Harry S. Truman Scholarship Policy Proposal by: Alex B. Hill
International development is a vast and complex issue. With over 18 million people dying each year from the lack of development assistance in health infrastructure something new needs to be done. Within the US there is a trend that foreign aid dollars are coming more from private NGOs and nonprofits as opposed to official government agencies. For so many years international development was tackled in simplified single-issue campaigns, which only created any effect in the short-term. This can be attributed to the fact that most Americans have a limited worldview. Most Americans have not traveled internationally, especially to developing countries. Therefore international development issues remain remote and abstract to most Americans. International development is a long-term issue. It is inherently complex and difficult to understand. There is no single enemy, and outcomes are rarely clear-cut or translatable through numbers. Faced with this challenge, some countries have opted to undertake broad-based efforts to build increased public understanding of development issues.4 There are a number of programs that promote volunteering and global engagement, such as the Peace Corps and Volunteers for Prosperity, through USA Freedom Corps. While these programs offer opportunities for highly educated and skilled Americans there exists a great void for those who are inspired and motivated, but may not have the degree or skills to qualify for these programs. The way to bring about increased political will on development issues in the US will lie in the creation of a long-term cultural and social movement, spurred by young people, to change the way in which many Americans think about international development. If this movement is to achieve change, it will be vital to increase the knowledge and understanding of development issues among the public.
Young people are the key drivers of social change. Considering this fact, there needs to be a policy focused on engaging young people in order to build a domestic constituency for international development that will create lasting connections. The policies on education and participation related to international development need to change. Young people have grown up with internet, global popular culture, and easier communications and travel, which has made the world smaller, more connected, and more accessible. Young people, specifically college students, have the opportunities to study abroad and are almost constantly encouraged to participate in global exchanges. Young people are left out of the equation when they exist as the greatest asset to making change in the development sector. If the problem is to be remedied then there needs to be a two-step plan. The first step needs to be increased support for a development curriculum in middle and high schools. This is where the US has fallen far behind Europe. European education efforts have focused their resources on offering learning initiatives for young people. Focusing on youth has been a key strategy of both European NGOs and government for many years. Countries that have embraced a long-term vision of youth-focused development education have the highest public awareness and support for development. According to the OECD the US spends less per capita on development education than any other OECD country. The second step needs to combine the learning activities of the school curriculum with action opportunities. The traditional classroom will not be enough to keep the engagement necessary to build an active constituency for change. Having action programs for youth will be a great method of measuring the success of the educational component. Pivotal to both steps will be increased support for a collaborative body dedicated to promoting development education. The US Development Education Alliance has been largely ineffective because it lacks support from both NGOs and the government agencies. This body needs to be coordinated at the national level and networked internationally so that efforts can be combined for maximum effect.
Major Obstacles/ Implementation Challenges
The major challenge facing this policy proposal is the US education system. In the US is largely determined locally, as opposed to Europe, where national governments set education policy standards. This will be the greatest difficulty in implementing a development-oriented curriculum. The next challenge will be government support. Having a coherent government platform to support development education will lend recognition and incredible support to the effort. Without a government backing, the policy will likely fail. Likewise, the US Development Education Alliance will need greater support from NGOs and government agencies, such as the USA Freedom Corps, Peace Corps, and USAID, in order to push for a change in policy.
Check out the Development Education Association, based out of the UK, it is a network of all development education organizations.