By most every measure, the global technology industry is dominated by American companies. Though high-tech vendors still need English majors who can write comprehensible sentences for those hard-to-read documentation manuals, what they desperately need are current and future employees who are proficient in math and science.
A recent report on how the United States stacks up against the world in math and science education offered disheartening news. While America’s fourth-graders perform well, by the time they get to eighth grade and high school, they drop to the middle of the global pack.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley claims it’s not the students’ fault. It’s the teachers’. Specifically, the problem is an educational system where high school math and science classes are often taught by teachers certified to teach only social studies or physical education.
I recently chaired a review of the computer science courses offered by the Board of Higher Education in Massachusetts. A major recommendation of the review: The business community needs to become proactively involved in teaching math and science. No longer can business leaders passively critique the mediocre product produced by our nation’s schools while bulking up employee payrolls with foreigners who are more proficient in math and science than their young American counterparts.
Quick-fix strategies do nothing to address a systemic problem screaming for systemic solutions?solutions that are likely to deliver results measured in years rather than quarters.
But there is hope. While science classrooms may be led by men and women certified to teach only social studies, conversations with CIOs have convinced me that there are tens of thousands of certified computer science majors yearning for social fulfillment. All they need is for someone to ask them to help.
Imagine the impact of a massive tutoring program?not unlike the Peace Corps?where companies would lend their best science and math employees to school systems across America. The result: Long-term programs aimed at keeping our country’s science and math teachers on the cutting edge of their fields, and long-term programs aimed at ensuring that corporate America will have a home-grown competitive workforce.
The future of our country’s continued dominance of the high-tech sector depends on making these connections happen.