[OLPC Brasil] Learning to Keep Learning
rmesquita at radiumsystems.com.br
Wed Dec 13 14:55:09 EST 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Learning to Keep Learning
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
New York Times 12/13/06
I recently attended an Asia Society education seminar in Beijing, during which
we heard Chinese educators talk about their new national strategy. Its to
make China an innovation country with enough indigenous output to advance
China into the rank of innovation-oriented countries by 2020, as Shang Yong,
Chinas vice minister of science and technology, put it.
I listened to this with mixed emotions. Part of me said: Gosh, wouldnt it be
nice to have a government that was so focused on innovation instead of one
that is basically anti-science. My other emotion was skepticism. Oh, you know
the line: Great Britain dominated the 19th century, America dominated the 20th
and now China is going to dominate the 21st. Its game over.
Sorry, but I am not ready to cede the 21st century to China yet.
No question, China has been able to command an impressive effort to end
illiteracy, greatly increasing its number of high school grads and new
universities. But I still believe it is very hard to produce a culture of
innovation in a country that censors Google which for me is a proxy for
curtailing peoples ability to imagine and try anything they want. You can
command K-12 education. But you cant command innovation. Rigor and competence,
without freedom, will take China only so far. China will have to find a way to
loosen up, without losing control, if it wants to be a truly innovative nation.
But while China cant thrive without changing a lot more, neither can we. Ask
yourself this: If the Iraq war had not dominated our politics, what would our
last election have been about? It would have been about this question: Why
should any employer anywhere in the world pay Americans to do highly skilled
work if other people, just as well educated, are available in less developed
countries for half our wages?
If we cant answer this question, in an age when more and more routine work can
be digitized, automated or off shored, including white-collar work, it is hard
to see how, over time, we are going to be able to maintain our standard of
living, says Marc Tucker, who heads the National Center on Education and the
There is only one right answer to that question: In a globally integrated
economy, our workers will get paid a premium only if they or their firms offer
a uniquely innovative product or service, which demands a skilled and creative
labor force to conceive, design, market and manufacture and a labor force
that is constantly able to keep learning. We cant go on lagging other major
economies in every math/science/reading test and every ranking of Internet
penetration and think that were going to field a work force able to command
premium wages. Freedom, without rigor and competence, will take us only so far.
Tomorrow, Mr. Tuckers organization is coming out with a report titled Tough
Choices or Tough Times, which proposes a radical overhaul of the U.S.
education system, with one goal in mind: producing more workers from the
U.P.S. driver to the software engineer who can think creatively.
One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who
have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to
think afresh about the other, said Mr. Tucker. Thus, his report focuses on
how to make that kind of thinking integral to every level of education.
That means, he adds, revamping an education system designed in the 1900s for
people to do routine work, and refocusing it on producing people who can
imagine things that have never been available before, who can create ingenious
marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies and
design software that will capture peoples imaginations and become
indispensable for millions.
That cant be done without higher levels of reading, writing, speaking, math,
science, literature and the arts. We have no choice, argues Mr. Tucker, because
we have entered an era in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the
passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the
good life and in which the constant ability to learn how to learn will be the
only security you have.
Economics is not like war. It can be win-win. We, China, India and Europe can
all flourish. But the ones who flourish most will be those who develop the best
broad-based education system, to have the most people doing and designing the
most things we cant even imagine today. China still has to make some very big
changes to get there but so do we.
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