A requirement that sets MACIE apart from other programs is the cross-cultural internship, either in the United States or another country, working with a group that is under-represented or culturally different from the student's own.

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(Posted November 15, 2006 )