Most of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ speeches and editorials run along the same theme. The speech she delivered at the DePauw Discourse 2006 is no different. I find it interesting that she brings up India and China, the two countries President Bush feels we must compete with. Her speech focuses more on the economy and employment, and she notes that college graduates have an unemployment rate of 2% as compared to an overall unemployment rate of 4.6%.
This, I guess, is not tolerable. We need to compete and the key is education. Ironically, Spellings points out that for a variety of reasons, we do not know exactly how well or how poorly our higher education system is doing.
But over the years, we’ve basically invested tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money in higher education and just hoped for the best. As a result, we don’t have a very good picture of how the system works today and what can work better.
That is enough of a mandate to increase federal oversight, introduce tracking of every college student, mandate standardized testing and a variety of other measures which give greater power to the central government and less to the colleges and universities educating our young adults. That and our need to compete with India and China.
India’s world-class education system is highly centralized, and has the notorious honor of failing a UNESCO test in child education. With a literacy rate of 61%, India has the highest number of illiterates in the world. They also maintain a staggering 12% of the population of tertiary age in tertiary education. Clearly, the U.S., which only has 82% of its population of tertiary age in tertiary education, cannot compete.
China boasts similarly impressive numbers. Economic data, which is determined by a centralized state more interested in the appearance of having few problems, is difficult to ascertain. Official estimates place unemployment in China at about 4.3%. However, China has a radically different formula for calculating unemployment than the U.S., and more realistic analysts place China’s unemployment at closer to 10%, with regional unemployment as high as 40%. China’s literacy rate of 90.8% nears our own (97.7%), and it manages to educate 19% of its tertiary aged population in tertiary education.
The difficulty of competing with India and China is not in their education system. Both nations have made marked improvements, at least from a statistical point of view, in recent years. But the thousands of products in Wal-Mart labeled “Made in China” are not coming from a highly educated workforce poised to compete with the United States. They are coming from a workforce that is paid considerably less with a per capita income of approximately $742 per year.