Educating for success in a flat world

North Lake Tahoe Bonanza:  In his, national best-seller "The World is Flat," Thomas Friedman proposes that advances in technology and communications have made it necessary for companies to change the model of how they do business in order to compete in a global economy.

A report entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times published in December 2006 by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Work Force, addresses the issue of competing in a global economy by asking questions and offering suggestions for fundamental change in the American system of public education.

This is a provocative topic and the ideas presented in the report deserve serious and thoughtful and consideration.

The report suggests that the problem lies not with our educators but with the system in which they work. It asserts that educators must face the reality of a flat-world platform and prepare young people to succeed by reorienting what they are learning and how we are teaching and testing students as they progress through the system.

Thirty years ago, the United States educated 30 percent of the world’s college students. Today the number is down to 14 percent and continues to fall.

According to the report, the core problem is that our education and training systems were built for an earlier era, one in which most workers needed only a rudimentary education.

Today, more and more production and service jobs are becoming automated and highly educated workers in other countries, such as China and India, are willing to work for low wages. In a world where the passport to a good job means that you need to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, creativity and innovation, higher education is more important than ever. But if fewer students are entering and completing college, we need to ask ourselves – why?

There is a good deal of waste in our current public education system which is failing students in the early years with a high cost to remediate later. To set things right, America must look at adopting internationally benchmarked standards for educating our students.

Let’s assume for a moment that we want to send more qualified students to college and set up a system for doing so. The commission’s report suggests some bold actions (partial list):

Develop a high quality, full-service early childhood education system for every 3- and 4-year-old in the country.

Overhaul the testing system from elementary through high school to measure creativity, innovative thinking and analysis, the use of ideas and abstractions, self-discipline and organization to manage work to successful conclusion, and function as member of a team.

Recruit the next generation of school teachers from the top third of the high school graduates going on to college and raise the level of teacher compensation to make teaching a desirable profession fro the best and the brightest.

Enable every member of the adult workforce to achieve literacy skills by creating personal competitiveness accounts. This "GI Bill for our times" would allow workers to receive the training they need to advance quickly to other jobs, other professions, and other industries.

Whether or not you agree with the commission’s suggestions, these and other questions still need to be asked and answered. Our goal as citizens and educators is to prepare our young people for success.

If this means changing the way we educate, then we need to look at any and all possibilities to better prepare our youth to succeed in a flat world. Look for the report on I think it is worth reading.

Larry D. Large is the interim president of Sierra Nevada College.