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Is Education Civilization’s Key to Survival?

The United States ranked 11th out of the top 12 global nations in the 2018 rankings by the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The rankings have been relatively steady, with the exception of Israel, which dropped below the U.S., and Sweden that has gone above the U.S. In math, the U.S. ranks 36th out of the 79 countries.


Who are the top countries in the combined measures of Reading, Mathematics and Science according to the 2018 PISA rankings? They are, in this order: China, Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea, Poland, Sweden, New Zealand, United States, Japan, Australia.


Historically, education of a nation’s youth was imperative to its competitiveness globally. It arguably has greater value and sustainability than power, powder or politics.


For example, Sparta, the most flourishing city of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, education was a highly valued foundation of the city. Its education varied in tactics and subjects. But it enabled Sparta to dominate the Greek world but did not prevent its ultimate decadence, due in part to the evolution of educational subjects that weakened its population and leadership.


Given the position of the U.S. on comparable, key, education subjects of reading, mathematics and science to other countries is the U.S. vulnerable after such a short history?


Back in 1973 Daniel Bell, a sociologist, wrote a book, “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.” It described the transition the U.S. was facing from a labor-intensive economy to a knowledge-based one that required very different skills.


What other countries have done, based on international research, particularly those that are above the U.S. in international education rankings, are specific things that are alike. They chose their teachers from among their most talented graduates, train them extensively, create opportunities to collaborate with their peers with an across schools to improve their practice, provide them the external supports that they need to do their work at high levels, and underwrite education with strong financial support.


In an article in “Foreign Affairs” magazine in 2013 by Jal Mehta, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, he wrote: “If the United States wants to lead the world in student achievement, it will need to borrow some ideas from the countries that currently top international rankings. Rather than simply holding accountable the teachers and schools that have failed to live up to expectations, the country will need to build a new system from the ground up.”


History suggests that education enables domination by a government over other governments by being stronger technologically, analytically, and politically. Equal education systems encourage and enable collaboration rather than conflict and negative competition for domination. Given the globe's current environmental condition and governmental domination competition, it is not difficult to imagine that if we do not address education in the U.S. we will be contributing to potential self-destruction of civilization as we know it.


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