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 two recommendations that promote transatlantic understanding through educational experiences that are accessible to large numbers of students and decrease inequality of opportunity. 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. Ultimately, this will promote mutual understanding and prepare students to succeed in a transatlantic workforce and society.
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-developed by NGOs working on transatlantic issues and would be oriented towards low-cost, equitable access through sponsorship from the Department/Ministry of Education or government grants. NGOs could also serve as implementers and negotiators between interacting schools. Citing the example of online platforms for language learning, which allow students to have their work corrected by fellow students and native speakers via video calls, we see 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-media environment, combining online work with 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 platforms, 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.
Collaboration between students should be taken into the “real world” by creating an in-person exchange, which would deepen bonds and create a sense of belonging and solidarity. We recognize that the prospect of physical exchange and travel acts as an incentive, so we propose these exchanges at certain benchmarks in the virtual collaboration. 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. Creating a Common Curriculum
As learning increasingly happens online and student transience becomes the norm, it is important to increase exposure to differing curricula and lower the burden of resuming the learning process where one has left off. We therefore propose the creation of a ‘trans-atlantic curriculum’ by an NGO with cooperation of involved states via various government grants. Within this curriculum, students will have the opportunity to learn about and represent their unique national views while being challenged by increased exposure to the perspectives of individuals from different countries. Teachers will serve as moderators in these discussions, following guidelines implemented by the program. We recognize that nationally-based curricula in history and civics are valuable and unlikely to recede. However, we propose creating a virtual ecosystem in which these national viewpoints coexist and students are encouraged to learn about others.
Several subjects benefit from diverse viewpoints and thus lend themselves to such a program. We recommend that history and civics be taught first from a national viewpoint, and then have perspectives from those countries participating in the ‘trans-atlantic curriculum’ brought in to challenge students in their world-view and expand their global literacy. In sharing and critically reflecting on one another’s histories, students will be able to recognize the deep and historic bonds between European and American populations, which will help cultivate a sense of shared identity, fate, and responsibility. For high school and university students, this curriculum should cover three areas. First, it should address the history and development of international treaties and organizations (i.e., the League of Nations, the UN, and the EU). Properly contextualizing these events serves to justify their existence in a specific historical moment and contributes to a better sense of how they operate and might be best used or modified to confront modern challenges. Second, it should address the deep divisions in each society that run along similar fault lines of race, gender, and class. Third, civic education should teach media literacy to equip students with the ability to identify fake news.
Joining rich virtual exchange with a diverse ‘trans-atlantic curriculum’ creates a dynamic system of education that reaches across borders and demographics to engage all students equally. This platform will increase the quality of education overall and connect it to the people who most need it, increasing 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, which are low in comparison to in-person exchange, will be dwarfed by the economic returns of a more educated workforce, which will be shared by diverse communities in the US and Europe.
Jill Beytin is a Master’s student of Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany.
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.
Eric Swenson is the Director of External Relations for MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Carolyn Taratko is a PhD candidate in modern European History at Vanderbilt University in the USA.