I remember an interview on Charlie Rose of Bill Gates about globalization few years ago. This was around the time when Thomas Friedman wrote his famous book, “The World is Flat.” Gates made the comment that in a flat world, everyone will be competing for the right to work. There are no such jobs reserved for anyone. Certainly there are certain jobs reserved for within each national borders. For example, the President. But, is there doubt competing for that is ultra competitive?
It comes as of no surprise that American business leaders are pushing the U.S. government to make education a top priority. Corporate America prefers to hire highly skilled and educated Americans rather than foreigners for obvious reasons; one of which is to avoid political heat at home for being ‘unpatriotic.’ Here is Intel CEO, Paul Otellini making a case for investing in education: “The Long Look Ahead: The Economic Crisis and the Importance of Investing“, addressed to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., on Feb. 10, 2009. He argues how education is directly related to the health of an innovative economy.
With the emergence of new economic powers like China and India, America no longer dominates the global economic stage. Innovation no longer belongs to a single country or region. It is more evenly distributed and, in fact, accrues to countries in proportion to the quality and rigor of their educational systems.
Otellini’s message is equally applicable for the world over – not just for the United States government alone.
Recently, this topic made its rounds in the U.S. media because PISA had just released its 2009 report – ranking the effectiveness of education among the top industrialized nations around the world. (See “PISA 2009 Results.”)
What has caught the media’s attention is “China’s” surprise topping of this ranking. Here, the NYT reports, “Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators.” Though I won’t call the NYT article ‘propaganda’, since the content of the article seems balanced, but readers must absolutely bear in mind that the “China” results are only from a highly advanced city. Whereas the U.S. results are country-wide.
To be fair to the NYT article, it does say “Shanghai” in the headline, not “China.”
If PISA had taken a report from just a certain town in Massachusetts or from one of the top cities across America, I guarantee you the U.S. ranking would be in the first place or near the first place.
Is the U.S. media turning this PISA 2009 report into a “China threat” and using it as an excuse to try to improve the education system in the United States? Keep this question in mind as you read articles related to this report.
Some of you will find this NYT quote ridiculous, but I am certain there are more than a handful of Americans taking it seriously:
“Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education, referring to the groundbreaking Soviet satellite launching. Mr. Finn, who has visited schools all across China, said, “I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and in 50 cities by 2029.”
Is “China threat” a good way to motivate America into a better education system? After all, Sputnik certainly prompted the creation of NASA and JPL, and diversion of a lot of funding into math and science education in America. The Internet and many of America’s innovations today were rooted in that.
The idea of America having to build up external threats as catalyst for solving her internal problems just doesn’t sound very settling.
In September 2009, I had a chance to speak with Robert Compton. He had already made two documentary films at that time, “Two Million Minutes” and “Win in China.” The first film was comparing high schools between America, India, and China. His conclusion was that both India and China were better educating their students than America. In the second film, he tried to show Americans that China is every bit as entrepreneurial as America is today.
Compton is a very successful business man. He has amassed a fortune building businesses and running successful companies. What is absolutely clear between him, Gates, and Otellini is that they all agree America must improve her education system.
Where is the “China threat” (and “India threat”) in Compton’s films? Well, on one hand, I think it is absolutely critical for Americans to see what the world is like. As the NYT article said at the end, the PISA test tests creativity and the ability to apply what is learned, not just the ability for rote memorization. Compton made those exact points as well. The Indians and the Chinese can absolutely innovate.
In that context, I think Compton’s films definitely help debunk this ignorance in America thinking China (and India) cannot innovate (by the way, a narrative often peddled by the Western media.)
But it is interesting that Compton made these films about China and India, because his ultimate goal is to improve America’s education system so Corporate America can hire locally and be more competitive.
I really don’t want this post to just be about the politics of education. I think better education is a goal for any nation. As I have written about China’s Hope Project just a few posts ago, China still has a huge population so poor where education is not even an option.
One of the key differences between Chinese and American education is the difference in levels of emphasis on extracurricular sports. This is widely agreed on – not just my observation. To me, sports provide a very different type of learning than from a classroom setting. They offer additional opportunities for teamwork, leadership, and interpersonal communications. Those are invaluable skills throughout one’s life.
If PISA expands their tests in the future beyond academics to include those skills I mentioned, I think America would do much better in the rankings. So, I think China’s system can improve on those dimensions; more sports.
There are certainly other aspects to how well young people are educated. Another fellow blogger, berlinf, had interviewed Dr. Edwina Pendarvis on a number of these aspects. Here is one on anti-intellectualism: “Interview with Dr. Edwina Pendarvis (I): Anti-Intellectualism in US Schools.”
Chinese people watching Compton’s films or reading the PISA 2009 report may feel “proud” for what China’s education system has achieved. But, they should definitely not rest on their laurels.
Like America working hard now to try to revamp (or rather, to simply improve) her education system, China could use some Compton’s, Otellini’s, and Gates’ pushing for reforms to further improve hers.
Below is a town-hall style meeting (certainly worth watching) involving many of the key people in the U.S. pushing for education reform in America over at The Innovation Economy: