Oneil Madden | More emphasis on study abroad, student exchange programmes
With the perpetual rise in globalisation and the need for 21st century graduates to be more marketable, Jamaica and other CARICOM states need to accord deeper attention to study abroad/student exchange programmes. Although many tertiary students travel abroad each summer on the Work and Travel Programme, primarily to the United States of America, this absolutely does not replace the need for students to acquire international exposure through structured academic exchange programmes.
Studying abroad is an important element in a lot of European and certain North American universities. In fact, it is even mandatory for students pursuing certain programmes, especially in applied foreign languages, to spend at least a semester in a foreign university to enjoy practical immersion as this helps to improve linguistic skills and cultural awareness.
There are uncountable advantages to a student exchange programme. International learning and knowledge propel students towards acceptance and understanding of an array of different cultural and community perspectives; thus, students would become more tolerant of interculturalism. This experience also increases the awareness and adoption of alternative, multifaceted approaches to learning; development of analytical and problem-solving skills; and an enhanced interest in global issues as well as a broader general knowledge. Furthermore, studying overseas is also a means to personal development. The experience helps students to development their self-esteem. It also leads to maturity and social poise, fuelled by the necessity to confront challenges, especially outside of a familiar support network and comfort zone. In addition, a tremendous sense of accomplishment upon completion encourages students to develop independent opinions, make informed decisions, and strive to attain fresh goals.
EQUIPPED FOR GLOBAL WORKFORCE
Moreover, in the long term, students are more equipped to work in 'foreign' environments. Importantly, prospective employers in almost every field look favourably upon experience garnered while living overseas and knowledge obtained of another language and culture. The successful completion of a study abroad also represents an excellent measure of personal flexibility, encompassing an ability to reach compromise, focus and succeed through challenging times.
The question of finance is, however, inevitable when matters of this nature are called into question. Consequently, it is incumbent on tertiary institutions and concerned government ministries as well as the private sector to discuss practical measures to securing funds for such a beneficial project. In addition, CARICOM could adopt the concept of the ERASMUS* programme established in 1987 by the European Union.
The local, regional, and international workforce has a high demand for world class professionals; therefore, the education system needs to, again, diversify its curriculum so that future graduates will have the relevant employability skills in order to meaningfully impact whichever sector they will join. One way to realise this is by having effective student exchange programmes.
* The Erasmus Programme (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students).