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Leveling the Playing Field

Comments on an article by Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times Online, April 3, 2005

Reading the New York Times Online on April 3 changed my world forever. Thomas Friedman’s article “It’s a Flat World, After All” re-interprets the changing economic environment and offers an extraordinary perception of the future. It is time to repair our broken education systems that see the world around us through a rear vision mirror. The future is upon us and our students are ill prepared.

According to Friedman, we are experiencing a change in “technology and geoeconomics that is fundamentally reshaping our lives.” He explains how globalization and the internet have revolutionized the way we do business. It is no longer necessary for people to come to the United States to get better paying jobs; they now have work in their own country. And it is unnecessary for teams of experts to work in a central location because we have excellent Internet based collaborative tools for the Internet with links to geographically distributed pools of knowledge.

Friedman describes ten events that propelled us from the Cold War through a period of spectacular growth and technical innovation. These benefit the global economy and flatten the playing field. Starting with the fall of the Berlin wall, he explains how computer innovations and cheap global connectivity led to out-sourcing and collaborative computing. The net result, according to Friedman, is a broader distribution of wealth and opportunity:

… during the 1990's  . . . three billion people who were out of the game walked, and often ran, onto the playing field .. .  the people of China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Central Asia. Their economies and political systems all opened up during the course of the 1990's so that their people were increasingly free to join the free market. . . . many of these new entrants didn't even have to leave home to participate . . . the playing field came to them!

He quotes Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, to support his conclusion:

''You don't bring three billion people into the world economy overnight without huge consequences.''

If education is the key to economic growth, America is falling behind. Friedman quotes Bill Gates warning to the Governor’s conference on February 26th.2005:

''When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering”

It time for communities, governments and educational institutions to rethink the future and rebuild our educational systems to meet the needs of a global information-age economy.

Thomas L. Friedman is author of ''The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,'' published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and from which this and the New York Times article is adapted. His column appears on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.


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