According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on both sides of the Atlantic there is a 55% or higher chance that a 25 to 44-year-old whose parents passed tertiary education will achieve the same level of education, while less than 10% of children from low-educated families with a migration background reach that level. To make education more inclusive, we propose three recommendations that promote transatlantic learning and address a broad spectrum of both traditional and non-traditional stakeholders in a changing economy.
Prioritize Digital Education and Exchange
Educational landscapes in the EU and the US fail to harness the full potential of digital information and communication technologies (ICTs). We recommend creating an online platform accessible to educational institutions at all levels that allows students and teachers to collaborate. Such a platform may be co-managed by NGOs working on transatlantic issues and would be oriented towards low-cost, equitable access through sponsorship from the Department/Ministry of Education, government grants, and corporations. Citing the example of language learning, the platform will allow students to interact with native speakers via video calls or messages. We see the platform as a convenient model for increasing mutual understanding and peer-to-peer level learning.
Our recommendation goes further than existing educational online initiatives by proposing a platform that becomes entrenched in the education system with a rich multi-channel environment, combining online collaboration with potential in-person exchanges and a transatlantic network for students.
The learning platform should be set up to cover materials of different subjects from elementary to university education, while exploring topics of global context such as, identities and relationships, fairness and development, and globalization and sustainability. As the depth of the material increases and students become more engaged in specialized areas, the platform allows them to connect with learners across the Atlantic with shared and divergent interests, resulting in expanded horizons for both parties. Initial communication will be cultivated within the classroom and could expand independently via social media channels, allowing students to forge friendships outside of the classroom. We recommend further incentivizing training in language and intercultural skills by offering bilingual subject training and encouraging its use in these social exchanges.
In-person exchange, which deepens bonds and creates a sense of belonging and solidarity, should be incentivized through active participation in the virtual exchange. A scholarship program could ease the burden for selected students across regions and socio-economic groups. Another key component of the success of this program will be engagement with educators. Opportunities for physical exchange should be extended to educators who have demonstrated commitment to integrating the program into their work in the classroom.
Establish a Transatlantic Curriculum
For many citizens, international organizations exist only as abstractions. The perceived distance of these organizations leads to feelings of alienation and disapproval towards them. To counter this trend and to create a more informed public, we propose the creation of a transatlantic curriculum.
Within this curriculum, students will have the opportunity to learn about and represent their national views while being challenged by increased exposure to the perspectives of individuals from different counties. This curriculum should cover three areas:
- History and development of international treaties and organizations (i.e., the UN and the EU). Properly contextualizing the events that led to the creation of these organizations serves to justify their existence in a specific historical moment, conveys the continuing relevance of the work they do, and contributes to a better sense of how they operate and might be best used or modified to confront modern challenges.
- Deep divisions in each society that run along similar fault lines of race, gender, and class. These issues could be discussed in the attempt to find common ground and shed light on the difficulties of integration and empowerment, while emphasizing solutions for political cohesion.
- Civic education should teach media literacy to equip students with the ability to identify fake news and an appreciation of pluralism. We see added value in being combined with our previously described online platform. For example, in a unit studying news media, students might opt to track a certain issue in their own and foreign press. They could then use the online platform to hear from other students tracking the same issue in an EU country, thereby learning about the ways events are presented in different media sources across the globe.
The curriculum would be implemented as an optional added course for students in US middle and high schools and German “gymnasiale Oberstufen.” It would be developed by a third party NGO and ideally be supported through the Department/Ministries of Education. The course would be taught in English and upon completion, students would receive an internationally-recognized certificate for their efforts.
Set up a Working Class Exchange Program
To broaden the spectrum of groups that participate in the transatlantic dialog, we propose to establish a transatlantic working class exchange program. First, it targets a stakeholder group that is traditionally underrepresented in transatlantic relations and that has, to some extent, expressed discontent with traditional politics. By involving this group in the transatlantic exchange, we seek to complement the well-entrenched exchanges at the level of higher education and create a comprehensive initiative to rebuild faith in our institutions and strengthen our historic ties. Second, by choosing workers from multinational companies, we aim to leverage existing infrastructures to ensure the exchange will be efficiently organized while keeping costs to a minimum.
We envision intra-company application and selection processes. German workers would then spend stints of four to six weeks at an American site and vice versa. A designated local “buddy” would help with job-related and cultural matters to foster a seamless transition. The buddy system ensures the continuity of the exchange by fostering personal friendships. Adaptation to the new environment would additionally be facilitated through pre-program orientation, consisting of seminars to prepare for the challenges ahead. Similarly, post-program evaluation would guarantee that participants reflect on their experience and share newly gained knowledge with their fellow workers at home.
Finally, the programs would carry incentives for both participating workers and corporate leadership. Companies will be able to enhance their human resources. Workers will gain insight into other technologies and work processes that can prove a valuable asset upon return, potentially advancing their careers in the process. Further, the international exchange promises to combat parochialism and broaden employees’ understanding of the world around them. Participants are likely to act as multipliers, sharing their experiences with families and friends. Lastly, participation in such an exchange would likely cultivate loyalty to the company, which pays dividends for the employer over the long term.
In short: By investing in their workers’ professional skills and instilling intercultural understanding, companies invest not only in their human capital but also in society’s ability to deal with global change.
Innovative advances in education are key drivers of deeper transatlantic relations. Our proposal offers expansion of the promise of education along the lines of methods, content and stakeholders. Capitalizing on the opportunities of digitalization, we combine traditional in-person exchange with virtual learning platforms. This integrated methodical approach is joined with a transatlantic curriculum that covers political, historical, and social topics in both the US and Europe. Such a comprehensive education system broadens the base of transatlantic stakeholders, thus increasing social mobility, particularly through the inclusion of workers. Overall, the proposal promises to empower a generation to understand the importance of transatlantic cooperation and transform into a transnational workforce.