Everyone is talking education these days. Education for the very youngest of our children. Secondary education. Higher education, and adult learning. International education is an important subset of all of these discussions. For international families in the business, NGO, military, and diplomatic sectors, international primary and secondary education is not just important, it is essential. As these “nomadic professionals” circle the globe with little time spent (as little as one or two years) in any one location, they desperately search out consistency for their children’s education: an International School. The presence of such a school thus becomes a critical asset for any country that wants to play on the international economic and politial scene and attract the players that play on there.
An truly international school offers offers kindergarden through high school education of an international standard that transfers easily from country to country and continent to continent. The International Baccelaureate (IB) offers this universal standard with some 900,000 IB students in 140 countries around the world. An international school has an international faculty, uses English as the primary common language of instruction, and offers wide flexibility for students to enter and leave school at other than standard starting and completion points. For students not yet ready to function in English, support programs quickly bring them up to speed. Finally, international schools must be fully adaptive to accomodate students at all levels of learning ability, including students with special needs. In other words, international schools do not have the luxury of simply picking the best and letting “the system” take care of those less capable. There is no other “system” for nomadic professionals.
So what’s the problem? Well, international schools are expensive to run. Unless a host government helps finance such international education, tuition costs become prohibitive for professionals whose organizations, companies, or governments do not pick up the tab. As an American “diplomatic nomad” for the past 35 years, I have faced the challenge, if not the cost, of international education for my children around the world. I was always fortunate that my government covered the cost of our extraordinary education needs. And I found that the countries that offered the best international education were also the best centers of foreign direct investment and important platforms for international diplomacy and civic society activity. Estonia has one truly comprehensive, but small international school, and ongoing ambitions in global business, government, and civic endeavors. Twenty years into Estonia’s amazing growth as a free, independent, prosperous, and highly modern nation, now is the time to decide whether the country is interested in supporting and sustaining its unique international education platform for the long-term.
As a childhood immigrant to America who learned English as a “second language” and as an American Ambassador, I read with great interest a recent op-ed by Tallinn University Rector Rein Raud in Eesti Päevaleht. Rector Raud argued for “some type of official status” for the English language in Estonia. I think it already has such status. Since my arrival in Estonia less than a year ago, I have been greatly impressed and deeply grateful for Estonians’ English language skills and their patience in using English with those of us who are guests in their country. My sense is that my new Estonian friends like and use English not because they must, but because they want to. That is how it should be. Estonian is the beautiful and proud language of this country. It has a unique place in the heart and soul of Estonia. No other language can have a similar standing. As fellow inhabitants of an ever smaller planet, we do each other the courtesy to learn at least a bit of each other’s languages as a sign of respect. We have also been able to agree in increasing numbers to use English as a practical means of common global communication and as the default language for the globe. English belongs to everyone. Inglise keel kuulub kõigile. Английский язык принадлежит каждому.
Soap Box Derby Narva 2010
Despite my regret over Russian unwillingness to allow me to meet with their border officials and local political leaders across Estonia’s Narva border, we had a very successful trip to the northeast region last weekend. I learned about business plans by the U.S. company Eastman Chemicals after their recent purchase of Genovique Inc. in Kohtla-Jarve. The Port of Sillamae is a large, exceptionally modern port facility with expansion plans and an eagerness to welcome U.S. shippers. The Estonian Border Patrol in Narva could not have been more open and helpful in decribing their management of the Estonian/Russian border and their hopes for facilitating even smoother and more expeditious border traffic as soon as Russia is ready to agree. Narva city officials were positive about Narva’s political and economic future. The Narva College of Tartu University is completing construction of its new campus in downtown Narva and the College’s dynamic leadership has great plans for further programs as the top flight higher education institution in the northeast region. Dinner with professional leaders of Narva College at the beautiful Narva Joesuu coast had the double benefit of insightful conversation about education in Estonia and marvelling at the touristic treasure of Estonia’s as yet to be fully realized tourism potential.
Estonia’s Power Company Eesti Energia (EE) is an impressive outfit that makes Estonia self- sufficient in electricty generation by mining oil shale, firing large power plants, and producing petroleum products. New technologies pioneered by EE are greatly reducing polluting emissions. Aspiring U.S. shale oil producers are eagerly looking to EE for insights and collaboration in exploring vast U.S. oil shale reserves in the future.
Finally, my visit was capped by helping launch the fourth annual Narva Soap Box Derby, organized by most energetic young community leaders who have cast all negative thinking aside and drew some 30 entries and thousands of visitors to this zany contest of all kinds of rolling machines. The weather cooperated and Narva was alight with happy people, laughing children, and a cacophony of voices in Russian, Estonian, and English. Our Embassy entered two vehicles into the derby and good fun was had by all.
There are many challenges facing the Estonian economy, especially in the northeastern area I visited. Too many people are either unemployed or under-employed. But the sky is not falling and good will and a concerted effort by the Estonian government, civil sector, and private business has every chance of bringing prosperity to every last corner of this remarkable country. I continue to gather some ideas of our own of interest to American business and consumers to suggest to our Estonian friends and I will share them as appropriate with all the relevant players.
I am going to Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, on March 16 and 17, to meet among many others, students and faculty at the University of Tartu. At the University, I will speak to the issue of innovation as part of the answer to one of the most painful problems besetting people around the globe – unemployment. No single proposed solution can hope to “fix” too few jobs in the United States, in Estonia, or anywhere else. But creative and energetic private sectors, supported by sound government policies, must be one of the components of healthy new job markets. The fields where we need the next leaps in technology and knowledge have been much talked about: renewable energy, information technology and infrastructure security, food security, and global health. There are many more. Education and research are at the base of all future advances. That is why I will also be meeting with Estonia’s Minister of Education and Research and using Tartu University as a platform to address these issues. No country is too small to innovate and no country is too large to unravel the complexities of its economy and society. Estonia and the U.S. must join in the next innovation revolution.