Educating an interconnected world

18 March 2011

“Education for an interconnected world is not just for the mobile elite”, said the head of Cambridge Assessment at an international conference.

The major policy challenge of how and what skills and knowledge different countries give their students was at the heart of the event, hosted by Cambridge Assessment, at One Great George Street, London on 15 March 2011.

Cambridge Assessment's Group Chief Executive, Simon Lebus, explained the importance of global awareness for all students. Although many would study at an international university or work for a multinational corporation, most would probably work within one country, he said. But they would all face the same challenges of working with and respecting other cultures.

This was amplified by the experiences of Lesley James, Director of Business Development at the RSA's Opening Minds Academy in Tipton, West Midlands, who pointed out that her students struggled with understanding how they could make a contribution to their local community, let alone the rest of the world.

There was a wide degree of agreement among the educationalists, embassy representatives and teachers gathered as to what interconnectedness in an educational context meant. The common set of skills which emerged included: an awareness of global issues; a collaborative approach to learning/work; information (subject knowledge/technical skills) and IT fluency; creativity, critical thinking, problem solving skills; and multilingualism.

These skills were also recognised by representatives from Hong Kong, India and the US as being important in their own approaches to education to enable their students to compete on an international level playing field.

In addition to skills, Ann Puntis, Chief Executive of University of Cambridge International Examinations, acknowledged that there also had to be a balance of core understanding. The 21st century attributes she identified that would help students to build future skills - if delivered by excellent, interconnected teachers - included: mathematical understanding; scientific knowledge; multilingualism; literacy; historical understanding; geographical awareness; and critical appreciation.

From a university perspective, Richard Partington, Senior Tutor at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, explained the challenges of recruiting applicants from different educational and cultural backgrounds from across the globe. He went on to explain how Cambridge accommodates this in terms of communication, assessment, support and of course, within its admissions process. 

Commenting on the debate Roger-Francois Gauthier, Inspector General for Administration of National Education and Research, France and a UNESCO Consultant, called for "all educational systems to be put under review and largely reinvented: as neither the old tradition of school knowledge nor the old conception of national knowledge seems satisfactory anymore in an interconnected world”.

Over 60 people including international teachers, assessment experts, employers and journalists attended. A packed conference was supplemented by live streaming and more than 700 people watched the proceedings online.

Watch films or download podcasts of the presentations and debate.

The international learners' view 

Students from India and China have a higher expectation of working overseas than those from the UK and US, according to research from University of Cambridge International Examinations. 

The findings correlate with UNESCO research about higher education movement. However, from the students surveyed on average two-thirds expected to work with people from another country. 

1,700 students aged 16-18 in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, UK and USA were surveyed about their subject choices, career aspirations and migration prospects. 

The survey showed that two-thirds of students wanted to go on to higher education and almost a quarter choose subjects to help with their future career and higher education course. In fact, 99 per cent had already chosen their ideal career and sector. The most popular, with more than half of students choosing these areas, were engineering, medicine, the arts and business. Other popular sectors were science, education, law and finance. More than a quarter of students choose their subjects to help with their career, particularly in the UK and India.