A Publication of WTVP

Ask around today, and you’ll find that one of the hottest reads is The World Is Flat. In this book, author Thomas Friedman explores the changes the Internet has wrought in our world. Connectivity has made the world flat, Friedman contends, and capitalism now drives the development of countries like China, Russia, and India. What this means for the United States and our corporations is that cheap, and often knowledgeable, labor is more available than ever before. Those who don’t engage these countries and their workforce will be more or less doomed, according to Friedman.

So what does this have to do with America and higher education? Countries like India and China, Friedman offers, are building their competitive edge first through cheap labor, but more importantly, by educating their children and young adults in math, science, and business. Right now these countries don’t have the resources to educate their young, and the U.S. is seeing an influx of foreign students to its colleges and universities.

Friedman also posits that mediocrity no longer will be acceptable in the United States. Before, when cheap labor wasn’t available offshore, average people could make a good wage performing at a mediocre level. Today, Friedman asserts, mediocre performance can’t be rewarded. There are simply too many would-be participants in a capitalist global economy who’ll perform at high levels for lower wages. Americans of future generations must be able to meet the quality standards of workers in India, China, and Russia, who’re willing to perform at high levels for low wages.

For now, Friedman says, Americans will maintain power and position through their ability to engineer and innovate. In the same breath, however, Friedman notes India’s, China’s, and Russia’s strategies are to educate their workforces so they not only have the same abilities as Americans, but exceed them. The competition for knowledge jobs—which, for now, is dominated by Americans—will become intense. Friedman says his parents used to tell him to eat his dinner; children were starving in India and China. Today he tells his daughters to do their homework; children are starving for their jobs in India and China.

The most successful people in the global economy will be those who’ve mastered the disciplines of the new economy: math, reading, writing, science, engineering, and computing. And countries like India get it. For example, India has developed online math tutoring for its children. Indian children now are getting this extra help that isn’t available to most needy American children.

In the U.S. today, 37 million people live in poverty. These are people who’ll never be able to participate in a knowledge economy. We have schools in our area where the majority of high school juniors aren’t performing at state academic expectations—expectations, by the way, that are lower than those of our Chinese, Indian, and Russian counterparts. Funding for education at all levels has been slashed repeatedly. The writing is on the wall: our foreign competitors are using education to build their nations. Who’s sounding the alarm here? IBI