Now that the latest election cycle is over, it’s time we turn our attention to solving one of the nation’s most important and vexing problems: education. Nothing is more critical to America’s future. Our economic power is determined by many factors, but education is arguably the most important.
At the same time, our economy is becoming increasingly knowledge-based, creating new jobs based on the raw material of ideas and technical innovation. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, by 2010 there will be an estimated 5.3 million high-skill jobs available to qualified workers and 14 million more 10 years later.
Who will take these jobs and will they all be located in the United States? The prospects aren’t promising. Not when millions of American students are graduating from high school without basic reading, writing and math skills. Nor when roughly 25 percent of U.S. students drop out of school without the skills to succeed.
When more than 60 percent of employers rate high school graduates’ skills in basic English and math as fair or poor and when, according to one study, employer costs for remedial training in one state have reached $40 million a year, it’s clear our educational system is failing our students and our country.
But it’s not just our own system of education we have to worry about. Over the past decade, countries such as India, China, Russia and the nations of Eastern Europe have emerged as a major force in the world’s economic marketplace. That’s a total of about 3 billion people who didn’t participate in the world economy 10 years ago. Even if just 10 percent of these people are well-educated (and it’s likely the percentages are higher), that leaves roughly 300 million well-qualified new competitors for technology jobs worldwide. This figure is about twice the size of the U.S. work force and represents a massive shift in the competitive environment for highly skilled jobs.
Other examples of the competition we face from abroad: Several Latin American governments now provide monthly stipends to poor parents who decide to keep their children in school rather than send them out to work in factories or on the streets. Roughly 20 million people in Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua already participate in such programs. By 2006, 11.4 million families in Brazil (more than 45 million people or a quarter of the population) will take part in this type of program.
Other nations are quickly becoming the world’s leading providers of higher education. College enrollments may be booming here in the U.S., but China graduates twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees and six times as many engineering majors as the U.S. India and Singapore are producing scientists through top-notch undergraduate programs. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the U.S., including 100,000 more in the sciences and 60,000 more in engineering.
As the CEO of a company that sells semiconductors and other high-value products that are used in computing and communications equipment, I view the addition of more highly educated individuals into the global economy as positive. Quite simply, it broadens our base of potential end-customers and creates more worldwide demand for our products. The fact that roughly three-quarters of Intel’s revenues are generated outside of the U.S. is testament to the global nature of our business.
However, as an American citizen, I find the increasing number of highly skilled workers overseas and the focus that foreign governments place on education and technology to be a major concern.
If we can’t hire the workers with the training and skills we require, Intel and other companies will find it necessary to move to those countries where the talent resides. To state Intel’s position as simply as possible, we must hire the best engineers in the world to stay competitive.
The solutions to improving U.S. education require a great deal of focus and bold leadership—from both government and business. From the government, recent efforts to boost standards, measure results and increase accountability are headed in the right direction. The No Child Left Behind legislation, which in addition to a focus on standards and accountability also requires technology literacy by the eighth grade, is clearly a good beginning.
However, we must do more to ensure teachers have the training to teach the subjects they’re presenting. Curricula must reflect an increased focus on science and math to better prepare students and allow them to compete globally. Immigration rules must be adjusted to allow foreign-born students educated at U.S. universities to stay in the U.S. to add their talents to our economy. Today, we force these individuals to leave the country – in effect educating talent for our global competitors.
Business has an important role to play, too. For our part, Intel spends more than $100 million on programs designed to improve teaching and learning. Over the past several years, we’ve trained more than 2 million teachers worldwide to use technology in the classroom to improve student learning. We support programs to spur high-tech research and support student excellence in dozens of U.S. universities. Intel provides college scholarships to help young people succeed as our next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. We sponsor several competitions and recognition programs to provide incentives for academic excellence. Intel also posts tools and online resources for teachers on the Internet and funds the Intel Computer Clubhouse network, where underserved youth have access to high-tech resources to help provide job and life skills.
After years of lower test scores and declining performance in our schools, it’s clear that government alone can’t resolve all the problems our country faces regarding education. Business must also step up to the challenge.
If America is to compete effectively in the expanding knowledge-based global economy, it’s imperative that government and business work together to do all we can to ensure our young people are getting the quality education they deserve. The country’s economic future depends on it.
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