According to the 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 do the same, while less than 10% of children from low-educated families with a migration background reach that level. Gaps in education perpetuate suspicion and underappreciation of relationships with other countries. We propose three recommendations that promote transatlantic understanding and prepare students to succeed in a transatlantic workforce and society through educational experiences that are accessible to large and diverse numbers of students. First, we promote educational exchange programs that embrace digital technologies. Second, we advocate for the development of a ‘trans-atlantic curriculum’ and its incorporation into classrooms in Europe and the US. By integrating ‘trans-atlantic curriculum’ programming and student exchange, we envision an interactive system of education that engages underrepresented regions, such as the American Midwest and Eastern Europe. Third, we suggest an exchange program for blue-collar workers.
1. Prioritizing 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 exchange 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 would deepen bonds and create 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. Physical exchange should be extended to educators who have demonstrated commitment to integrating the program into their work in the classroom.
2. Atlantic 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 countries. This curriculum should cover three areas:
- History and development of international treaties and organizations (i.e., the UN, and the EU). Properly contextualizing these events 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.
- 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.
3. Set up a Blue-Collar Workers Exchange Program
In order to broaden the spectrum of demographic groups that actively participate in the transatlantic partnership, we propose to establish a transatlantic blue-collar workers exchange program. This proposal is driven by the following rationale. First, it targets a stakeholder group that is traditionally underrepresented in transatlantic travel and that has, to some extent, expressed discontent with the cultural and economic developments in liberal, open societies. By involving this group into the transatlantic exchange, we seek to complement the well-entrenched links on the level of higher education and create a comprehensive initiative to counter national stereotypes and to strengthen our historic ties. Second, by choosing blue-collar workers from multinational companies, in particular those with a strong transatlantic footprint, we aim at leveraging existing infrastructures to ensure the exchange will be efficiently organized and kept at relatively low costs.
How would the program look in more detail? We envision that companies advertise the exchange to allow workers to apply through an informal non-bureaucratic procedure. The selection process would be left to the discretion of the companies. 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, such as language, to make the exchange as pleasant as possible. The buddy system ensures the continuity of the exchange by fostering personal friendships. Adaptation to the new environment would additionally be facilitated through a pre-program orientation, consisting of seminars to prepare candidates for the challenges ahead. Respectively, post-program evaluation would guarantee that participants reflect on their learnings and share newly gained knowledge with their fellow workers at home.
Finally, why should multinational companies set up and fund such an exchange program? There are several incentives to consider. First, companies will be able to enhance their human resources. During the exchange, workers will gain insight into technologies and work processes that can prove a valuable asset upon return. Second, international exposure and intercultural learning promises to increase the employees’ understanding and endorsement of globalism and free trade agreements. This allows companies to raise vital political momentum for their core business interests, especially considering the fact that participants are likely to act as multipliers vis-à-vis their families and friends. And third, workers who receive the chance to participate in such an exchange will be more motivated and more loyal, which benefits the performance and atmosphere in the company.
In short: By investing in their workers’ professional skills and intercultural sensitivity, companies invest not only in their human capital but also in society’s ability to resist against the lure of nationalist political offerings.
Joining virtual and in-person exchange for students and workers with a diverse ‘Atlantic Curriculum’ creates a dynamic system of comprehensive education that addresses current students and continuing learners alike. It thereby reaches across borders and demographics. This platform will increase the quality of education overall and connect it to the people who most need it, improving social mobility by developing a generation of students fluent in the transatlantic narrative, ready to pursue higher education and join a collaborative, transatlantic workforce. Ultimately, the costs of these initiatives will be dwarfed by the economic returns of a more educated workforce, which will be shared by diverse communities in the US and Europe.
Martha Bohrt is the City Manager’s Fellow in Norfolk, Virginia.
Jessica Collins is a M.A. candidate at Freie Universitat Berlin and Director of NorthStar Serbia.
Manuel Schöb is the Middle Office Officer at the European Stability Mechanism in Luxembourg.
Ingmar Sturm is a Master’s student of International Relations at Jacobs University and the University of Bremen.
Carolyn Taratko is a PhD candidate in modern European History at Vanderbilt University in the USA.
Lutz-Peter Hennies is a former Fulbright student in New York City with an academic background in philosophy and economics and work experience in management consulting.
John-Markus Maddaloni is an Italian-American, who was born and raised in Germany. He currently studies German law at the Universität des Saarlandes.