Have We Already Missed The Boat?

I usually spend an hour in the morning checking out interesting articles online. I have a number of “go-to” English, German and Dutch sites that I check, and often share my most interesting finds on Facebook or Twitter.

Today’s hot topic seems to be the American education system: how it ranks internationally and compares to what it used to be.

I hope all of you have heard of Ursula Burns.

She is the 1st African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company in America. “Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Is ‘Panic Stricken’ About U.S. Students’ Ability to Compete” outlines how Burns – using her signature no-holds-barred style of communication – sat down for an interview with  CNN’s Soledad O’Brien to talk about the ever-widening gap between the qualifications corporations are looking for in new hires and the skills and experience graduates actually bring to the table.

There are two quotes that jumped right out at me. First:

In John Stossel‘s “Stupid in America” feature, Stossel states that 76 percent of American parents are not happy with their child’s school.  When Stossel compared the kids at an above-average high school in New Jersey with kids in Belgium, the American children were handily dismantled and even referred to as “stupid” by the Belgium children.  When 15-year-old American children were tested against 40 other nations, American kids ranked 25th.

Even the better American high schools are not positioned to academically challenge foreign exchange students. The quality of the schools in Germany, for example, has suffered considerably between the time I was an exchange student here (1972), and when my own children were in school (the 1990’s). However, my daughter still experienced the same phenomenon the year she spent at a suburban Pennsylvania high school. It’s also something I heard  time and time again during the hundreds of interviews I conducted with young applicants as Head of Human Resources Development for a top Germany advertising agency network.

Despite the additional burden of taking classes in a foreign language, when it comes to the actual school work, exchange students often consider their year in the States to be a veritable academic breeze compared to the rigorous curriculum to which they are accustomed. Many German schools don’t recognize that high school year abroad academically. However, young people are still encouraged (and eager) to participate just to broaden their intercultural horizons and add an additional highlight to their burgeoning resumès.

Although international scholastic rankings are published regularly, am I wrong to think that many American students – and their parents – may still not understand the implications  status quo can have on their future? Now that the world functions as a global marketplace, Americans are being forced to deal with a situation where they are no longer in the driver’s seat job-wise:

“We can find better candidates in other nations and other places than we can here.”

THEN: Increased mechanization in many sectors has already cost American workers the bulk of the well-paid production-related “blue collar” jobs. These have gone to workers in developing countries where labor costs (among other things) are considerably lower!

NOW: Our students don’t excel academically in international comparison. Therefore, in a world where corporations are no longer limited to only hiring local staff, ever more “white collar” jobs will also be migrating to where employees are both better educated and cheaper to employ!

How can more African-American student safeguard against being caught in the grip of this job drain? By being more aware of developments on a global level and positioning themselves to take up the challenge that this expanded playing field presents!


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