The world is changing at a rapid pace, and it is of paramount importance that educational institutions continue to prepare new and continuing learners for upcoming challenges. However, the educational landscapes in the US and Europe are still characterized by a slow embrace of innovative strategies and an even slower process of implementation that relies on nationally circumscribed curricula and solutions.
Inequality in education remains a major problem. 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 the children of low-educated families with a migration background reach third level degrees. We propose two recommendations to promote transatlantic understanding through educational experiences, while at the same time making these programs accessible to a large number of students as we strive not to produce inequality.
First, we promote educational exchange programs that embrace digital technologies. Second, we advocate for the creation of a common curriculum and its incorporation into classrooms in both Europe and the US. By integrating common curriculum programming and student exchange, we envision a robust, interactive system of education that engages underrepresented regions, such as the American Midwest and Eastern Europe. Ultimately, this will prepare all students to succeed in a transatlantic workforce and society.
1. Prioritize Collaborative Education and Exchange Program
The educational landscapes in the EU and the US fail to harness the full potential of digital information and communication technologies (ICTs). We therefore recommend creating an online platform accessible to educational institutions at all levels that allows students and teachers to collaborate. Such a platform would be equitable, given that participation could be made free for participants through sponsorship from the Department/Ministry of Education. 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 learning at this peer-to-peer level.
While educational online initiatives like www.edmodo.com exist, our recommendation goes further by proposing a platform entrenched in the education system with a rich multi-media environment, combining online work with in-person exchanges and a transatlantic peer-review network for students.
The learning platform should be set up to cover materials of different subjects at all levels from elementary school to university education. As the depth of the material increases and students become more engaged in specialized areas, the platform allows them to connect with other learners across the Atlantic with shared and divergent interests, resulting in expanded horizons for both parties.
Adding social media functionality would allow students to forge friendships by connecting and integrating the learning process into social interaction. We recommend further incentivizing training in language and intercultural skills by offering bilingual subject training and encouraging its use in these social exchanges. For example, we can envision segments devoted to food or sports, but also to art and the sciences.
Ultimately, the collaboration between students should be taken into the “real world” by creating an in-person exchange. Students who have successfully collaborated over time can visit each other to deepen bonds and create a sense of belonging and solidarity. To increase diversity and promote leaving one’s echo chamber, exchange across identity and socio-economic groups should be prioritized in offering scholarships.
2. Creating a Common Curriculum
As learning increasingly happens online and student transience becomes the norm, it is more important to harmonize curricula and lower the burden of resuming the learning process where one has left off. We therefore recommend the creation of a common curriculum between the EU and US, defining the subject matter and testing standards, yet leaving enough room to cover region-specific elective courses.
Standardized testing would allow learners to take exams independent of their location to obtain an accredited diploma. As an online platform, they also create an opportunity to integrate refugees to the EU and US by offering them universal learning and testing opportunities.
Several subjects benefit from diverse viewpoints and thus lend themselves to such a program. We recommend that history and civics be taught from a global, rather than a strictly national, viewpoint. Teaching history in a way that shows the deep and historic bonds between European and American populations will help cultivate a sense of shared identity and fate. This course should also cover 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 not only to justify their existence in a specific historical moment, but also contributes to a better sense of how they operate and might be best used or modified to confront modern challenges. Moreover, civic education should teach media literacy to equip students with the ability to differentiate real from fake news. While history and civics form a logical beginning for a common curriculum, we suggest that other subjects, including the arts and sciences, will also thrive in this model and will benefit growth and society more generally.
Jessica Collins is a M.A. candidate at Freie Universität Berlin and the Director of NorthStar Serbia where she works in youth and community development. She is an alumna of the Fulbright Program in Serbia, where she served as an English Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Nis.
Manuel Schöb works for the European Stability Mechanism in Luxembourg. He has a professional background in banking and consulting. He has a MS in business administration from the University of Ingolstadt and a BS in mechanical engineering from the ETH Zurich.
Ingmar Sturm is a student of International Relations at Jacobs University and the University of Bremen. Next to his studies he teaches refugees in math and English and works for his NGO “Island Ark Project” to help climate refugees with the transmission of intangible cultural heritage. Since he went on a high school exchange at age sixteen, he is an avid supporter of transatlantic relations.
Eric Swenson Director of External Relations for MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois USA. He is a US Army veteran and has an MS from the University of Illinois.
Carolyn Taratko is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin. She is a PhD candidate in modern European History at Vanderbilt University in the USA, where she focuses on the development of agricultural policy and nutritional science in Germany in the early twentieth century.