Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What to do to Maintain U.S. Lead in Science in the 21st Century

Last week a National Academy of Science report was released that addresses what to do to maintain a U.S. advantage in science and technology in this century. With rapid advancement of science and technology R&D in nationas such as China, India, and other Asian countries, and with decreasing enrollments of American students in science, math, engineering, and other technical fields, it is absolutely wise and necessary for us to think longer-term and begin taking real action to address potential future problems if the U.S. were to lose its present lead in these areas. After all, we are the lone superpower due mostly to our technological and scientific advantage since World War II.

Below is an excerpt from a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) email I just received:

"In the NAS report released last week the number one action item on the panel’s list of recommendations was to improve K-12 science and mathematics education.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, which was reported nationwide by Associated Press and the subject of a New York Times op-ed by columnist Tom Friedman, recommends a series of initiatives that include:

- Recruiting 10,000 students annually to become science and math teachers, thereby educating 10 million young minds, by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships to be paid back through a commitment to teach five years in K-12 schools. Teachers serving in hard-to-staff inner city and rural schools would receive an additional bonus.
- Strengthening the skills of 250,000 current teachers thru summer institute training programs, in master programs, and thru Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) training programs.
- Increasing the number of students in AP and IB math and science courses from 1.2 million to 4.5 million by 2010.

Other proposals include sustaining and strengthening the nation’s commitment to basic research and developing strategies to recruit and retain the brightest students from within the United States and abroad into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Norman Augustine, the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin and chair of the panel that issued the report, is expected to testify October 20 before the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee hearing on Science, Technology, and Global Economic Competitiveness. Read the report online at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309100399/html."

I've only begun to skim the nearly 500-page report, but it appears to be very thorough and honest about what to do to improve our situation as well as paints a picture of what our nation may be like if we were to lose our advantage in these areas. It is time for us to make real commitments to improve at all levels, but I agree the top priority is to begin getting serious about K-12 science and math education, as well as to provide incentives for more of our best and brightest to go into science, math and engineering rather than more lucrative fields like law and MBA programs. In order to do this, we need serious collaborations between schools, universities, the federal government, and the tech related business sector who can provide funding, materials, practical expertise, and mentorships for the next generation of students.


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Erica said...

Interesting post. I definitely agree that our science and math educational programs could use some improvement, but why do you think it's important for the US to remain the top country in scientific progress? I've always been under the impression that science is the one thing where it doesn't matter who discovers things. We're all curious about the same things, and it's not like people can't share their discoveries with the rest of the world. Personally, I would be thrilled if someone found a solution to the Navier-Stokes equations, a GUT with confirming experimental evidence, etc. regardless of that scientist's nationality.

vonny said...

Hi erica!

It is true that scientists, at least the vast majority doing work that doesn't involve defense work or proprietary R&D, publish their work for the world to see. While that is true, keep in mind that our way of life and our entire economy has developed because of our lead in science and technology since WW II. It then follows that 'to the victors go the spoils,' so to speak.

One cannot predict what, exactly, would be the consequences if we lost our sizeable advantage, but chances are our economy would suffer. In addition, whether we like it or not, our technological edge keeps our military ahead of every other nation on the planet, and in this day and age that is vital for our security. Just imagine if we did not catch up to and surpass Nazi Germany, who was the science and technology leader going into WW II. I prefer us to be in charge rather than the former Soviet Union or the up-and-coming Communist China, and it is all built upon our science and technology lead.

I hope all is well!!


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