Educational Status Quo and Manufacturing Emergency
Posted by Bert Maes on December 15, 2010
The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data have been released and pretty much show that in general the past 9 years not a lot changed. Nothing suggests that we have made either substantial progress or experienced a marked decline in basic skills in reading, math and science.
That is a decade of status quo in most of the Western world. And I have got the strong feeling that both education and manufacturing lack a sense of urgency and a contagious enthusiasm. There seems no great dissatisfaction with this status quo. There is no fire. There seems to be no pressing need.
That was different in October 1957: the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. This immediately prompted fears that we had lost our worldwide dominance in the scientific arena and as a result were horrified by the thought of a space-based missile attack.
That was the wake-up call that caused the United States to boost investment in science and math education. Under the threat of national security, Congress immediately provided nearly $1 billion over four years to support improvements in teaching of science and mathematics, and fund low-interest loans for students pursuing higher education.
There we made a decision, we’ve put our minds to it, we got people together, we focused, we identified a very coherent and very particular vision of what to achieve, we formulated just a few very specific principles and above all: we got unified around an insistent, consistent and persistent shared practice.
And as a result, we not only did surpass the Soviets, we developed new technologies, industries, and jobs.
Since then, we have dismantled the essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. I am particularly thinking about two foundations of every economy: the education system and all manufacturing activities of building, creating, making life-saving things.
Both education and manufacturing have eroded rapidly. Investments have been neglected. This raises doubts about our future economic vitality, at a time when international competition from Asia and the Southern Hemisphere will pose serious challenges during this century.
It is only by creating great school cultures and great learning environments – where children truly can achieve great things and physically create a whole variety of great things – that we can be competitive internationally over the long run.
We cannot afford to cut back on creative technical education. But first we need to have a new sort of Sputnik event. We need a crack in the shell to move people. It seems to be very difficult for human beings to anticipate long-term forces in society and to jump over the walls of quick economic profitability, discomfort and immediate rewards.
Few will voluntarily embrace changes that make their lives more difficult. So few are aware of the importance and educational emergency.
The Huffington Post reports that it is nothing short of tragic to see that our kids aren’t getting the math and science skills they’ll need to thrive in their lives and jobs. “Government data show that almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require a firm grounding in STEM.”
>> Dear reader: what can change the status quo in education and/or in manufacturing?