Good Digital Parenting
Blog | May 5, 2014

A Case for Harnessing the Internet to Build Global Skills for Underserved Youth

President & Managing Director, Equal Footing Foundation
The Internet is accelerating globalization and public understanding of international interdependency. From the escalating crisis in the Ukraine to the rising tide of global competition, the importance of international affairs is inescapable on all forms of media, especially the Web. The Internet is both a global means of communication and a source of problem solving, as seen with the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Who is ensuring that students of color, especially those from underserved backgrounds, have the skills to harness the global power of the Internet and thus compete on the world stage?

Patrick Gusman with StudentsWhen I pose this question to people, including to people of color, many scoff at me. They respond angrily, saying that “these” children must concentrate on core skills first, and that global skills can wait until much later. I reject their rebuffs because I refuse to relegate my students to a world of diminished opportunities and lowered economic potential. Based on my own career with the DaimlerChrysler Group (now two separate companies) in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia, my early international exposure was indispensable in expan

Patrick Gusman with Studentsding my own career possibilities. As a child in a very modest home, I had the good fortune of listening to stories about European travel from my uncles who were college professors, and had an introduction to French in my parochial school. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River and had a natural curiosity about the flags and countries of origin of the giant floating engines of commerce that rose high above the levees. I also benefited from a high school education that my parents struggled mightily to afford, during which I was able to take four years of French, five years of Latin, and one year of Greek.

My college alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, then steered me into a study abroad program in France. Thus my selection by DaimlerChrysler for a series of international postings was hardly surprising.

Putting my own experiences aside, I do not understand how we expect students of color to compete effectively for top positions when their more affluent and non-minority peers are pursuing languages such as Mandarin at an early age, taking vacations and trips to foreign lands with their schools and families, discussing international affairs around the dinner table, and even embarking on foreign community projects, in many cases before they attend college.

From a global perspective, other countries have used accelerating global skills training as the means to ignite economic booms. For example, Ireland, India, and South Africa have invested heavily and benefited mightily from this, even considering some recent downturns.

Given the staggering unemployment rate among black youth, it would be malpractice for anyone to ignore any means of increasing black youths’ marketability. Currently, the black youth unemployment rate for ages 16-19 is 393% higher than the national unemployment rate, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

While I am not alone in my strong views about the importance of a “truly” global education for children from underserved and minority backgrounds, our voices are not strong enough and thus are not winning enough converts. I must applaud tireless advocates like Dr. Carlton McLellan (read more of his work here), and the colleagues he has often cited; Dr. Johnnetta Cole, former president of Spelman and Bennett colleges; Connie Perdreau, former director of education abroad at Ohio University; and Karen Jenkins, past president of Brethren Colleges Abroad.

More recently, my dear friend Geeta Raj of Global Sleepover has also launched work to expand the horizons of children. Besides her ground-breaking company, she featured a guest post on her blog titled, "Why All Kids Need to Think Global and How" by our friend Dominique White, Founder of Little Fingers First in Madrid, Spain. Despite these efforts, minority students, both rich and poor, badly trail their non-minority counterparts in taking advantage of foreign study programs.

Carsten Sudhoff, my former DaimlerChrysler colleague and friend who is the former Chief Human Resources Officer of the World Economic Forum, is also doing his part to connect students of all backgrounds. Through the social impact organization, Circular Society, he offers vast interconnections between people, ideas, information, and knowledge from all disciplines and walks of life. “We think of our forum as the global community of the social impact generation,” Carsten said. “The Millennials and Generation Z are the hope of our future, and they need our help and commitment to prepare for their own leadership roles.” Carsten has been instrumental in piloting a global school community that includes the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science as one of its pilots.

So what is my sustainable prescription for giving students of color all the tools that they deserve to compete in the 21st Century global economy? My recommendations start with the Internet. Never in the history of man has there been a more democratic access to information. Without leaving their homes, libraries, schools, or other institutions available to them, students of color can explore the world and even find online language classes. Naively, I believe that those people in students’ lives who care about them can steer the children to global exploration and skills attainment. From a policy standpoint, corporate, nonprofit, government and academic leaders must concentrate on providing competitive advantages to the students who need them most. Truly, awareness at all levels and a few clicks of the Internet can make a huge difference.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.