by Ted L Glines
We are struck by the way that high-tech design and engineering is off-shoring to India and China. We think this is because of cheaper labor. When we do our homework, we find other major concerns, and we find some alarming comparisons and self-destructive policies.
Following the Industrial Revolution, America climbed to a supreme position in technology. One reward for winning WWI and WWII was the induction of many foreign scientists, engineers, and other prime movers who would help America to achieve technological supremacy in a struggling world. The history of this ascendancy reads like a dramatic news-reel of technically explosive national growth.
But we now sense a slow dwindling in the stature of America as king of the technology hill. Possibly more importantly, we sense a slow but steady emergence of India and China as forces to be reckoned with in the world technology market.
In an American school's first grade class, if you ask the kids what do they want to be when they grow up, their charming answers range from “fireman” to “actress” to “quarterback,” and so on. But the kids in a first grade classroom in China or India will startle you with “scientist” or “cardiologist” or “engineer.” Why this difference? How, at their young age, could they have such lofty career goals? Where is this going?
When asked what high school is all about, an American freshman might answer, “High school is about having fun. All too soon, my life will be about work and marriage and children.” Most American first-year college students do not yet know what their major will be. Indecision rules.
Finally, the American college student decides on a major, and here are the results of that decision:
“Business was the most popular field of study among those receiving four-year bachelor’s degrees in 2004-2005, the most recent academic year for which the National Center for Education Statistics provides data. Of the 1,439,264 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 311,574 were conferred on business majors.
“Under the categories used by the center, the social sciences was the next most popular field of study -- with 125,494 degrees awarded -- followed by education (105,451), psychology (85,614), visual and performing arts (80,955), and health professions and related clinical sciences (80,685).”
Sports interest and participation predominates in American high schools. It is not untypical for an American high school to be known by its team symbol and name. I stress this to define an important motivational factor driving current curricular processes.
In India and China, there is no sports competition between schools. There is no thrust toward sports training beyond basic physical education. In the first twelve years of education, emphasis is on mathematics, science, and world cultural history. In these two countries, the high school student begins studying at 7 AM, goes to school, comes home and studies until 7 PM. Chinese and Indian students are highly motivated by a deep need to bring themselves out of the bleak darkness of poverty and into prosperity's happy light, and they see America as a success template.
By comparison, we see American students as being largely unmotivated, and American parents as being largely unhelpful. We see an American school system which is plagued by low grade levels. Our students have been labeled “little test takers” and teachers as “test givers.” The SAT has eclipsed any attempt at education in our American lower schools. End product is a generation of American young people whose highest ambition will be to become a manager of a Pizza Hut, a dental technician, a social worker, or perhaps a rock-star.
In China and India, a 13-year-old student will be educationally about three years more advanced than his/her counterpart in America.
America recognizably has the best colleges and universities in the world. This is not true in India or China. The level of teaching in Chinese and Indian colleges is decades behind American schools.
High school graduates from India and China are sent to attend American universities and colleges. They typically graduate with degrees in medicine, engineering, computer sciences, and anything high-tech. Then what happens? When interviewed, Chinese and Indian graduates state a desire to remain and add their learned expertise to America, but they have been told that they will not be able to stay beyond the end of their schooling. Having gained their high technology expertise, they are denied when they apply for a work permit.
Due to post 9/11 concerns, there is very limited availability of work-permits which would allow the foreign graduate student to remain here, to work in America. Congress has asked Homeland Security about lifting these restrictions, but there has been no interest in doing so. Therefore, these highly educated graduates return to China and India, where they are now creating high-tech companies and enterprises which are entering the international market to compete successfully against a slowly dimishing American presence.
"As most of the H-1B (work permit) visas are granted for technology workers, companies such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Google have been lobbying Congress to raise the cap. They argue that the US needs foreign labor to make the US more competitive in today's global market.
"As for the Republican side of the issue, John McCain, the leading contender for his party's nomination, also feels that increasing H-1B visa quotas is needed to keep America competitive. While he said he would continue supporting an increase in H-1B visas, McCain feels that the most Americans would rather clamp down on immigration."
Do not look to "off-shoring of jobs" as a convenient scapegoat in the growing high technology crunch. Instead, look at the way we throw away our college graduates and, even more crucial, look at the way our lower schools (and parents) fail to motivate our own American students. Having built a NASA world, we are moving into a convenience-store future. This is a reality-check in a world which is moving on.