A continuation of the TWO MILLION MINUTES documentary film, this blog offers deeper insights into education in China, India and the United States, and the challenge America faces. Now you can join a dialog about what governments, communities and families should and are doing to best prepare US students for satisfying careers in the 21st century.
I had a delightful morning at the Potter Cambridge English Training School in Shanghai. The impressive name of the school perhaps overstates its facilities and credentials: the "school" is in an old 6-story walk-up building in a commercial district.
The name is pure marketing - "Potter" for Harry Potter to appeal to the kids and "Cambridge" for gravitas to appeal to the parents.
It is a summer school strictly for learning English. The students ages range from 4-15 years old. I observed the youngsters.The school is a for-profit business, family run, and parents pay for the classes.
NOTE: the classroom has a high-tech, touch-screen white board, just like schools in the U.S. Which of course makes sense - these boards are all made in China.
Last week I was in Shanghai, touring the sights of China's second largest municipality - somewhere between 20 million and 23 million people. That's the population of Texas squeezed into Delaware.
Factoid: China's largest municipality (and the largest in the world) is Chongqing - between 35 million and 40 million people. I'd never heard of it. Go figure.
I also spent a lot of time furthering my exploration of China's extraordinary education system and seeing how Chinese students spend their summer break.
Shanghai has grown extraordinarily fast - even by Chinese standards. The spectacular TV tower in the picture above, on the Pudong side of the Huang Pu river, was built 15 years ago.
All of the other skyscrapers on the skyline were built after that, so this amazing vista is less than 15 years old - and lays claim to the 3rd and 6th largest buildings in the world. What will be the largest building in the world is under construction in Pudong right now.
I stayed on the Puxi side of the river and this was the view from of my hotel window. On my side of the river were the former foreign trading concessions "granted" to the British, French and Americans in the mid-19th century following Britain's victories in the two Opium Wars. The concessions were held until WW2.
Shanghai's Rise To Prominence
After the violent suppression in 1989 of the protests in Tiananmen Square, where an estimated 3,000 protestors were shot and killed, the Communist Party cracked down hard on dissent.
Although Deng Xiaoping may not have given the order to use military force, he certainly didn't stop it. For several years, China slipped back on economic reforms and a general malaise seeped into the country.
To his credit, Deng realized the economic reforms were working - lifting millions out of poverty - and he decided to re-commit the country to those reforms.
Recognizing Beijing was not the place, due to lingering hard feelings about Tiananmen and a decline in his power there, Deng made a famous 1992 trip to southern China to re-commit to his earlier economic reforms. Tellingly, he spent New Year's eve in Shanghai, where he declared "some areas must get rich first."
Shanghai was selected to become the financial center of China and to pull attention away from Beijing. Enormous resources were flooded into Shanghai and in 15 years the city became China financial center to the world.
NEXT BLOG ENTRY: What do Chinese kids do during summer break?
Vivek Wahdwa, who appeared in my film Two Million Minutes, authored an insightful essay in TechCrunch explaining the alarming exodus of talented, well-educated immigrants back to their home countries.
A brief excerpt:
America is no longer the only magnet for the world’s best and brightest. Fixing immigration policy is an important start, but it won’t be enough to stop the brain drain of highly educated and skilled workers that the U.S. is presently experiencing.
Just last week, there were two notable visitors to Silicon Valley—Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, and Chile’s minister of Economy, Juan Andres Fontaine. President Medvedev wanted the brilliant Russian-born and -educated programmers who write some of the Valley’s most sophisticated software to know that they are welcome back home and that he is setting up a science park for them. Minister Fontaine wants to turn Chile into a tech hub...More
Other countries have latched on to a brilliant economic development plan, call it the "Bring The Talented Back Home" strategy. Rather than wait years for its current citizens to grow into leading scientists and engineers, they can "cherry pick" from America.
Nations from China to Russia to India, to smaller countries like Chile, are specifically targeting already successful or very promising scientists, mathematicians, engineers and entrepreneurs who moved to America often decades ago and they are offering incentives to lure them back home.
Many of these talented people came to the U.S. for education - often Master's degrees or PhD's in the sciences or engineering. Then they stayed for the economic opportunity.
It used to be that America was the only place where promising high-tech entrepreneurs could find the Capital, the Culture, the Technology and the Talent to rapidly build new companies.
Now other countries realize that many of these successful entrepreneurs and researchers have personal reasons to go back home - ranging from elderly parents to a desire to raise their children in the own culture.
So,governments around the world are providing even more reason to move back - capital for new ventures, investment in laboratories and unfettered research funding.
Those of us born here in the U.S. have taken for granted or just not understood how much of our economic success has been due to being the "only game in town" for the highly educated talent around the globe to pursue their dreams and goals.
America still is the leader - with our world-class universities and fluid capital markets - but our edge is not a permanent advantage. Increasingly, the U.S. will have to rely on educating it's own population to a higher cognitive level as well as finding policies that continue to make our country attractive to the world's best and brightest.
Not addressing this issue has serious economic consequences.