Future of Learning

Not going it alone: International education programs in an age of isolation

A sampling of Hechinger reporting for The New York Times’s Learning section

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The Hechinger Report is collaborating with The New York Times to produce Bulletin Board, page 2 of the Timess education supplement, Learning.

‘Developing relationships across seas’

In the United States, men who take particular care of their physical appearance are widely considered to be less masculine. Noa Fay, 18, thought that was a standard belief. But in a gender studies course through the Global Online Academy, or GOA, Noa heard from classmates in Kenya, Hong Kong, England, India and South Africa about how masculinity is defined in their countries, and she learned that the American perspective isn’t ubiquitous.

Noa had to check her assumptions several times last semester, in large part because of what she heard from her peers around the world.

“The way I’m thinking about things is probably forever changed,” said Noa, who just graduated from the private Noble and Greenough School in Massachusetts.

GOA is a collective of over 70 member schools around the world, offering accredited, online classes to middle and high schoolers. The courses, across a range of subjects, encourage students to develop global perspectives. Students cite additional benefits.

Adriana Castro Colón, 18, who grew up in the United States and just graduated from an international school in Portugal, considers herself a creative thinker. In a medical problem-solving course last fall, she worked with students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. She found them to be more analytical thinkers. And she said her group benefited from both perspectives when tackling complex medical problems.

“While they would focus on one aspect of the problem, I could bring in something else,” Adriana said. She also reports incorporating some of their approach in her solo work, becoming more efficient and organized.

Class sizes are small at GOA. And students learn more than academic content. Communicating with each other through discussion boards and video calls, they find out that it’s possible to forge close relationships with people half a world away. Sometimes they’re surprised by the strength of their virtual connections.

Noa finds that lesson particularly noteworthy as the United States cuts ties abroad.

“It’s important to understand the significance of making those global bonds,” Noa said. “Not just for the purpose of extending your own view of things, but also just to develop relationships across seas.”

Tara García Mathewson

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international education programs

Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo celebrates after finishing the women’s skeleton heat 4 final run during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 17, 2018 in Pyeongchang.

Olympic pioneer turns role model

Less than four months before the 2018 Winter Olympics, Simidele Adeagbo discovered skeleton, a terrifying sport that sends competitors hurtling headfirst down an icy track at speeds as high as 90 miles per hour. She had just enough time to learn her way around a sled and complete the five Olympic qualifying races.

“It was really about survival at first,” said Adeagbo, a 37-year-old former marketing manager for Nike. “The thing that motivated me was this bigger purpose.”

No African woman had ever participated in skeleton at the Olympics. By competing for Nigeria, where her parents are from and where she spent part of her childhood, Adeagbo made history and helped boost the representation of Africans in the Winter Games.

In the year since, she’s placed her story at the center of a “master class” for girls across Africa. The two-hour course combines sports with exercises in leadership and goal setting, with the hope that each girl will identify a way that she wants to make history and change the world. Adeagbo has tested the program with a few hundred young women in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa. Later this year, as a fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, she plans to refine and expand the curriculum.

“Unfortunately, the world doesn’t affirm African women,” said Adeagbo, who also sees the class as a rare chance to expose girls on the continent to a sports program. “We live in a context and a world in which the contributions of Africans are not seen as equal.”

Ccaroline Preston

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Community colleges gain international students

For many American universities and colleges, the world is getting further away. International enrollment in the United States is flat or down after many years when visitors flocked here to learn.

The reasons are familiar: a less welcoming environment, tightened visa rules, competition from other countries for students. First-time international enrollments at U.S. colleges fell 6.6 percent last year, new figures show. And the number of graduate school applications from abroad declined for the second year in a row.

Buried in these numbers, however, is another surprising trend: Tens of thousands of the international students still coming here are going not to research universities or elite institutions, but to community colleges.

International students at community colleges number a comparatively small 95,562 out of more than a million international students total. But since 2012 that number is up by 9 percent — a bright spot for a sector that lost 19 percent of its overall enrollment during that time.

“Community colleges can be that stepping stone, that nurturing environment, and if all goes well — just like domestic students — they’ll transfer to a four-year school,” said Richard Garrett, chief research officer at the consulting firm Eduventures.

Community colleges have one other advantage: “They’re often in big urban centers where there are different languages spoken, different cultures,” Garrett said. “Compared to the average four-year school, community colleges are, in terms of their domestic profile, very international.”

Jon Marcus

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Canada welcomes refugee college students

Refugees who dream of resettlement and college face unlikely odds. Just 1 percent or less achieve either goal. But a Canadian scholarship program gives refugees access to both simultaneously.

The Student Refugee Program, run by the World University Service of Canada, or WUSC, takes advantage of Canada’s immigration laws, which allow private organizations to sponsor refugees for resettlement as citizens. Colleges waive tuition and fees for the refugees, and their classmates are required to give a small amount to help defray living expenses.

It’s a rare opportunity for refugees who would otherwise face major immigration hurdles, according to Michelle Manks, a senior manager at WUSC. “Because they come from conflict-affected countries, student visas are almost impossible for them to get,” she said.

Refugees might be denied a visa because they don’t have the required documentation or a stable home country to promise to return to after graduation. One recent WUSC scholar from Malawi was offered a full scholarship to a U.S. college, Manks said, but couldn’t get a visa to go.

Manks advocates for higher education systems worldwide to play a role in providing protection, in addition to education, for refugees. WUSC hopes to replicate its program in other countries, including the United States, but many unanswered questions remain about how to do so under U.S. laws.

Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Canadian program plans to grow from 130 annual spots to 150 by 2020. It reports that nearly 85 percent of its students graduate from the Canadian college they started at and nearly 60 percent go on to additional studies.

Sarah Butrymowicz

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international education programs

Jennifer Sanchez, center, and teammates at the Sunburst Youth Academy on May 21 after learning their presentation for a micro-loan project had won second place.

Learning to appreciate school

Jennifer Sanchez, 16, grew up in Los Angeles, where she took her educational opportunities for granted. On track to drop out, she was referred to Sunburst Youth Academy, a military-style program offered through the Orange County Department of Education and the California National Guard.

This semester, Jennifer watched the documentary “Girl Rising,” which follows nine girls in developing countries trying to get an education. She discussed the film online with teens in Argentina, Japan, Palestine and Uganda. It made her realize what some U.S. students squander.

“Some of us decide not to go when it’s given to us free,” Jennifer said. “These girls are here trying to fight for their education. It can be really hard and risky for them to even go to school.”

This insight turned Jennifer into a fierce advocate for school attendance.

The “Girl Rising” project is one of many offered by the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), which connects students around the world to work together and share ideas. The nonprofit says 70,000 students in 120 countries participated in 2017-18, and every year they wrap up their projects by taking action.

At Sunburst, for example, Jennifer and two classmates found someone in Pakistan seeking a loan (through Kiva.org) to make school improvements in urban slums; she and her peers won $250 in a “Shark Tank”-style student competition that will help.

“Hopefully by lending money, if we can change a little girl’s life over there, or even a little boy’s, that would be really good,” Jennifer said.

Tara García Mathewson

This story about international education programs was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

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