Education – where are we headed?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

I was listening to a podcast discussing higher education around the world. The statistic I heard quoted from the experts on this topic was that 60% of the 26,000 PhD’s awarded to students in a given year from US Institutions are foreign nationals.

And these days, foreign students do not necessarily stay here in the US to work. With the communications technology available today, they can easily go back to their own country and earn a very decent living even as they are serving US markets and companies.

So why is this the case? Why are so few US students pursuing higher education? The consensus seemed to be that there were several factors – the major ones being a sense of entitlement by the US students as well as a general attitude that higher education isn’t particularly useful. Few US parents seem to be pushing for more math and science in the K-12 environment. They don’t seem to push their students to work hard.

In addition to the concern over a lack of highly educated, creative and innovative US citizens, there is the accelerating trend of universities in other countries becoming more competitive with respect to the quality of the degrees they are issuing. One piece of anecdotal data was the gentleman (US educator teaching in China) who two years ago was asked how his students stacked up against US graduates. His comment was that they “weren’t there yet.” This year, asked the same question, his answer was that “they are every bit as good.” Things are changing fast.

Why have we lost ground in the last couple of decades? What has changed in society? Why is a country that once revered science, technology and engineering now falling so far behind in those fields?

Certainly the answers to these questions isn’t simple. Yet, we can see the trends – some science topics are challenged in our schools by those holding other world views and our children pick up on that. Gangs and some minority groups hold education in very low esteem, even viewing it as a “cop-out to the establishment,” which is in their view, the “enemy.” Teachers are grossly underpaid for the responsibilities they have in preparing our students for life after high school, not to mention preparation for advanced degrees. Teachers in general, do not have the support of the US parents. It seems to me that education is among the things we cut first when in an economic budget crunch.

If we are to remain competitive in the world market, we must be the innovators. That is what we have said will be our roll – we innovate and create, others build and distribute. I think that plan is in jeopardy if we are not educating our own young people.

As business leaders, we should be outraged at the way education is treated in our society. Who will be the employees of the future? Will we reach a point where we have to depend on others not only for production but also for innovation? Will we become the low cost manufacturers because we can’t really do much of anything else?

So what are your thoughts? Are you teaching or mentoring at a higher education institution? What are your plans for professional employees in the future? Have you been as diligent supporting your children’s scholastic work as you have been in carting them around to sports, music, cheerleading or other extra curricular activities?