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The 21st Century 3 R's

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Continuing our series of blog postings about 21st century higher education, Peter Coclanis is the Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor and Director of the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Growing up most of us probably heard our parents tell us that we have to learn our three R’s – reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. These three R’s were the building blocks of our formal education – our way to have a better quality of life. With the three R’s as our foundation, we graduated from high school, went to college, got jobs and started families. Telling our children the same thing our parents told us.

Today, we’re seeing our educational system go through a transformation. Greater emphasis is being placed on science and math at the secondary educational level (grades 9-12). As educators and parents, we know that getting a good education can be the key to open doors for students to participate in this new economy. We also know that globalization accentuates and intensifies the importance of the three R’s.

Children in other countries are also learning the three R’s and they’re not holding back their intensity. Just think, the U.S. has a little over 300 million people, but there are about seven billion people in the world. That is about five percent of the world’s population with the other 95 percent living outside the U.S. If you’re a working person, you might say, 95 percent of the world is out there trying to get my job.

If we assume talent is randomly distributed around the world, then there are a lot of talented people out there in the world. The world is not borderless, but it’s getting smaller and, in many cases, the international competition is increasing.

So we have to create and prepare a labor force (really a population) that can communicate effectively and withstand the kind of competitive pressure we’re seeing in the global economic environment. We do that by providing children with the access to educational opportunities to achieve their dreams.

Being the Director of the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I see firsthand the commitment by FedEx to help prepare students to participate in the global economy. The Center is the primary means for engaging students, faculty and the community in international issues. It encourages people to explore the differences among cultures, peoples and societies and how they are being challenged, integrated and transformed through globalization.

Change is coming quickly as a result of globalization in part. We’re going to have to work with different people from different places. I think this is challenging, but it’s also exciting. We have to encourage our students to respect cultural differences. Embrace what they find as positive features of other cultures perhaps, and try to work well in diverse settings.

We’re going to be working on diverse teams from now on – with people from around the world. So, the more open our students are, especially at an early age, the better prepared they will be for this global economy.

Someone once said globalization happens to a person on the street or the common individual when you begin to feel the pressures, the constraints and see the opportunities that are out there beyond the borders of your own country. We have to embrace these changes and opportunities and not run from them. But to do that, we have to remember our foundation – the three R’s – reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.

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Other Posts by Peter Coclanis