The Business-Technology Weave

Sep 25 2010   9:24AM GMT

U.S. Education: Technology Lag?

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


I happened to catch Dr. Eric Haseltine, Ph.D., on television the other day.  He’s formally trained as a neuroscientist, but was presented as a CTO – a position he held recently.  You can examine his bio under this link to his article, “Why our economy is on the brink of going down the tubes…forever.”  That’s a pretty dire title, but there is some very real danger – the article relates to the topic he discussed in his TV appearance, and to my concerns here.

While he covers a few different issues – all of interest to me – today I’m concerned with his assertion that only 1/5th the number of American students are entering the fields of science, math, engineering and technology, as in decades past. 

Dr. Haseltine calls this a “Silent Sputnik” moment.  He quotes Harvard Business School Professor, John Kao.  Professor Kao, author of Innovation Nation:  How America is Losing Its Innovative Edge, Why It Matters and How We Can Get it Back, says “Fifty years ago the Soviet satellite Sputnik burst the nation’s bubble of complacency and challenged America’s sense of global leadership.  But we rose to the challenge with massive funding for education, revamped school curricula in science and math, created NASA and put a man on the moon.”  [Emphasis added – DS].  Thus, the Space Race.

Today, both men are concerned that we are facing a Brain Race.  However, there appears to be no American training for this race on the horizon.  They make the point that American science, technology and math education has been in steep decline over the course of decades – with careers in business, law and media taking priority over high tech jobs.  Beyond that…

I frequently make the point that it’s not only the reduced numbers going into these disciplines that is dismaying:  Individuals inhabiting technical education programs and career fields comprise a troubling population.   They are the product of sliding standards and social promotions.  There seems to be a “rounding of corners” regarding empirical measures for qualifications, and in-turn what any specific individual can actually deliver – for fields that are themselves highly empirical.  This lack of quality impacts the sustaining of systems and a simple ability to keep environments “whole” and reliable.  Now consider that nothing is static:  We’ve got to mount and sustain progressions and competitiveness – something quite impossible absent the creation of “better brains.”

Meanwhile China, India, and others are becoming much more “tech savvy.”  China measures very favorably against the U.S. and Europe regarding patents and technical publications.  No wonder:  According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American teens trail their peers in 23 countries as concerns math, and behind 16 countries in science  (“U.S. Teens Trail Peers Around World on Math-Science Test,” Washington Post, Maria Glod).

I’ve noticed a slide in quality of personnel even in Fortune 500 environments.  What alarms me in those regards is that these companies, presumably, can attract the best candidates and workers, due to supremacy of salaries and benefits and, I would hope,the attraction of  interesting and fulfilling work. 

I would be interested in what you are experiencing:  Is it becoming more difficult to staff your departments?  Do you have to solicit outside expertise more often?  Are you providing training to staff for knowledge that used to be considered basic “upon arrival” stuff – basic training that is now pushing back the critical “progression training” for new systems, evolving disciplines,  and ever-more sophisticated environments?   


September 25th:  On this day in 1934, Lou Gehrig played in his 1500th consecutive game.

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  • FlimFlam
    The dumbing down of standards and the lack of native Americans in technical educational disciplines is old news, but I agree that it's accelerated and perhaps reached a tipping point, at which we're so far over the hill into decline that we'll be unable to recover without a massive effort over several generations. I just have one anecdote to offer -- several years ago I interviewed applicants for a lower level management position in my sales/marketing department. I devised a short, 1o question math quiz for HR to administer to applicants. All of the questions were grade-school level math -- the most complicated math was computing a percentage. There were no trick questions. I almost hesitated to require the quiz because it was so basic it could be considered insulting. Yet I'd had issues with staff people not being able to do any level of math without a calculator, so I thought it was worthwhile to test for. Of 8 applicants who take the quiz, only one got all the questions correct. All of these applicants were college graduates, except for the one internal candidate who had only a HS diploma (who was basically getting a "courtesy" interview. The only one to get a perfect 10 on the quiz was the HS graduate internal candidate. She hadn't even been in the running for the job, but her performance on the test put her in the running, and her interview clinched the deal. Obviously, when it comes to math skills, our failure is in K-12 education. The college trained applicants for the job had probably not picked up any math skills in college, and apparently they didn't pick up much in their K-12 years either.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • Aliska
    Everything you have written here is cool, and it is all very helpful. Thank you very much
    0 pointsBadges:
  • Kulwant2singh
    Education requires rationalism
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