Sharing Education Lessons Across Cultures

By Ashley B. MacDougal, Graduate Student, Wheelock College

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This primary school library lacks resources for staff and students; we donated about 75 books but the shelves were still very sparse

After browsing through the various resources connected with Wheelock College’s Global Challenges and Opportunities Conference that took place last week, I was excited to learn so much about topics I am already passionate about. I have just completed my undergraduate studies at Wheelock to become an elementary education teacher, and I am now continuing as a graduate student to gain certification in special education as well. Because of these background interests of mine, I was especially enthralled by the focus of education and also how it connects to basic human health and well-being. At Wheelock, I have taken many courses that highlight the importance of experiences involving hands-on education and play to ensure a child’s healthy development. Cara McAuliffe, a colleague of mine, did a wonderful job of highlighting the significance of this connection, and why education should in turn be considered a fundamental human right. Jenna Brashear suggested a wonderful way to improve education on a global level, which is by learning from others by seeing they way they do things and getting to know their opinions.

I truly realized how crucial this is when I took a service-learning trip to Barbados with Wheelock this year. We visited several public primary schools on the island and saw how differently, yet also similarly, they regard education. Education held high importance, but was often approached very differently from what we were used to. I found that this take-away of mine directly related to the discussion started by Alicia Selman, who talked about how many different countries have different viewpoints on education. For example, Alicia discussed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states education to be a fundamental human right but does not clearly determine who is control of choosing a child’s education. In some countries, the teachers and the education system are in charge, whereas in others, parents or guardians are given the right to determine their child’s path. I found that in Barbados, parents believed teachers to be the experts, whereas here in the U.S., often what a parent says goes. This is just one of the stark differences I was able to observe between education here, and on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

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A makeshift classroom within a public special school; this classroom was set up inside the school auditorium because they had run out of space for classrooms

It is important to remember that there is no one “right” way of doing anything; we should be respectful of other cultures and how they decide to approach education, especially as there is so much we can learn from each other. The most enlightening thing I saw on my service-learning trip though, was how much the teachers and other educators wanted to hear about how things are done “over there in the U.S.” They lacked so many resources and felt that even without anything else, they could at least take advice from others on how to help their students succeed. I was glad to see this connection of caring about children’s success and well-being between both this foreign country, and my home. Overall, I was so glad to see education as a focus of this conference, but I was also inspired to see the connections between all three topics. As a future educator myself, I truly believe in education as a basic human right because it is so fundamental to children’s health and quality of life. I was happy to see arts and culture having a large emphasis and impact, especially as the education system seems to rely more and more on standardized testing and evaluations. The children are our future, and policymakers cannot forget that if they are going to ensure a beneficial education for all students. This is a lesson that can be learned globally, and this conference was a great way to get the conversation started. As Cherie Blair, keynote speaker, stated, coming together in collaboration can create beautiful things!

Ashley B. MacDougal is currently a graduate student at Wheelock College. She is certified in elementary education and is currently advancing her license to be certified in special education. In accordance with Wheelock College’s mission statement, She is interested in anything that is important in improving in the lives of children and families, especially when it comes to education and human rights.