Dec 13 2010

China’s Recent Educational Quantum Leap Triggers a “Sputnik Moment”

All this talk about “Sputnik Moments” may seem very historical — in the most obscure sense of the word — to Millennials and others who didn’t actually live it.

For example, even Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein recently criticized Obama’s insightful allusion to Sputnik by claiming that…

Most people under 40 have no idea what Sputnik is. It’s an un-innovative way to talk about innovation.

Fifty-three years ago the surprise Soviet launch of “one small ball” became the “shock of the century” and instantly transformed U.S. education.
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Some historical perspective on Sputnik is sketched HERE, but before we focus on that, let’s describe China’s great accomplishment. Almost exactly one long wave after Sputnik, according to Chester Finn of Stanford’s Hoover Institution (Wall Street Journal, 12/8/10),

China has delivered another shock. On math, reading, and science tests given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries last year, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects.

The United States was once again in “the middle of the pack.”

It’s hard to imagine how distraught Americans were about Sputnik in 1957, but as I wrote 2 years ago in Math and Science Education Perspectives,

Only 10 days after Sputnik the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige. Scholastic Magazine chimed in by announcing a “classroom Cold War” with the Soviets. Indeed, within a few months a Gallup poll reported that 70% of respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts!

It’s a key forecast of 21stCenturyWaves.com that major elements of this Sputnik-related history are likely to repeat.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, legitimate public concerns about the state of education will skyrocket because of anxiety over America’s ability to compete with the rest of the world in space and technology. And it’s already begun.

See #3 in: “DecaState of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for the Decade 2010-2020”.”

Finn doesn’t see this quantum leap in China’s educational performance as a fluke at all. Indeed, he feels China will be able to replicate it with “10 cities in 2019 and 50 in 2050. Or maybe faster.”

China has delivered a Sputnik-style wake-up call to “those who think American schools are globally competitive.”

We must face the fact that China is bent on surpassing us, and everyone else, in education.

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