Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: The president has spoken of the need to encourage students in math and science. In this season of giving, it might be a good time to give them an extra boost.
Dear Mr. President,
I did not mention to you that our elder daughter came home for the weekend. Or maybe I did. In any event, she is winging her way back to Georgia Tech today and bending into the books until Christmas break in a few weeks. (At least she says that’s the plan. Who knows with these college kids?) She is full of wonderful stories about her school and her experiences there. Just wait. Your girls will be off on their own adventures soon enough and you’ll hear similar tales, no doubt.
Her engineering studies have me thinking about China a lot lately. I can’t remember the precise number, but unless I am mistaken they are producing something like…oh say…a million new engineers every six months. Well, maybe it’s not that high, but you get my point. They are stamping them out like license plates.
For all the concerns we are raising about the growing power of China, this is one that I feel continues to be understated, and that’s not good. It is one thing for any nation to grab a temporary economic advantage, but when they invest that heavily in their young people - in something as valuable as engineering education - they are staking a claim to future technological dominance.
And I’m not sure just telling young people to get interested in math and science will cut it. Sure, there are a lot of kids who have a natural interest. But a great many more, I think, are easily daunted by the difficulty of such studies and enchanted by the perception that there is easier money to make in other fields.
What I think is needed is a presidential level, all-out assault on this problem. The target can’t be kids already in college, such as mine, but rather high schoolers and below. Three prongs: 1) we must identify children with a propensity for such work, 2) we must make it easy for them to pursue it, with specialized classes, competitions, and scholarships and 3) we need to show, day in and day out, that we as a nation value this work, that the people who can lead us to tech excellence are critical to the success of our entire culture.
This must go beyond the idea of merely creating more software-millionaires. We need to elevate in our schools the overall level of attention and respect we give to all academic achievement, but especially the accomplishments in the sciences. If children see that science is heroic work that will be rewarded both monetarily and culturally, that could draw the fence-sitters in. And we need them - because even as you read this, another legion of Chinese students is mastering the future.
Call if you can.
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