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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.


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Are we behind in Science & Math Education?                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Feb/22/2010 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Education, Perspectives,

President Obama recently kicked off an “Educate to Innovate” campaign to help boost US students from middle-of-the-pack mediocrity internationally in science and math achievement to the head of the class over the next decade. The good news is that this initiative included $260 million in partnerships involving the federal government, companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies.

The president said to emphasize this point that we are “Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century.” The president went on to highlight examples of current leading edge education programs in America that are inspiring young people to pursue science and education paths.

I think all this is great, I love math, science and technology. Inventions and innovation intrigue me. All that being said I disapprove of the phrase “middle-of-the-pack mediocrity”. 15-20 years ago the majority of new or cutting edge science and ideas came out of the 5-6 countries with the United States clearly leading this small pack. One recent assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world. This isn't really news, but the presentation bothers me. Did you notice the numbers? 20 years ago we looked to compare our best and brightest across a field less than 10 countries, now we compare ourselves with a field of 40 countries. This does not mean we are falling behind as much as it means other countries and their educational systems are catching up.

Many of the countries we measure ourselves against have their young people in school 200-220 days a year where US schools target 180 days a year. This has an obvious impact on the body of knowledge that a 15 year-old can accumulate. Moving into colleges, these same countries still lag behind the United States. This advantage won’t last but should be noted.

The United States still dominates the Nobel prizes, I suspect this is due to the nature of our higher education system. In most newly developing college systems such as South Korea, China, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan they are teaching a lot of leading edge information, but still struggling to teach innovation. American universities focus on teaching how to think beyond the current range of vision which forces a merger of science and creativity resulting in innovation. Don’t take my words the wrong way, these same foreign countries are sending many of their young people to our schools and taking these skills back to their own country.

We cannot risk resting or complacency, we do need to find new ways to inspire advance education and creativity in the math and science related disciplines. I just want to be clear that in my view the math and science engine is not slowing down, but other countries are learning from us and are getting their engines to run faster. The span of achievement scores across the top 20-30 tested countries is actually relatively small.

Before we start finding new ways to energize our educational system (which we need to do), let’s take a moment to applaud the successes that so many countries have had in recent years at advancing their math and science educational achievements. Leading a race in a small field is easy, leading a race in a large field requires taking nothing for granted.

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Ogden Nash
Certainly there are things in life that money can't buy, but it's very funny - did you ever try buying them without money
 
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