This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.” These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.
In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?
Part of my research, and the recent book that I have published, focus on philanthropy and American foundations, particularly those that make financial investments in education development in Africa. I also work with philanthropists on a regular basis through my work in bilingual education in the United States. I raise funds for my programs which provide services to schools and support the needs of dual language students in various settings. Coming from France, which has a tradition of state-controlled support to education, I have always been intrigued by the U.S. philanthropic culture and tradition of “giving back to the community”, which encourages people, wealthy or not, to contribute financially or by volunteering their time and expertise. This, I find, can have a tremendous impact on children, schools, and communities. I believe it creates better chances for the next generation and help it access quality programs, equal opportunities, and the right conditions to grow and play an active role in society. I find it inspiring to see people giving money willingly – on top of the taxes they pay – to improve a city’s or the country’s education system. The fact that these individuals want to make a difference through their actions and financial contributions is a social contract that I find worthy of our attention. If done well, with the buy-in of communities, it can have an impact on hundreds of thousands of children that would not necessarily have these chances – even within the context of a strong centralized system. This tradition of giving also sends a very strong and hopeful message which is carried on from one generation to the next. As a child, you might have received support from the generosity of someone, perhaps even someone who you never met. As an adult, you might want to be that generous donor and help a child experience things that he or she couldn’t experience otherwise.
We can criticize this tradition too. In recent weeks, a lot has been said about the Gates Foundation’s failure to improve education despite its best intentions, ambitious programs, and the billions of dollars that it poured into transforming schools and educational models. One could ask why, in the first place, foundations and wealthy individuals try to change school systems. Should we not tax these individuals more so that wealth be redistributed through a more democratic process rather than an individual’s pet projects? Surely, the future of our children should not depend on the largesse of the Super Rich.
Sometimes foundations are seen as having a corrosive impact on society. In my book, I analyze these critics’ views of U.S. foundations in Africa. I also provide a new understanding of educational philanthropy by using an institutional lens that helps me avoid the traps and bias that I pinpointed in the discourse of foundation opponents. In my opinion, grantors and grantees have an unequal relationship from the start. As a result, the development agenda is either imposed by the money holders, or “adjusted to please the donor” by money seekers who just want to secure the funds or win the grant competition. To reconcile this discrepancy, I propose that philanthropists and grant recipients place their relationship on an equal footing, and engage in thorough conversations which start with the needs and seeks input from all actors. This can generate more respect and mutual understanding, and strengthen each step of the grantmaking process: from building a jointly-agreed agenda to tackling the issues more efficiently.
Too often in public education, language immersion and international education are only offered to children from middle class environments. The community of bilingual/dual-language schools in New York make an effort to promote immersion for students from diverse backgrounds. What could that choice of intentional diversity mean for New York’s future?
In several contexts of education, immersion and international education is too often reserved for children of the affluent. The community of public bilingual schools that I have helped develop in New York and in other cities provides access to quality programs to children of diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Dual language programs have existed for about 10 years and are gradually replacing traditional models of bilingual education programs which focus on teaching English to immigrants. This original model was created in the 1960s through the civil rights movement when immigrants asked that their children be taught in both English and their home language so that they were given equal chances to succeed in American society.
The new model of dual language education focuses on bilingual education for all. At least that is how I see it. Children of all linguistic backgrounds spend half of their school time in English and the other half in a target language. They learn to write and read in both languages as well as study content such as math, science, social studies through both languages. For the last ten years, I have helped linguistic communities create dual language programs in French, Japanese, Italian, German, Russian, Arabic and Korean. The families that I have met are motivated by a strong desire to maintain their linguistic heritage – more so than develop English which children are acquiring naturally through their surroundings. For these families, schools should put more value on children’s heritage language and culture, and help them make an asset of their bilingualism.
Also, I see an increasing number of American families – who only speak English at home – value the benefits of bilingualism, bi-literacy, and biculturalism. They, too, ask that schools help them grow multilingual competences in children, and encourage students to acquire new languages as early as possible, preferably through dual language or foreign language immersion. That’s good news for any country whose citizens are willing to open their minds to the world and the world of others by mastering languages and discovering new cultures. In my view, this learning process has the potential to foster more respect, tolerance, and understanding of others. Ultimately, I believe this can foster more peace. Moreover, when parents demand that schools provide this kind of bilingual education, it becomes a true revolution. A Bilingual Revolution. And this is the title of my next book.
Fabrice’s One Good Question: Through both my research on strategic philanthropy in Africa, and my work in bilingual education development in North America, my thinking has revolved around one good question: whether we help improve a public school in Brooklyn or a university in Dar es Salaam: How can we make sure that all actors in the communities that we try to impact are consulted and given an equal voice in the conversation, so that the solutions that we may bring are indeed conceived together and do correspond to real needs?
About Fabrice: Fabrice Jaumont holds a Ph.D. in International Education from New York University. His research finds itself at the intersection of comparative and international education, education development, educational diplomacy and philanthropy, heritage language and bilingual education, and community development. He currently serves as Program Officer for FACE Foundation in New York, and as Education Attaché for the Embassy of France to the United States. He is the author of Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2016). His book, The Bilingual Revolution, features the development of dual language programs in public schools in New York. More information: http://www.FabriceJaumont.net
 Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa (Palgrave-MacMillan)