“Winning the Future” was the theme of the recent US State of the Union address. With the global economy and new education performance rankings as our “sputnik moment,” the president urged Congress to invest in the future – and in education. As put it in the speech,
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
So what exactly was the sputnik moment, or one of them? In the recently released OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, the US didn’t do so well. US students were average performers in reading (rank 14 in OECD) and science (rank 17) but well the below the OECD average in mathematics (rank 25). The new top fliers in the PISA study are: Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
According to the OECD report,
Education is the single most critical investment to raise the long-run growth potential of countries. In the global economy, the performance of education systems is the yardstick for success, particularly in light of the fundamental technological and demographic challenges that are re-shaping our economies.
Education has been top of mind for me lately with my upcoming report scheduled to launch this week (stay tuned). So, as I looked through the notes and quotes from the meeting I was heartened to see that education was top of mind there as well. Education and education reform certainly peppered the program, part of sessions on everything from new realities and inclusive growth, to women and society, national innovation, the net generation, cancer, regional development, cloud economics , entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and the ageing workforce.
Some of the questions addressed – and to which education and investment in education in particular was often a solution – included:
If structural change is a new reality, then what major adjustments should leaders prepare for, and how?
How can educating and empowering girls and women impact the acute challenges facing the world?
How are national innovation systems created and maintained?
In the digital era, how is the "net generation" workforce reshaping the future of business?
What innovations, if scaled or replicated, would enable the Middle East to achieve its geopolitical, economic and social aspirations for the future?