The days of China as the low-cost, low-tech manufacturer of the rest of the world’s high-tech innovations may soon be coming to a close. China now leads in the production of not just low-end manufactured consumer goods but also some high-tech devices, many of which were developed in the United States. This is making it harder and harder for even our high-tech companies to create jobs and compete in lucrative export markets.
Staying competitive means investing in the building blocks of an innovation-driven economy, from science and math education to university research, including partnerships with small businesses, investors, and manufacturers who create jobs by building markets for new technology. Accomplishing these goals, however, will require a well-crafted and comprehensive policy vision.
One part of that policy vision is investing in future talent through strong science, technology, engineering, and math education programs and workforce training. Science and math expertise are critical to sustaining an innovative economy. But as the president said in his State of the Union address, “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.” Students in China consistently score higher on standardized math and science tests. Furthermore, 59 percent of Chinese students major in fields related to science or engineering, as opposed to only 32 percent in the United States. To remedy this disparity, we need to add 10,000 new STEM teachers each year and strengthen the skills of the 250,000 current STEM teachers by implementing the programs in the president’s Educate to Innovate agenda. The president also needs to ensure that reform of No Child Left Behind includes a strong emphasis on science and math training.
With a strong contingency of well-trained workers, the proper infrastructure for innovation, and a government dedicated to investing in research for the next great technological breakthroughs, the United States would be properly equipped to stay competitive in a future of booming growth in China and elsewhere. We can and must rethink, retool, and reinvest in our nation’s innovation potential if we are to succeed. As the president said in his State of the Union, “that’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.”
For more on this issue please see:
The Top Ten Things to Do to Compete with China