For International Education Week 2017, Jackie Killeen, Director, British Council Scotland, writes about why we need to encourage young people to embrace internationalism
Behind many stories in the political press is the issue of how the UK will operate internationally after Brexit. There are as many possible answers to this conundrum as there are questions, yet fair few of them can be addressed with any certainty.
What we can do is begin taking action to give ourselves and future generations the best possible chance of succeeding and contributing in a world that is becoming ever more interconnected and interdependent.
Recent studies by the British Council report a present generation of young people who are apprehensive about what the UK’s exit from the EU might entail for their prospects. At the same time, 90% of large UK employers say that being able to recruit people who are comfortable and competent across cultures is increasingly important.
We only have to consider the advantages of being able to negotiate a trade deal with another country from the position of having a real and lived understanding of its culture to see how pressing this issue is.
However our research has found that the UK has a shortage of people able to speak the 10 most important world languages. These skills are needed for trade, diplomacy and cultural exports, so they matter not just for the prospects of individual young people, but for the overall success of our country.
International Education Week takes place from 13-17 November, offering a chance to highlight the many advantages that can be gained by studying abroad, learning languages, gaining insight into cultures other than our own, and connecting with global educational partners.
The timing couldn’t be more apposite, coming shorty after an announcement of a record €21m funding allocation for Scottish schools, colleges, universities and youth organisations in 2017 through the EU’s Erasmus+ exchange and mobility programme. Whilst this is welcome news, there is still a pressing need to highlight the importance, and benefits of international and intercultural skills and experience.
In recent years Scotland has seen a decline in the number of learners taking French and German exams at school. The good news is that Spanish learning is on the rise. We should of course welcome the latter fact, but we must also consider what we can do to address the former. France and Germany remain important countries for us, economically, politically and culturally.
Gaining language skills at school not only improves the skills and employability of young people, it has also been shown to help in other areas of learning such as reading, writing, communication and confidence.
The British Council works in schools throughout Scotland to champion and support language learning and inter-cultural experience, delivering programmes such as Connecting Classrooms, eTwinning, International School Awards and Modern Language Assistants.
In universities, colleges and workplaces we provide opportunities for international exchange through schemes such as Erasmus+, which reaps rewards by connecting Scottish people and institutions with their European and wider global counterparts.
These are just some of the options that exist right now for addressing the present and future needs of our country and its young people. When considered alongside the current political context, the seriousness and urgency with which we should approach our task becomes ever more clear.
It is time for us all as citizens, parents, carers and educators to take an active role in enabling and encouraging all of our young people to embrace internationalism. Learning another language and taking an interest in another culture is one way to start; in doing so we enhance the prospects of both our own and future generations.