America Leading…we think

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Have I mentioned how much I love my netvibes page? Today I pulled up a link via my Digg feed entitled: How Long Will America Lead the World . It’s a Newsweek article written by Fareed Zakaria. I usually don’t respond to political articles, but this one kept coming back to education and had me thinking. So I’ve pulled some of the comments that really had me thinking about the future of education. Not only in America, but here at my International School as well.

They are poorer, hungrier and in some cases well trained, and will inevitably compete with Americans and America for a slice of the pie. A Goldman Sachs study concludes that by 2045, China will be the largest economy in the world, replacing the United States.

I like this statement. It rings so true to what I see here in China. They can see the money in the form of large skyscrapers, Mercedes and large houses, and they want a piece of it. There are two construction projects going on around my house, and both sites are working 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They not only want a piece of the pie…they’re going after it.

Much of the concern centers on the erosion of science and technology in the U.S., particularly in education. Eight months ago, the national academies of sciences, engineering and medicine came together to put out a report that argued that the “scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many nations are gathering strength.” President Bush has also jumped onto the competitiveness issue and recently proposed increases in funding certain science programs. (He has not, however, reversed a steady decline in funding for biomedical sciences.) Some speak of these new challenges with an air of fatalism. The national academies’ report points out that China and India combined graduate 950,000 engineers every year, compared with 70,000 in America; that for the cost of one chemist or engineer in the U.S. a company could hire five chemists in China or 11 engineers in India; that of the 120 $1 billion-plus chemical plants being built around the world one is in the United States and 50 are in China.

We have been hearing about the decline in science and technology education for a while now. With the cutting of Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) and laws like DOPA threatening to shut down access to collaborative sites, it doesn’t seem that we are truly doing anything to combat this.

“More people will graduate in the United States in 2006 with sports-exercise degrees than electrical-engineering degrees,” says Immelt. “So, if we want to be the massage capital of the world, we’re well on our way.”

I don’t know about the massage capital of the world (Anyone that has been to Bangkok knows what I mean 🙂 ). But is this do to the fact that professional sports teams and players make more money than most? And the fact that they are in the news whether for good or bad, makes them and their profession very appealing?

The situation with regard to higher education is even more dramatic. A new report, “The Future of European Universities,” from the London-based Center for European Reform, points out that of the world’s 20 top universities, 18 are American. The U.S. invests 2.6 percent of its GDP on higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan. The situation in the sciences is particularly striking. A list of where the world’s 1,000 best computer scientists were educated shows that the top 10 schools were all American. Our spending on R&D remains higher than Europe’s, and our collaborations between business and educational institutions are unmatched anywhere in the world.

And while China and India are creating new institutions, it is not that easy to create a world-class university out of whole cloth in a few decades.

Here I think Mr. Zakaria is looking a little too narrow. China and India don’t have to create world-class universities they will just use American Universities for their education. With distant learning opportunities you don’t have to be in America to attend an American university. I for example, received my Master’s degree while living and working full time in Saudi Arabia. I never saw a classroom or had a face to face discussion with other members of my class. While in Saudi I also knew engineers who were trained by their companies in the same matter or via teleconference format from Europe and Australia. These emerging countries don’t need to build their own universities…they just need fiber-optic cable.

An unusual combination of an entrepreneurial culture, a permissive legal system and flexible capital markets all contribute to a business culture that rewards risk. This means that technology is quickly converted into some profitable application. All the advanced industrial countries had access to the Web, but Google and the iPod were invented in America. It is this skill, as much as raw technological brain power, that has distinguished the American economy from its competitors’.

I agree with this statement. It is the ability to take risks and fail, and the raw brain power that distinguishes Americans. The freedom we have in America to try something and fail is unmatched. It was through trails and tribulations that Google and the iPod were allowed to be created. Although after the concept is created the manufacturing of the goods (the iPod) are shipped overseas to low cost workforces. Are we allowing these skills to be learned in our schools? Do we encourage our students to take risks, to fail and try and learn and improve on their failures, or do we give them one shot…one state test to make it? Are we teaching our students this valuable skill of being creative or are we cutting art, music, and vocational education because we need the core classes?

No worker from a rich country will ever be able to equal the energy and ambition of people making $5 a day and trying desperately to move out of poverty.

All you have to do is visit an emerging country to see this in action. Such a true statement.

Americans do not really know how fast the rest of the world is catching up. We don’t quite believe that most of the industrialized world—and a good part of the nonindustrialized world as well—has better cell-phone systems than we do. We would be horrified to learn that many have better and cheaper broadband—even France.

My question is: Why don’t we know? The media plays a big part in this in my opinion. That and the isolation of Americans to North America leaves long flights and big bills to visit other parts of the world. I wish American cable companies showed CCTV9 the International News station here in China and CNN International. Those two stations alone will bring a different perspective to the news received on a daily basis. I know there are English news channels in a lot of foreign countries. We all should be watching those channels as well to get a true perspective of what is happening in the world. If we are entering a new global society and global economy, the
n shouldn’t our news be global as well?

We ignore the fact that a third of our public schools are totally dysfunctional because it doesn’t affect our children. We boast that our capital markets are the world’s finest even though of the 25 largest stock offerings (IPOs) made last year, only one was held in America. It is not an exaggeration to say that over the past five years, because of bad American policies, London is replacing New York as the world’s financial capital.

…and Shanghai, China can’t be far behind with the Bank of China just raising $9.7 billion in the largest IPO in 6 years .

The genius of America’s success is that the United States is a rich country with many of the attributes of a scrappy, developing society. It is open, flexible and adventurous, often unmindful of history and tradition. Its people work hard, putting in longer hours than those in other rich countries. Much of this has do to with the history and culture of the society. A huge amount of it has to do with immigration, which keeps America constantly renewed by streams of hardworking people, desperate to succeed.

Interesting how Zakaria states it’s the immigrants that keeps America young and desperate to succeed, and yet it’s the immigrants we’re trying to keep out.

America, alone among industrial nations, has been able to do the nearly impossible: renew its power and stay at the top of the game for a century now. We can expand our science programs—and we should—but we will never be able to compete with India and China in the production of engineers. No matter what we do, they will have more, and cheaper, labor. What we can do is take the best features of the America system—openness, innovation, immigration and flexibility—and enhance them, so that they can respond to new challenges by creating new industries, new technologies and new jobs, as we have in the past.

This is great, because also today in Newsweek was this article entitled: The Future Is in Their Hands. The article takes a look at North Carolina’s efforts to be open, innovative and flexible to meet the needs of their students and their community.

Our greatest danger is that when the American public does begin to get scared, they will try to shut down the very features of the country that have made it so successful. They will want to shut out foreign companies, be less welcoming to immigrants and close themselves off from competition and collaboration.


I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I’m not particularly wise on matters political, so I’m a bit out of my depth, but I have noticed one phenomenon that may have some relevance here.

    I was born and raised in South Africa, a country in the “third world”. We had a sophisticated infratructure, thanks to having been annexed by a series of empires over the centuries, but there was widespread poverty and illiteracy, and many homes lacked the basics of running water and electricity. It was usually only the political situation in the country that ever saw us make headlines anywhere else in the world. Very few John and Jane Citizens abroad know where South Africa is, and many are unaware that Africa is not a single country (a la Australia). We harbour very few illusions about our significance in global politics and tut resignedly when our President makes statements to the effect that AIDS is not necessarily linked to HIV.

    Moving to the UK, I found something of a culture shock. Illusions abound as to the significance of this country on the world scene. The empire lives on in many minds, and reference is often made to England having won both world wars, as if this feat were achieved single-handedly. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that, “if it weren’t for us, you’d be speaking German now” (ri-ight, so I presume they’re speaking English in Berlin, then?).

    Scathing reference is made to the ignorance of Americans regarding the outside world, while the same level of ignorance abounds here. It seems to me there is a danger, in a country that has been a world player, to live on a reputation well past its sell-by date. Could this be called “conquerors’ mentality”?

    I worry that the US might be in danger of going the same way. At the moment, it still has a great deal of clout. However, its perception of its own significance seems far greater than the view of the rest of the world, if the clips in your Education 2056 (http://jeff.scofer.com/thinkingstick/?p=207) post are anything to go by. From what little I understand of these things, I get the impression that China, India, Japan and Korea are all set to knock it off its perch and the longer Americans retain conquerors’ mentality and ignore this fact, the easier it will be to achieve.

    If we look back through history, eras have been dominated by different powers all down the line. Super-powers have come and gone. Every dominant power lasts for only a season. I think it might be a good idea to put contingency plans in place for life in an ex-super power.

  2. I agree! I like to call it provincialism rather than conqueror’s mentality but same thing. A good friend of mine once said about New Yorkers that we think that because the world comes to us that we’ve been to the world. We raise our children to be soft, self involved, self satisfied uber consumers. Perhaps our season is over… in any case, looks like we are going to have to move over and share the wealth.

  3. I share worries about American insular attitudes, but one thing should be clarified: the engineering numbers aren’t all that accurate. A Duke team researched the numbers and found that China’s numbers were bogus. They came up with a more accurate estimate, and the NAS report was revised to adopt their numbers.

    In short: India is producing more engineers, but not enough for panic. And when they studied education methods, they found that American schools were doing a good job.

    NOW, if we could just get more students from U.S. high schools to enter those engineering programs …

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