When did the US stop thinking big? Look at EDUCATION!

Here is a quote from Turkey’s finance minister, regarding their plans to improve education in that country (from THE GLOBALIST).  He is discussing what he sees as the critical issue — bringing the quality of education in the poorest and most distant regions up to the level of that in the capital:

“Currently, the big divergence in the education which students receive in Istanbul and, say, Hakkari, which is the furthest southeastern spot in Turkey, is mainly due to differences in teacher training and quality.  Our government is trying to tackle this challenge on many fronts. We are in the process of equipping every single classroom in Turkey, even in the remotest villages, with fiber optic cable, a broadband Internet connection and providing touch screens and big whiteboards (Emph. added).

That is one way to reduce the current gap as quickly as possible, as least in terms of access to educational information. Another is that every student in Turkey from the fourth grade onwards will be given a tablet PC for free. (Emph. added)

The overall objective is that we use these technologies to level the playing field as quickly as possible by centrally developing content and making it accessible to every single student.”

Turkey now has 17.1 million students in pre-school, primary, and secondary school, just over a third as many as the US has (49 million), and a larger number than the population of many European countries.

If Turkey succeeds, it will leapfrog the quality of education given to young people in the US and in many European countries; if you think it is a powerhouse today, just wait.  Turkey could, twenty years from now, be the best educated country in Europe.

Of course, this is all just a plan, and as we know, there is often a great gap between a plan and its execution.  Still, the ambition is impressive — a tablet for every student (it sounds expensive, but actually could save a small fortune over purchase of traditional textbooks), every classroom wired; that is something we aim for in our colleges, and in our best high schools, but hardly from fourth grade.

In the US, the gap in the achievement level between children from wealthier and poorer families has greatly increased in the last few decades, and the difference in quality between suburban and private schools and major urban schools is a scandal and disgrace.  So are we marshaling ideas and spending funds to do something about that?  No — we are cutting back; even here in Fairfax county, one of the richest counties in America, the federal sequester and stagnation of property tax revenues means that school budgets face cuts.

Of course, the US is pioneering the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for college students.  And according to the NY Times, state colleges in California are having great success experimenting with blends of MOOCs and on-campus tutoring to improve student learning.  Some believe that in less than ten years, the traditional large lecture course will be obsolete; instead students will absorb material from a variety of MOOCs and on-line sources, and then spend class time engaged in critical problem-solving with on-line support.

Yet students will not benefit from these opportunities unless they are prepared, and that means quality primary and secondary education.  The U.S. could well find itself in the same place as it did with the transistor and video-tape: inventing the breakthrough technology (in this case MOOCs) only to see other societies pick it up, develop and apply it, and reap the major benefits to an even greater degree.

The US needs to focus less on debt, cut-backs and instead imagine a world of growth, opportunity, and change.  If we fail to do this, we will be outrun and educationally out-gunned; just look at Turkey.

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About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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