Addressing ‘Globalization 3.0’

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As a trenchant best-seller explains, the US is losing its edge in innovation. So how do we ensure that our students have the technology tools and training to compete in tomorrow's global workforce?

THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005) has quickly become one of the most frequently cited books at education meetings of all kinds in the last nine months. It has gotten to the point that speakers no longer need to say more than “The World is Flat,” and heads in the audience nod knowingly. Education technology visionary Alan November used the book as the core of his presentation at the National Education Summit on Leadership, Learning, and Technology held Oct. 6-8 in Cape Cod (see “Connecting for Change” in the December 2005 issue of T.H.E. Journal). He linked Friedman’s ideas to the nature of today’s youth—how different they are from preceding generations, especially regarding their facility with a variety of technologies they use in their everyday lives (if not in school). Former Maine Gov. Angus King used the book as a caveat during a speech he gave via videoconference to a symposium on 1-to-1 computing in Irving, TX, in November. King said that if we do not think we should use technology to change education, all we have to do is read The World is Flat.

In the book, Friedman characterizes what he calls the third stage of globalization. He lists 10 occurrences in the 1990s that combined to create “Globalization 3.0.” Some of them, including the huge growth of bandwidth and the use of the Internet around the world, created a global platform for innovation and collaboration. Other forces created new forms of collaboration. The convergence of these forces and events coincided with the opening up of economies and political systems of the non-Western world—three billion people. Friedman is forecasting that some of these people (and it doesn’t take a huge percentage of three billion to form a critical mass) will use technologies developed in the West to step directly from the Agrarian Age to the Information Age, leapfrogging right over the Industrial Age phase that Western countries had to wade through. Rather than having to wait for an entire economy to develop, individuals and small groups can use the new technologies to make the leap on their own.

If Friedman is right, the US is in significant danger of being bypassed creatively and intellectually, and losing our standing as leaders of the world in innovation—the driving force of our economy and a key element of our national character. Part of the answer to this threat is for Westerners to overcome an innate lack of ambition among our youth to become scientists and engineers, and to immediately improve our education system, especially in the fields of math, science, technology, and engineering.

Friedman has done an outstanding job of identifying a problem, cleverly labeling it, and bringing it to the attention of the public at large. In addition to the impact it has had on speakers at technology and education conferences, his book has influenced a number of other reports and publications, including a study conducted by a panel convened by the National Academies (www.national-academies.org), a national science advisory group. In its report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, (books.nap.edu/openbook/0309100399/html), the panel noted that the US easily “could lose its privileged position” in science leadership, and that the nation’s old advantages are rapidly being overcome by other countries.

The panel put forward 20 implementation steps within four broad

recommendations. One recommendation is titled “10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds,” with the intent to “increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education.”

Friedman does not offer such a specific policy proposal in his book, but he does have a similar sense of urgency, noting that it takes a process of at least 15 years, including elementary school, to produce scientists and engineers. He writes, “We should be embarking on an all-hands-on-deck, no-holds-barred, no-budget-too-large crash program for science and engineering education immediately.”

When Sputnik went up in 1957, a similar call was sounded. And partially in response to Sputnik, the math and physics programs in my high school in the 1960s were, thankfully, very different from those of a decade earlier. Programs for gifted students proliferated as well. These were positive changes for that time.

But I wonder if federal policies toward education can generate the kind of effort demanded by Friedman, the National Academies, and others. Besides the huge elephant- in-the-room question as to whether 8 percent of the money should drive 80 percent of the effort in K-12 schools, there is the question of effectiveness. No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—a well-meaning plan to increase student achievement as measured by reading, math, and (soon) science tests—has been implemented as a program that significantly narrows what is taught and how it is taught. I wonder if the entrepreneurial and creative imagination that Friedman calls for from students departing our education system can be pulled off within our current national climate. In this age of nasty partisanship, it’s doubtful that a policy to create a crash program for science and engineering education could be executed without it being hijacked by some other political agenda. Without a national policy, however, can we produce excellence and equity for all students? Can we create programs that will enhance our students’ creativity, as well as ensure that students will have access to the necessary 21st century tools that you and I use as we learn and work?

The US is in significant danger of being bypassed creatively and intellectually, and losing our standing as leaders of the world in innovation—the driving force of our economy and a key element of our national character.

As I write this column, Congress is pondering cuts of $50 billion or more in social programs and education. Advocates for technology and education are struggling around the clock to hold on to about half of their Title II D (Enhancing Education Through Technology) funds that they originally received when NCLB was passed. We are watching every move of Congress and the FCC as they discuss telecommunications policy and the E-Rate, one of the most consequential programs in technology and education at either the state or national level. Should we in technology and education broaden the scope of our advocacy for such programs, or keep it narrowly focused?

What do you think? How do we address Globalization 3.0? What role does technology play as a part of the solution? What policies would you suggest? As Friedman points out, the technology that helped to create an economic advantage for the US is now being used by individuals and small groups, as well as countries, to surpass our efforts. Whatever we do, we need to do it rapidly. There is an old Chinese saying: “It is too late to dig a well when your house is on fire.”

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is editor-at-large of T.H.E. Journal and executive director of T.H.E. Institute.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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