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Politicians and bureaucrats often speak of competing in the global economy in regards to education and innovation of technologies. Even the U.S. Department of Education says its mission “is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness.” This is the common rhetoric of influential figures and facilitators of educational processes.

Interpreting Global Competitiveness and Education

Global competitiveness is a phrase not clearly defined by any of its users or promoters which leaves room for misinterpretation by the audience. Many assume that the phrase means creating a stronger public education system so that those educated can produce innovative products to compete with foreign made goods. This idea assumes that those who pursue higher education are the pioneers of innovation and technological advice.

History has shows that many of America’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs did not have a college education. Below are three examples:

•    Thomas Edison the inventor the light bulb never attended college. According to National Park Service, Edison was homeschooled by his mother.
•    George Eastman the inventor of Kodak dropped out of high school which was made clear on Kodak's website.
•    Joyce C. Hall founder of Hallmark dropped out of high school to move to Kansas City, Missouri which is where the company was founded.

There is a website dedicate to many more examples: The College Drop-outs Hall of Fame

Analyzing the Facts

It is true that many advancements of modern society has originated from those who have obtained college education; however, the same is true for those whom today’s society would consider uneducated.

Each of the individuals listed above contributed to the economic growth of America. Question: What is the key to competing in the global economy?

There is another major component of business that must be considered when discussing the ability to be competitive. This factor is the cost of labor.  A company’s ability to be competitive is direct connected to the cost of produce the product. The lower the cost of production is the greater opportunity for profit provided there’s sufficient demand.

Consequently, competing in the global economy means the ability to produce profit versus other international corporations. Considering the fact that most corporations are composed of more laborers than management and that laborers often do not have certificates of higher education, why is global competitiveness a major part of the educational conversation? In order to be competitive globally, it would appear that a company would have to find cheaper labor than China.

Making Sense through the Rhetoric

It is known publicly that the public education system has major issues within it and that academic outputs have been declining for decades. Knowing what competitiveness means in this context and its relation to education is critical to understanding the common rhetoric being used. In addition, knowing that, innovation isn’t exclusively the result of higher education raises serious questions about global competitiveness’ involvement in education. Increasing global competitiveness seems to have the undertones of creating a cheaper labor force rather than creating a more knowledgeable labor force.

Should the public education system be taking on such a task?

-Bryant Muldrew

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