FREE SPEECH ZONE | New census shows Minnesota is more diverse, but our schools don’t prepare students for this reality


Last week, the new census numbers were released and confirmed what most of us already knew: Minnesota’s population became more diverse between 2000 and 2010. Minorities now make up about one in every seven residents, up from about one in ten a decade ago. Nowhere is this diversity more evident than in the public schools, over a quarter of which now serve a majority of minority students. As our communities diversify, the achievement gap between white and minority students remains a critical shortcoming of our education system. Yet there is another gap that has not received the attention it deserves: the global competency gap.

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Students today require a very different set of knowledge and skills today than they did even ten years ago.  Even if the growing achievement gap can be remedied, Minnesotans -and Americans-won’t be prepared for jobs in a global economy that demands knowledge of the world, language skills, and the ability to work with and among people from different cultures. In a recent PWC survey, over half of CEOs were planning to send more staff on international assignments in 2011. Skilled employees with experience in more than one country are increasingly considered as valuable as their specialties. At the same time, close to half of CEOs said they foresee problems deploying experienced employees in other countries because of a lack of global competence.

As further evidence of the need for global competence among the next generation of leaders, consider the types of challenges we are facing around the world. Local issues can no longer be understood in isolation; they must be explored with in a global context. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, uprisings in the Middle East, and the rising price of food and oil make our interconnectedness more apparent than ever before. Solutions to these challenges in the 21st century require that people work collaboratively and cooperatively across borders.  In this context, we must prepare young people with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to survive and thrive in a global community. Yet despite the compelling need for globally competent citizens and leaders, our education system lags far behind in the capacity to produce these kinds of graduates. 


The majority of young Americans enter the workforce after high school without a basic awareness of the world around them, much less the tools to make responsible decisions for their own community and the larger world. Our education system is trapped in the 20th century, focusing on rote memorization and high stakes testing. It is time to teach students how to think, not what to think-to prepare them to conquer the unknown problems of tomorrow, rather than the known problems of today. Bringing our education system into the 21st century to teach for true global competence is the key to achieving this goal.

That is why ten years ago I founded World Savvy, an education non-profit working to close the global competency gap in K-12 education. World Savvy engages students in project-based learning and arts education to explore complex global issues and make connections between these issues and their personal lives and experiences. With this type of active and engaged learning, students acquire not just a deeper knowledge of a range of community and global issues, but also global citizenship skills, including critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and media literacy, which are vital for personal and professional success. World Savvy also provides comprehensive training and ongoing support for teachers, to help build their capacity to embed global education into teaching and learning across disciplines.

World Savvy is part of a growing movement to close the global competency gap in K-12 education. The new census numbers provide a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the growing diversity in our communities. When the next census numbers come out ten years from now, I have no doubt that the diversification trend will be even more pronounced. My hope is that by then, global education programs will be available to every student in every classroom not just here in Minnesota, but around the country.

Dana Mortenson

Executive Director, World Savvy