Friday, July 23, 2010

What We Don't Learn in Kindergarten


Want a sure bet? Here you go: What is the probability of yours truly actually making an effort to read an article on the website for the EE Times?

Actuarially impossible, right?

I mean we are talking here about someone whose aptitude for things mechanical, much less electronic, is something slightly to the left of absolute zero. Indeed, I have been known to be found at the desk of our company’s LAN administrator on the verge of tears because I can’t find the ON/OFF switch on my PC.

So how is it that I found myself on the EE Times site engrossed in an interview they did with James D. Plummer, Dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering?

The blame falls to Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter fame and a Twitter post he sent this week that caught my attention.
"Stanford's top engineer says our K-12 problem is serious."
So, what made be follow the link? First of all, I follow Nick because I know that he is worth listening to, and second, anyone who follows this blog with any consistency will know that things educational catch my attention big time.

I know we all have things we worry about, in fact we had a really interesting discussion going on this week in our General Management Roundtable about “what keeps you up at night” and as you might guess there was a long list of the usual suspects like cash flow management, sustained profitability, long term growth potential, people issues, etc.

Interestingly enough, at least from the posts I’ve read thus far, an educated workforce wasn’t showing up. Maybe because respondents weren’t really thinking about the K-12 space, but to my mind, that’s really the focal point and represents vulnerability we can ill afford.

(Okay, I know that's a bit much given that short term survival is the first order of the day for most of us, but I was just trying to make a point.)

Be that as it may, here is just a taste of what Plummer had to say about the K-12 situation:
"...So we need to help K-12 understand the opportunities in science and engineering, and then change the way we admit students to universities. Some engineering schools think that’s impossible. They say students have to take calculus and physics as freshman or they are history. I say we can rethink the curriculum. If we don’t do that, we have shot ourselves in the foot."

"…You can debate if it's five or 50 years away--my view is it's probably 25 years out--but they will get there. As they get closer, the numbers of students who want to come to the U.S. will decline—especially as students see world-class economic opportunities at home. So in the long term, we have to have a different strategy."
While Dean Plummer’s focus was on the science and engineering space because that's his gig, for myself, I think the issue goes well beyond just science and engineering.

While the politics of education continue to seemingly paralyze our ability to make progress, there is ample data to demonstrate that there are many other developed countries who have decided that the quality of education of their citizens is paramount to their ability to continue to compete in the global economic game.

If sustained profitability and paths to long term growth are on the list of what our business leaders are worried about then we better start leading. The engine that will drive to the answers of some of those sleepless nights is education, and I mean K-12 education in particular.

In the U.S. we keep hearing that our ability to lead the world in innovation is what will sustain us. But if Plummer is right, and I believe he is, we not only will be unable to compete in numbers but the numbers we have will not be motivated enough to take on the challenge.

Worse, even if they had the motivation and/or innate intelligence, the educational foundation needed for them to succeed will not be there.

Talk about the need to fix our infrastructure!

2 comments:

ZEB Tom said...

Dave,

What about those not going to college?

It’s true that K-12 have not been taking the science/engineering path. It’s perceived to be too hard for most. Since I was an engineering undergrad a few centuries ago, I can understand the frustration. I mean, who wants to do all that work if they can have it easier and make more money? Okay, moving into an executive role later may help if you are interested in making money or making more of a contribution in your work. Some aren’t.

Most parents are just happy to have their kids going to college. And most of the HS programs are geared to do just that. And I do not begrudge them that.

I’m a Manufacturing executive at Focused Solutions Group. Do you know about http://ratzenberger.com/manufacturing.php or http://www.nutsandboltsfoundation.org?

The HS guidance teachers are so focused on getting kids into college that kids who are not going to college get forgotten about. Meanwhile there are some fairly decent paying jobs in manufacturing these days, especially for operating some of the computerized equipment we use these days.

So back to my original question: What about those not going to college? We need every Guidance counselor to realize whether or not they make their goal of 95% going to college, they need to guide 100% of the students to be the best they can be (no disrespect to most GCs). And if we want to keep Manufacturing in the US (and I think we need to, but that’s a much longer discussion), we need to help those kids get properly trained to handle today’s manufacturing jobs.

I am also active in Manufacturing networks in New Jersey and I can tell you that my fellow small business owners lament the lack of quality help and vocational education every day. Many state and county governments are not doing it well. Pennsylvania does have a nice program, though.

I would like to see every child go to college. And most into the sciences. But that’s not practical. So I’m talking about a path for those who don’t. Perhaps we need some breadcrumbs to make that path more clear.

Regards,

Tom Smith
tom@fsgnj.com
www.fsgnj.com

ZEB Tom said...

Dave,

What about those not going to college?

It’s true that K-12 have not been taking the science/engineering path. It’s perceived to be too hard for most. Since I was an engineering undergrad a few centuries ago, I can understand the frustration. I mean, who wants to do all that work if they can have it easier and make more money? Okay, moving into an executive role later may help if you are interested in making money or making more of a contribution in your work. Some aren’t.

Most parents are just happy to have their kids going to college. And most of the HS programs are geared to do just that. And I do not begrudge them that.

I’m a Manufacturing executive at Focused Solutions Group. Do you know about http://ratzenberger.com/manufacturing.php or http://www.nutsandboltsfoundation.org?

The HS guidance teachers are so focused on getting kids into college that kids who are not going to college get forgotten about. Meanwhile there are some fairly decent paying jobs in manufacturing these days, especially for operating some of the computerized equipment we use these days.

So back to my original question: What about those not going to college? We need every Guidance counselor to realize whether or not they make their goal of 95% going to college, they need to guide 100% of the students to be the best they can be (no disrespect to most GCs). And if we want to keep Manufacturing in the US (and I think we need to, but that’s a much longer discussion), we need to help those kids get properly trained to handle today’s manufacturing jobs.

I am also active in Manufacturing networks in New Jersey and I can tell you that my fellow small business owners lament the lack of quality help and vocational education every day. Many state and county governments are not doing it well. Pennsylvania does have a nice program, though.

I would like to see every child go to college. And most into the sciences. But that’s not practical. So I’m talking about a path for those who don’t. Perhaps we need some breadcrumbs to make that path more clear.

Regards,

Tom Smith
tom@fsgnj.com
www.fsgnj.com