Looking to the West for Inspiration

Having been fortunate enough to visit a few of Asia’s most dominant economies in the last couple of years, I have been astounded by their drive for educational attainment. China is a shining example of how education has enabled millions of people every year to rise from near-poverty to join the burgeoning ranks of that country’s middle class. Making the grade means achieving a high score on the gaokao; a standardized test taken by about nine million Chinese students each June.
This Atlantic article does a nice job discussing the singular focus required to prepare for the test and how this myopic view has constrained the very economy it has fueled since 1986.  Despite students in Shanghai outperforming their peers around the world in math, science and reading, they struggle to demonstrate entrepreneurship and creativity. A recent report found that only 1.6% of Chinese college graduates started a business last year. This is a statistic that will have to change in order to reheat a cooling economy.
If you’re taking some solace in China’s plight and thinking that the US may enjoy this opportunity to bolster its own progress, think again. China and its neighbors are well aware of their educational systems shortcomings and working with the same feverish passion to correct their course. And, where will they look for examples of how to foster these new skills? Most likely, they’ll look west, specifically the US.  Despite the numerous reports of a failing US educational system, we are still a role model for entrepreneurship and creativity; a fact we should be proud of.

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