“The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times.
So begins Fareed Zakaria in a fascinating piece in Time this week, discussing the notion of innovation, and whether America can keep pace with a fast-changing world.
Can The United States Keep Up?
Analyzing what innovation is, Zakaria proposes the idea that the United States no longer has the commanding lead it once did:
Two reports from the Boston Consulting Group and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) that use hard measures such as spending on research, patents and venture funding as opposed to surveys find that the U.S. ranks not No. 1 but No. 8 and No. 6, respectively. In fact, the ITIF rankings have a category that measures how much a country has improved its innovation capacity from 1999 to 2009, factoring in measures like government funding for basic research, education and corporate-tax policies. Of the 40 countries analyzed, the U.S. came in dead last.
Bad News Indeed
So where do we look for inspiration? According to Zakaria, who is the editor-at-large of Time magazine, when tackling innovation, one company, Apple, utterly dominates the lists, whoever puts them together.
We Need Government Funding
Zakaria then goes on to discuss the importance of government funding:
The ecosystem that encourages technological breakthroughs and their application does not develop in a vacuum. It requires great universities, vibrant companies that devote time and energy to research and — yes — large amounts of government funding. The latter may be a controversial topic in theory, but in practice, the rise of technology was clearly fueled by government. A multitude of technological innovations have been associated with the government, often with the military. Forget the steam engine (developed using cannon designs and technology) and take something as modern as the microchip. After it was invented in 1958 by Texas Instruments, the federal government bought virtually every microchip that firms could produce.
And finally he touches on the need to rebuild American education. And here is where I believe changes need to begin.
And We Need Drastic Changes In Education Reform
A report released last week by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) concludes that the United States’ education system is neither coherent nor likely to see great improvements based on its current attempts at reform.
From Education Week:
The NCEE report is the latest salvo in a flurry of national interest in what can be gleaned from education systems in top-performing or rapidly improving countries. It pushes further than other recent reports on the topic by laying out an ambitious agenda for the United States it says reflects the education practices in countries that are among the highest-performing on international assessments.
Among other measures, the report outlines a less-frequent system of standardized student testing; a statewide funding-equity model that prioritizes the neediest students, rather than local distribution of resources; and greater emphasis on the professionalization of teaching that would overhaul most elements of the current model of training, professional development, and compensation.
How many more times does the Obama administration have to hear this before it gets the message?
Education reform is the key to future innovation. Let’s look at what other, better-performing, countries are doing in their education systems and follow their example.
Photo Credit: plasticpeople via Creative Commons