Final Presidential Debate and Education

I got amazed with the concerns of US about the education in US. I liked the responses of the presidential candidates the best on the issue yesterday evening. It will be interesting for the people and politicians in India to appreciate education. That is the reason I had been writing to concentrate totally in one Five-Year Plan only on education. The sooner we do, thebetter it will be. Here is the relevant portion from the debate:

SCHIEFFER: The U.S. spends more per capita than any other country on education. Yet, by every international measurement, in math and science competence, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, we trail most of the countries of the world. The implications of this are clearly obvious. Some even say it poses a threat to our national security. Do you feel that way and what do you intend to do about it?

OBAMA: This probably has more to do with our economic future than anything and that means it also has a national security implication, because there’s never been a nation on earth that saw its economy decline and continued to maintain its primacy as a military power. So we’ve got to get our education system right. There’s been a debate between more money or reform, and I think we need both. Early childhood education, which closes the achievement gap, so that every child is prepared for school, every dollar we invest in that, we end up getting huge benefits with improved reading scores, reduced dropout rates, reduced delinquency rates.

I think it’s going to be critically important for us to recruit a generation of new teachers, an army of new teachers, especially in math and science, give them higher pay, give them more professional development and support in exchange for higher standards and accountability.

And I think it’s important for us to make college affordable. Right now, I meet young people all across the country who either have decided not to go to college or if they’re going to college, they are taking on $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $60,000 worth of debt, and it’s very difficult for them to go into some fields, like basic research in science, for example, thinking to themselves that they’re going to have a mortgage before they even buy a house. And that’s why I’ve proposed a $4,000 tuition credit, every student, every year, in exchange for some form of community service, whether it’s military service, whether it’s Peace Corps, whether it’s working in a community. If we do those things, then I believe that we can create a better school system. But there’s one last ingredient and that’s parents. We can’t do it just in the schools. Parents are going to have to show more responsibility. They’ve got to turn off the TV set, put away the video games, and, finally, start instilling that thirst for knowledge that our students need.

MCCAIN: It’s the civil rights issue of the 21st century. There’s no doubt that we have achieved equal access to schools in America after a long and difficult and terrible struggle. But what is the advantage in a low-income area of sending a child to a failed school and that being your only choice? So choice and competition amongst schools is one of the key elements that’s already been proven in places in like New Orleans and New York City and other places, where we have charter schools, where we take good teachers and we reward them and promote them. And we find bad teachers another line of work. And we have to be able to give parents the same choice, frankly, that Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama had and Cindy and I had to send our kids to the school — their kids to the school of their choice. Charter schools aren’t the only answer, but they’re providing competition. They are providing the kind of competitions that have upgraded both schools — types of schools. Now, throwing money at the problem is not the answer. You will find that some of the worst school systems in America get the most money per student. So I believe that we need to reward these good teachers.

MCCAIN: We need to encourage programs such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which — or have the certification that some are required in some states. As far as college education is concerned, we need to make those student loans available. We need to give them a repayment schedule that they can meet. We need to have full student loan program for in-state tuition. And we certainly need to adjust the certain loan eligibility to inflation.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think the federal government should play a larger role in the schools? And I mean, more federal money?

OBAMA: Well, we have a tradition of local control of the schools and that’s a tradition that has served us well. But I do think that it is important for the federal government to step up and help local school districts do some of the things they need to do. So what I want to do is focus on early childhood education, providing teachers higher salaries in exchange for more support. I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from teachers unions. I think it’s important to foster competition inside the public schools. And I also agree on the need for making sure that if we have bad teachers that they are swiftly — after given an opportunity to prove themselves, if they can’t hack it, then we need to move on because our kids have to have their best future.

MCCAIN: Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it. But, again, spending more money isn’t always the answer. I think the Head Start program is a great program. A lot of people, including me, said, look, it’s not doing what it should do. By the third grade many times children who were in the Head Start program aren’t any better off than the others. Let’s reform it and fund it. We need to have transparency. We need to have rewards. It’s a system that cries out for accountability and transparency and the adequate funding. And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children — precious children who have autism. And we’ll find and we’ll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we’ll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so. But to have a situation, as you mentioned in our earlier comments, that the most expensive education in the world is in the United States of America also means that it cries out for reform, as well. And I will support those reforms, and I will fund the ones that are reformed. But I’m not going to continue to throw money at a problem.

With all the problems and issues of education debated, US still remains the best for education, particularly for higher education and R&D. Even the school education system has produced the best result so far. Fareed Zakaria in his book ‘The post-American World’ mentions: “While the American system is too lax on rigor and memorization- whether in math or poetry-it is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind; which is what you need to succeed in life. Other education systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.”

Will we in India- politicians, education managers, and even the parents try to learn from the different issues raised in the debate and contribute in improving the education and taking it to every child of the country? This is the only reason India is behind in competition. This is the only way India can win the competition.
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PS: They can also laugh- McCain, Obama Compete for Laughs at Traditional Political ‘Roast’ -a unique feature of presidential election

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