The Big Picture: Prepare Our Children To Succeed And Lead

China has six times as many engineering grads as the United States.
A few of my colleagues and I were having dinner together the other night, and one of them asked me if I thought the United States would lead in technology innovation 10 to 15 years from now. In years past I would've just flicked this question off like Barry Bonds does an 85 mph fastball. But times have changed, our world has evolved, and the competitive educational landscape is moving faster than we are. I sat back, pondered the question, and grudgingly answered, "No, we won't."

Now, emotionally I can't fathom the thought that the United States won't lead in any area of innovation a decade from now, but to accept that we won't lead in technology innovation means that something at the very core has become rotten. And to my dismay, that core is our educational system. When you strip away the raw emotion, what you're left with is the sad truth that we're not doing all we can to prepare our youth for tomorrow's world.

This will be a world in which talent will redefine or demolish borders, and companies across the globe will have the ability to access this talent at any time or place, regardless of location. Bill Gates, speaking recently at the National Education Summit, shared that in 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduated twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the United States and has six times as many graduates majoring in engineering.

What's more, in 2000, the United States awarded only 6% of the world's engineering degrees, behind China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, and India, the American Electronics Association says.

So, what is "our" role? I'm not asking from the perspective of a parent but as a businessperson in the private sector. Shouldn't we be doing more to help fix an outdated scholastic system for our future talent pool and next generation of leaders?

In Gates' speech, he mentioned a school reform program called First Things First, which includes setting high academic standards for all students, reducing teacher-student ratios, and giving teachers and administrators the responsibility to improve student performance and the resources they need to do it. It has worked magically at the Kansas City public school district. Gates also referenced High Tech High, which was conceived by a group of San Diego business leaders who became alarmed by the city's shortage of talented high-tech workers. To date, High Tech High's scores on a statewide academic test are 15% higher than the rest of the district, and its SAT scores are an average of 139 points higher. (Read the full text of Gates' speech.)

These are terrific examples, but imagine if the private sector could multiply this focus by 10 or 100 times? Could we possibly see our children start to thrive in a way that ends up being a win-win situation for everyone? The private sector wins because we'd have a potential hiring base of people who could provide future innovation, and young people win because they would have a chance to actually believe in a future that they richly deserve.

If we continue to ignore reality or act as if this isn't a problem that the private sector needs to address, then we're setting ourselves up to be surpassed by other industrialized nations that still view education as the greatest innovation of all.

Michael Friedenberg
VP and Publisher
[email protected]

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