One of the featured panels at the 2011 Education Nation summit will engage several of the world’s experts - including Asia Society President Vishakha Desai - in a discussion of what we can learn from other nations to have a globally competitive economy and workforce. This panel and other international forums, such as the International Summit on the Teaching Profession convened by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this year, spotlight how much we have to gain by learning from and with other countries about the best ways to tackle common problems, like developing a top-quality teaching force or turning around low-performing schools.
A century ago, the United States built the current education system, which led to the most rapid growth our economy has ever seen, in part by utilizing the best ideas from abroad - mainly from England, Germany and Scotland. But, after World War II, we stopped looking for new ideas outside our borders while other nations, especially those in Asia, built superior pre-collegiate education systems through relentless “benchmarking” of what works wherever good ideas could be found.
As a result, if the scores on reading, math, and science for each of the 65 nations or provinces participating in OECD’s 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment are averaged to create a single composite ranking, the top ten would be from the Asia-Pacific region, led by Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan. The United States would rank 26th.
The rise of education in Asia is no accident. It reflects deliberate policies and national investment strategies which recognize that job creation and long-term economic growth are directly tied to the quality of education. And the tight link between education and economic prosperity is getting even tighter within a global economy.
Globalization has leveled the playing field for workers the world over. Jobs that involve routine tasks or scripted responses are being done by computers or by workers in the developing world — with little training and at a very low cost. Eighty-five percent of the new jobs created in the past decade required complex knowledge and skills. With technology, many of these jobs can be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone around the world who has the requisite skills.
Where is economic growth occurring? An analysis by McKinsey & Company shows that the next decade will mark the first time since the industrial revolution when emerging economies add more global economic growth than all the developed countries combined. Over the next 10 years, GDP per capita will rise nearly five times faster in emerging economies than member nations of the OECD.
Globalization is irreversible and accelerating. The redesign of schools and school systems, therefore, must recast what it means to be well-educated in global terms. What competences do students need to succeed in a global economic environment? Higher standards and better outcomes in reading and mathematics are essential. But these alone will not make us globally competitive if our students cannot also communicate with producers, buyers, and sellers in the world marketplace.
A priority on STEM education is crucial, but with it must come a commitment to teach our students how to apply their knowledge within a global economic environment. What students need are not generic thinking, work, digital, social or information processing skills. High-wage jobs will increasingly require students’ dynamic learning about, with, in, and for an increasingly complex, diverse, and interconnected world. Work in a global era requires global competence.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, in collaboration with Asia Society, has defined global competence as the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance. Global competence requires deep learning in the traditional academic disciplines of English, science, mathematics, social studies, the arts and world languages. Subject area learning is both the foundation and the means for developing global competence.
Four specific and interrelated capacities are embedded in global competence. They include students’ capacity to:
Jobs and economic growth today and for the foreseeable future will require global competence. An Education Nation in the 21st century must set the development of global competence in all students as a high national priority. Their future, and ours as a nation, depends on it.
Anthony Jackson is vice president for education at the Asia Society.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.