Edu-Wednesday: Lessons from International Educators

Guest Post by Andrés Henriquez (@AndresHenriquez)

The Science and Innovation Challenge

Last month, I spent two amazing weeks in India. The second week was as a tourist visiting the Taj Majal and Udaipur. The first week was eye-opening in a different way. I was visiting the country as a participant in the first meeting of the global Hewlett Packard’s Catalyst Initiative in New Delhi. The Catalyst Initiative is bringing together an international network of leading educational institutions and NGOs to explore new approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The meeting in India was the first opportunity for grantee organizations to share their projects and research and to learn from each other.

Listening to the presentations from around the world  from France, Spain, and Germany, to Kenya,  India, and the U.S., I quickly realized that everyone was concerned about how they were going to educate their next generation of students and increase their capacity to develop a well-prepared workforce for the 21st century.  The U.S., I discovered, doesn’t have a monopoly on worrying about competing in the globalized economy.

These educators were particularly interested in using STEM education as the lever to spur their economies around innovation. India’s pursuit of STEM is rapidly becoming the cornerstone for the country’s reforming of its education system. During the conference, we visited Kerala Secondary School, a private school where a number of students had put on a mini science fair to share their work with us.  Students explained there projects in great detail but also, impressively, were able to defend their points of views when challenged.

Not all schools in India are like Kerala Secondary School.  The country has 1.15 billion residents and half of India’s population is under the age of 24.  An eye-popping 42% of their students drop out before 5th grade. Only 15% of the students go on to secondary education and of those just 7% graduate. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of the population affects their influence: 690,000 students of Science and Mathematics are graduating every year (in comparison to 530,000 in China, 350,000 in Japan, 420,000 in the US, and 470,000 in the EU). India has the second largest number of trained doctors in the world. While India’s educational reforms have been uneven, the impact on the economy has yielded some impressive improvements in their economy. Over the last ten years, India’s Gross Domestic Product has averaged between 7 and 9%.

In the U.S., President Obama recently stated that the way to lift our country out of our economic slump is to make significant investments in science.  ”To restore America’s competitiveness,” he said, “we must recruit a new generation of science and technology leaders by investing in diversity.” Obama also underscored the intersection of science and diversity issues at a recent presentation at Facebook where he emphasized STEM education–especially to girls and minority students–as one of the most important efforts the U.S. can make if it hopes to produce college- and career-ready students.

In fact, the US has push the reset button on our science agenda, and if international experiences are a guide, we can expect to reap big dividends. Here are some recent events and initiatives that are going to help us become more competitive in STEM and in preparing our students for the future:

  1. Change the Equation. This is a nonprofit, non-partisan CEO-led initiative to solve America’s innovation problem. Organized around a single vision to improve STEM education in our country, it answers the call of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” Campaign. The initiative led by such business leaders as former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, among others.
  2. Next Generation Science Standards. The National Academy of Science, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, and the nonprofit organization Achieve, have embarked on a two-step process to develop the Next Generation Science Standards. Once the final framework is released (early this summer), Achieve will develop new science education standards aligned with the framework that can be adopted by individual states. These new standards will have the potential to substantially strengthen the depth of what students are taught and the knowledge and skills that they acquire in science.
  3. The STEM Talent Challenge:  As we increase science and math standards, we need to help students reach them.  President Obama has called for 100,000 new “highly effective” STEM teachers in the next ten years who have the needed skills to educate our students to high levels in math and science. To support the recruitment of new STEM educators and new ways of teaching, the Ashoka Changemakers organization, with funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Opportunity Equation, will run an online competition to identify ways to bring nontraditional STEM talent into the profession and new ways to deliver STEM education. Please visit www.changemakers.org in the next for weeks for details of the STEM Talent Challenge.
  4. Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation. Although minorities are the fastest growing segment of the population, and demographic shifts point toward a future in which some states will soon be “majority minority” states, these groups are underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering. This report by the National Academy of Science reveals some of the challenges the country must address in order to develop a stronger and more diverse workforce. The publication identifies best practices and offers a comprehensive road map for increasing involvement of underrepresented minorities and improving the quality of their education and offers recommendations that focus on academic and social support, institutional roles, teacher preparation, affordability and program development.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrés Henríquez is a program officer in the National Program of Carnegie Corporation of New York, where he leads the Corporation’s work on standards and assessments as well as the work in adolescent literacy.  Prior to joining the Corporation, Henríquez served as the Assistant Director at the Center for Children and Technology (CCT) at the New York offices of the Education Development Center, Inc. He has also worked as a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, as a senior research analyst at MTV Networks, a researcher at Sesame Workshop and taught for five years at a public elementary school in East Harlem. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Hamilton College and a M.Ed. from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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