We are living in historic times. Our nation is now daily confronted by the challenges and opportunities of globalization. As Thomas Friedman wrote in the introduction to his insightful book The World is Flat:
Whenever civilization has gone through one of these disruptive, dislocating technological revolutions – like Gutenberg’s introduction of the printing press – the whole world has changed in profound ways. But there is something about the flattening of the world that is going to be qualitatively different from other such profound changes: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold. . . . This flattening process is happening at warp speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once.
. . . And that is why the great challenge for our time will be to absorb these changes in ways that do not overwhelm people, but also do not leave them behind.
Nowhere is the challenge greater than on our educational system and how it can adapt to prepare our children for the realities and implications of intense global competition In 2006, in a report aptly entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce provided its assessment of the challenges facing the American workforce and our schools. The report cited:
- Wage competition – As an example, an engineer in India earns $7,500 per year. An engineer in the US with the same qualifications earns $45,000. Look for more off shoring of white collar work, including many legal and even medical tasks.
- Automation of routine work – Digitization of all types of data, combined with low cost communications via the Internet and high quality process software is leading to the automation of much routine work.
- Failing competitiveness of the American education system- Over the past 30 years, the US has seen a diminishing proportion of its entering workforce with a high school degree equivalent and is falling behind many other developed and developing countries in this regard. At the same, the US percentage of the worldwide college population has slipped from 30 percent to just 14 percent.
The report concludes:
The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself.
It is clear that, as we progress deeper into this age of globalization, innovation and creativity will be at a premium. The successful members of the new workforce will be those who know their strengths and bring those strengths to the teams they join.